King Oscar Sardines date back to 1902 when King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway gave the company “special permission” to use his name on their product. Oscar II was actually the last “Swedish” King of Norway. Just three years after giving the King Oscar brand his name the Norwegian Storting voted to dissolve the union with Sweden and asked Prince Carl of Denmark to become their new King, which he accepted, becoming Haakon VII of Norway.
King Oscar Sardines are still headquartered in Norway, but the fish are canned and processed in the Pomeranian village of Gniewino in present day Poland. “Sardine” is not an actual type of fish but rather a catch all phrase for a variety of different small oily fish. Sardines from California generally use the Blue Pilchard, those hailing from Iberia and the Mediterranean use the European Pilchard, while North Sea based brands like King Oscar use Brislings. Brislings are considerably smaller than Pilchards and undergo a slightly different processing technique. Rather than clean the fish, producers keep them in water for 24 hours to allow for their digestive tracks to fully expel and then the heads are chopped off and they are smoked, packed, and cooked whole. Because the guts are still inside the fish, they are a bit softer than their Pacific and Mediterranean counterparts, but the much smaller size results in a cleaner and milder taste.
Brisling Sardines are therefore probably the best type for those squeamish about the thought of Sardines to try first. The standard size Brisling sardine comes about 20 to a pack (by comparison, Pilchards usually only come 3 to a pack). But “Cross Pack” is King Oscar’s term for an even smaller Brisling Sardine that contains more than 30 sardines in a single tin. Connoisseurs of sardines often argue that the smaller the Brisling, the better the taste. So what was my take on King Oscar’s Cross Pack Sardines?
Well, though it doesn’t say it on the packaging, research revealed that all King Oscar Sardines are packed in BPA-free tins, which is a nice start. Opening the pack, the sardines had nice color and were packed full to the top with a not excessive amount of extra virgin olive oil. The only ingredients are sardines, salt, and EVOO. Taste, as advertised, is much milder than Pilchard sardines. The fish were relatively firm and if you are careful you can pull them out of the tin by piercing them with a fork, which is impressive for sardines this tiny. Overall, I found these sardines to be an exceptional if not terribly exciting product with one major problem, and that is the price.
You see, unlike what many sardine connoisseurs may say, I didn’t find the taste of the slightly smaller “Cross Pack” Brislings to be appreciably different in any way from the “Double Pack” Brislings that King Oscar also sells. And since the Cross Pack averages about 50 cents more per tin than the Double Pack, it is difficult to recommend them over the Double Pack, especially for those on a budget. Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with these Sardines. I thought they were fantastic. And some people might find the aesthetic value of the smallest possible sardine of some value even if there isn’t really much difference in taste. But for me, I just save the 50 cents and buy the Double Pack sized King Oscars.
Overall Grade: Very Good
Clean and Firm
BPA Free Tins
Packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
More Expensive than similar tasting Double Pack