While offal of all kinds is not nearly as popular as it has been in previous decades, both beef liver and calf liver have a lot of appeal. These organ meats are essentially the same thing: the livers of either a young calf or mature cow. Nutritionally, calf liver and beef liver's benefits are almost identical. They also offer very similar texture and flavor profiles but with some noticeable differences. It's those differences along with cost that factor the most into the choice between purchasing and preparing either calf or beef liver.
Differences Between Calf and Beef Liver
Calf liver comes from cows under 1 year of age, whereas beef liver comes from cows over 1 year in age. It's this difference in age that accounts for the contrast in flavor and texture between the two types of liver. It's also the reason for the very slight differences between calf liver and beef liver's nutrition profiles.
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Calf liver has a milder, sweeter, less rich flavor than beef liver, which has a more intense minerality. This is the metallic taste associated with offal that many find unpleasant, so those who don't typically enjoy organ meats might find calf liver more palatable than beef liver. In appearance, beef liver tends to be darker in color, more of a reddish-brown than calf liver's lighter red. Calf liver is also more tender, with a quicker cooking time than beef liver. All these differences in flavor and texture make calf liver a more prized cut than beef liver, resulting in its considerably higher price point.
Calf Liver vs. Beef Liver Nutrition
Calf liver and beef liver's nutrition profiles are almost identical and a major selling point for both cuts. In fact, liver is often referred to as a super food. Calf liver and beef liver's benefits come from their impressive nutrient density, with high amounts of protein, amino acids, vitamin A, B vitamins, zinc, iron, phosphorus, selenium and copper. Between them, these nutrients support the health of your immune system, hemoglobin levels, bones and teeth, metabolism and energy production.
Understandably, given that they're the same organ from the same animal, the numerical values for calf and beef liver's nutritional components are almost but not quite identical. Per 100 grams (uncooked), beef liver provides 135 calories compared to calf liver's 140 calories. Beef liver has a very tiny amount more protein and slightly more carbs; calf liver has a bit more fat and cholesterol than beef liver. Beef liver comes out on top by a very small degree in its amounts of vitamin B6, phosphorus and selenium, whereas calf liver has a little more vitamin A, zinc, iron and copper. These differences between calf liver and beef liver's nutrition lineups are really too small to be a significant factor in choosing to eat one or the other.
Calf and Beef Liver Preparation
Calf liver and beef liver feature in similar recipes, although calf liver's relative tenderness makes it suitable only for quick-cooking techniques. Overcooking ruins the delicate texture of calf liver, so it is typically pan-seared for a matter of minutes and ideally left pink in the middle. Beef liver recipes often call for soaking in milk or a vinegar or citrus-based marinade to tenderize it and mute its bitter, mineral flavors. This step is unnecessary with the milder, more tender calf liver.
One of beef liver's benefits is that it's more versatile than calf liver and features in dishes with a wider range of cooking times. It might be braised or turned into pate as an alternative to the classic pan-searing with onions. Because it's quite cheap, beef liver is sometimes used to give a nutritional boost and dose of richness to other dishes – for example, mincing it to mix in with burger meat. Browse recipes for beef and calf liver online and you will get a useful overview of the best applications for each cut.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Beef, Variety Meats and By-products, Liver, Raw
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Veal, Variety Meats and By-products, Liver, Raw
- Medical News Today: What to Know About Beef Liver
- Miss Vickie: Beef Liver vs Calf Liver: What’s The Difference?
- Farmison & Co: How to Cook Calves Liver