We know that the liver is an organ in your body that is about the size of a football and casually sits under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. It is essential for digesting food and ridding your body of toxic substances.
But did you know you could eat liver?
Of course, I don’t mean eat a human’s liver! But you can eat those of mammals, fowl, and fish. Some popular examples are pork liver, lamb liver, veal liver, beef liver, chicken liver, goose liver, and cod liver. These are all widely available from butchers and supermarkets.
But what does liver taste like? Liver has an almost sweet, naturally earthy flavor, and it’s worth talking about some more.
Liver – An American Love Story
In the early 1940s, the U.S government began shipping a lot of the nation’s domestic meat supply to Europe and the Pacific theater in order to support the troops fighting in World War II. But because of this, the meat supply was lacking in the United States.
By late 1941, New York restaurants were finding alternative meat, like horse, for hamburgers as well as going to the black market for poultry. Federal officials became worried that a longer war could leave the nation starved of protein.
Due to this, the Department of Defense recruited dozens of the U.S.’ sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists, in order to figure out how to convince Americans to eat organ meat. After over 200 studies, it was determined the best way to change people’s diets was to make sure the exotic was familiar. Due to that, you must camouflage it in everyday food.
In order to convince them to eat liver, housewives had to know how to perfect the smell and taste, making it as similar as possible to what traditional families expected to see on the dinner table each night. To put it simpler, the secret to changing the American diet was familiarity. The Committee on Food Habits tried to help find ways to do so. Slipping liver into meatloaf soon became popular.
When WWII ended, the Committee on Food Habits vanished. By then, organ meats were fully integrated into the American diet. Liver then became a meat served for special occasions.
Sounds like a love story with Americans and liver. Today, liver is still a popular meat eaten, not just because you have to, and has changed the American diet for the better.
What Does Liver Taste Like?
Liver is one of those foods that may not look appetizing, but once you try it will surprise your taste buds.
If cooked just right with good, simple ingredients, the liver develops an almost sweet, naturally earthy flavor that comes off pretty strong. If it’s beef liver, it will have a fairly strong earthy flavor if overcooked.
Liver is also not one of those meats that take on a lot of the flavors of the ingredients you cook with. So, if you have yet to try liver, be prepared to taste more of the meat.
What’s the Texture of Liver Like?
As unappealing as it looks, it feels just the same. Cooked liver feels a lot like a fattier, gummier cut of meat. It’s pretty soft and squishy. This definitely can be off-putting, so it’s good to know what you’re getting into beforehand.
When it’s uncooked, that is a little different. Uncooked liver is super smooth and cuts like butter. In the case of beef liver, older cows tend to have liver with a mushier texture. If you get the liver of an older cow, you will see the difference.
What Does Liver Smell Like?
As for the smell of liver, it’s definitely a stronger, more distinct one. Fresh liver should have a less-pungent odor, and it should also smell fresh and “clean.” But how do you know what liver to choose?
Look for liver that has a bright color and moist, but not slick, surface. Those pieces will have that fresh and clean smell.
The reason liver smell is so strong is because it’s a bodily organ and gland that is made up of a chemical composition, including the storage of glycogen, protein synthesis, and the production of bile. There really is no way to get around the scent.
I know, I know, I’m probably losing your interest. But liver gets more attractive, I promise!
What Tastes Similar to Liver?
Liver is a unique meat. With that being said, it is pretty hard to find a meat that tastes similar to it. You can substitute one type of liver for another, and that would taste the most similar.
For example, if you’re on a beef liver kick and need an alternative, you can eat calf’s liver instead, which is a milder flavor but more tender. Or, you can try lamb liver, which is more tender, but has a stronger, maybe not-so-great flavor.
If you’re eating turkey liver and want a swap-in, you can go for chicken liver. Poultry liver is much milder than beef or calf’s liver, so it is best not to mix up the meat types.
Sometimes, if you’re eating a cut of steak, like a filet mignon, it may taste like liver. This is because the beef tenderloin from which the filet is cut lies between the kidneys. Close proximity to strongly flavored organs like kidneys and liver can give off a discernible mineral offal flavor reminiscent of liver.
How to Cook Liver
Liver is supposed to be sautéed for at least 5 minutes or until an internal temperature of 70 degrees or greater has been reached and maintained for 2-3 minutes. Livers should be cooked until they are no longer bloody in the core.
A pro tip you may want to use is to soak the liver in milk for 30-60 minutes before cooking it. It is said that milk improves the taste, purges blood, lightens the color, or affects some other property of the meat.
It’s also easiest to cook liver sliced up, ensuring you get a quicker, more-evened cook. You’ll also want to generously season the liver with salt and pepper, and then leave it at room temperature until you are able to pat the liver dry.
Another addition to the dish is onions, so if you want to add those, make sure to sauté them with garlic and other seasoning.
Is Liver Good for You?
Alright, this is where I win you back. Although liver may look, feel, and smell weird, and it may have an acquired taste, liver is one of the most nutritionally dense foods out there.
In one 2-ounce serving of cooked beef liver, it carries 153 calories with 23 grams of protein and only 4 grams of fat. Liver is also an excellent source of Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Iron, Potassium, Phosphorus, Folate, Copper, Riboflavin, and Niacin. It’s also one of the best animal-based sources of Vitamin A, with a single-serving providing more than 100% of your daily requirement.
With all these rich nutrients come potentially great benefits. Examples include a lower risk of cataracts and breast cancer thanks to the Vitamin A, a lower risk of anemia thanks to the iron and Vitamin B12, and improved bone health due to the Vitamin K.