Sardines in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil from Th!nkgreen

With a range of a few quality products, anchored in tradition but produced with a commitment to environmental responsibility, Th!inkgreen is another example of a successful, young Greek firm that has found its way into markets beyond the borders of the country.

Thinkgreen_sardines

Founded in 2003, the ISO- and Bio Hellas-certified company focuses on organic products associated with the traditional Greek diet such as extra-virgin olive oil and blackhead Throumba olives, and canned fish; along with smoked yellow-fin tuna and anchovies in cold-pressed olive oil, Th!nkgreen also produces canned sardines.

Whether fresh or preserved in salt, brine or olive oil, sardines have formed part of the Mediterranean diet since antiquity. For centuries the humble pilchard was a cheap and relatively abundant source of protein. While it remains a great nutritional deal, stocks are at risk because of poor fishery management and overfishing. It’s not because of the sardine’s popularity, at least not directly. The vast majority of the world’s catch winds up as fish meal for animal feed or aquaculture. A staggering 80% – 90% of the landings of pelagic forage fish such as sardines and anchovies goes into fish meal. Of this about two-thirds is used to feed farmed fish. Most of us eat our sardines in food like chicken and farmed salmon.

The Marine Conservation Society has classified the European pilchard within a range of “mostly sustainable” to “under pressure”. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommends that sardines caught in the Mediterranean generally be avoided. Although there is some evidence to suggest a slight recovery in the sardine stock in the Aegean, it makes sense to reap the benefits of this heart-healthy fish from products of companies committed to sustainable fishing.

Th!nkgreen is one of those firms. The company was the first in Greece to receive Friend of the Earth (FOE) certification for sustainable agriculture and is involved in projects to improve the sustainability of fishing and to designate zones of sustainable fishing in the Northern Aegean. Its yellow-fin tuna already comes from certified sustainable fisheries.

As you may know, sardines are a nutritional powerhouse, rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, selenium and calcium. Just 90 grams of this wonder fish provides over 300% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin B12. Since it’s low on the food chain—the fish feeds on zooplankton—the sardine is also low in the toxic organic compound of mercury, methylmercury, which bioaccumulates in larger fish higher up the chain. To get an idea of how much lower, consider that gram for gram, swordfish have 75 times the amount of mercury that is found in sardines; even the staple canned albacore tuna has 35 times the mercury in the sardine.

What a shame, then, that one of the most inexpensive marine sources of omega-3 fatty acids often comes packed in a bland unnamed vegetable oil. Th!nkgreen, however, preserves their North Aegean sardines in organic, heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil. I found the fish had a firm flesh and was less salty and a bit more fragrant of the sea than others. A good choice for a mezes, simply dressed with a little lemon juice and sprinkling of parsley, or tossed with pasta in a sauce of lightly sauteed grape tomatoes, capers, and a bit of garlic.

Ideally I should have tasted the fish without the influence of politics—or design (for which I have a particular weakness). Eschewing the retro aesthetic that seems de riguer for such traditional products as anchovies and sardines, Th!nkgreen has opted for a strikingly minimalist packaging that substitutes a palette of dark blue and deep orange (and a few fish) for the green in its name. It’s a bold but fitting choice for a company that is trying to make a difference, and not only in its balance sheet.