BELA-Olhao sardines

By RYAN DIONNE

It’s a little strange popping open a small tin filled with oily fish that still have bones and scales intact. Sure, the heads and tails are missing, but the potent stench of fish billows from the small metal container as soon as you open it.

If that’s not too much for you, then you’ve picked the right nutrient-rich trail snack. BELA-Olhao sardines are reportedly packed fresh within eight hours after they are caught off the coast of Portugal.

Not only are they a great source of calcium, but they contain Omega 3 fatty acids — which are said to, among other things, improve circulation — and Q-10, which purportedly helps give you energy.

BELA-Olhao sardines.jpg

Each 4.5 ounce tin contains a handful of roughly four-inch-long sardines. So the scales come off on your fingers. And the meaty bodies often break apart when you pick them up. But they did taste better than I expected.

In fact, I don’t like a lot of fish, and that made me even more skeptical to try BELA-Olhao. But I plugged my nose, grabbed one and shoved it in my mouth. . . . O.K., I didn’t really plug my nose. And they actually tasted pretty good.

BELA sardines come in four main varieties: Lemon, Cayenne, Regular (in olive oil), and Tomato. But in my taste test most of the flavors seemed the same.

I expected the Cayenne to have some kick (it didn’t have any) and the Tomato to be zesty. I was pleasantly surprised, though, that the Lemon-flavored fish had a semi-fruity taste. Generally, the flavors all tasted like the plain olive oil variety.

At home, I cooked a meal with the fish to pre-test its trail worthiness. The meal was essentially pasta with tomato-flavored sardines and some veggies. It was pretty dry, but eatable, though I ended up adding some extra spaghetti sauce to spruce it up a little.

Nonetheless, for a pesticide-free fish in a can, they don’t taste too bad. The tins are sealed tight and are small and lightweight, which makes them good for backpacking or other trips where you want quick protein on the trail.

  • Pros: Easy to pack; Relatively healthy; Can cook with excess olive oil from tin when on the trail

  • Cons: Little taste difference among flavors; Extremely oily; Limited availability

  • Bottom Line: Though they are more expensive than some grocery store sardines, if you like fish and want easy meat on the trail, BELA’s a good option.

  • MSRP: $30 for case of 12 ($42 for case of boneless/skinless)

  • Contact: www.mybela.com

—Contributor Ryan Dionne is based in Boulder, Colo. He writes a blog on the outdoors and gear at http://explore-it.blog.com

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