Taste Test: We Try Canned Liver Spreads from Reno, Argentina, CDO, and PurefoodsOctober 23, 2017
Canned liver spread has a special place in the Filipino pantry, making for a quick savory spread for your breakfast pan de sal or for adding a savory backbone to other dishes (most notably caldereta and Filipino-style spaghetti). While we’ve not been able to find its exact history in the Philippine setting, its origins can be noticably traced to French pâté or German liverwurst—both forms of forcemeat that may (or actually do, in the case of the latter) contain animal livers, along with its other parts and fillers, processed or pureed into a spreadable paste, thus breathing life and edible appeal into the (typically) less-preferred parts of the animal. You’ll find a couple of brands in the supermarket today, available at cheap price points that keeps these special spreads accessible to the common Filipino. But how do they compare?
Reno sports a nostalgic, if not kitschy, label that well looks like it could have been lifted straight from the 60’s. On the back of the package you’ll notice it says it’s [made] “with cereal” (indeed, you’ll find “cereal” listed on the ingredients), which we assume to act as a filler, and while it does not specify which cereals the spread is in fact made with, the said characteristic manifests itself in its resulting texture and taste. The spread takes on a murky, grayish-pink hue and a consistency that’s notably thick—still spreadable, but stiff in a way we’d compare to a thick porridge, with chunks of blistered meat in every few spoonfuls. You get a spicy, meaty taste from both pork and beef livers which concludes with a peculiar sweetness. The porridge-like thickness gets in the way of the flavor intensity—on one hand, this keeps it from tasting too salty (the resulting spread tastes balanced enough that you can eat it straight up) and makes it great for thickening stews; on the other hand, it makes for a less-impactful flavor and redundant starchiness when actually spread on bread.
Argentina’s version is similar to Reno’s in a number of ways: the spread within takes on a similar dark, grayish-pink color. You’ll also find “cereals” in the ingredient list and comes on the thick side with a porridge-y feel, but it feels a touch creamier than Reno’s and is easier to spread, with what seems to be more meaty bits (and occasionally, tiny chunks of fat). Flavor-wise, there is a similar sweetness as well, but the predominating flavor is that of pork; you won’t find any beef in the ingredient list. The taste of liver comes through much more clearly, working as an undertone amidst a savory, vinegar-y flavor that gives the resulting spread a quality we’d compare to lechon sauce or paksiw. As with Reno, the porridge-like quality keeps it less salty and makes it great for thickening but can get in the way of the flavor of meat.
CDO’s strikes you with its more reddish tinge, reminiscent of luncheon meat. Though you still do find “cereals” in the ingredient list, it differs significantly from the previous two with its much looser, creamier consistency, with chunks of meat blended in, that it almost feels like homemade pâté. You get a more potent dose of flavor here—a beef-centric meatiness whose more straightforward sharpness brings to mind the beef-flavored powder you get in packaged instant noodles (we swear we tasted this before looking at the ingredients, but you do find “beef broth” listed as the second entry there) and notes of black pepper and onion. The said flavors can overpower the liver, but the overall sum is not too salty, making it a good choice for spreading, for cooking with, or for eating straight up.
The Purefoods can greets you with a less-saturated grayish-pink color when you open the can. Like CDO, it’s also on the relatively creamy side (just a touch thicker), which makes it effortless to spread. But a peek into the ingredient list reveals how it differs from the others: it contains poultry meat in addition to that of pork and beef; the said triple-meat combination comes listed before liver (ergo, the former comes at a bigger proportion than the latter volume-wise); and you won’t find any “cereal” on the list. We consequently had bigger expectations flavor-wise, and it does give you a good, meaty, savory note where you still get a subtle dose of the deep, resounding liver flavor underneath. Unfortunately it also comes with a whole lotta saltiness which, on one hand allows this spread to stand out in between pan de sal, but also overpowers the taste of the meat.
For the creamiest spreads with a stronger dose of meat flavor that can better shine in a sandwich or impart meaty goodness to other dishes, Purefoods or CDO is the way to go—the latter, in particular, is a good all-around choice with a balanced flavor that makes it our team’s personal top pick. Reno’s and Argentina’s, on the other hand, offer a thicker, chunkier texture and milder flavor that we oddly enjoy snacking on plain, straight from the spoon. We’re only glad to know that savory, meaty goodness is just a pull of the can tab away.