As a kid in the 1960s, I enjoyed a good many cans of imported sardines. Any why not? In those days they seemed downright cheap. In fact, I recall that the glossy, blue-and-white wrapper for each single-serving can of Underwood “single-layer [i.e., fairly—but not optimally—small] Norwegian sardines in soybean oil” used to boast that that product provided “more protein per penny” than did any other food. I fully believed that! After all, each can still cost (if memory serves) only about 25 cents by the late sixties. For canned-sardine fanciers, that particular Underwood product constituted a likeable middle-of-the-road compromise between the lowliest American “sardines” [which were—more or less—merely the “tails” of much larger fish] and the classiest [if I may apply that adjective to canned fish!] imported "two-layer" alternatives.
Recommend this product?
The latter alternatives constituted the high end of the canned-sardine spectrum and comprised two layers of delectably small fish in olive oil. Those single-serving cans cost about two to three times as much as the aforementioned Underwood “single-layer, Norwegian” product; hence they were bought less regularly and seemed a special treat. Not least, I did then—and still do—much prefer the higher-quality (and more healthful) olive oil to the "soy" alternative used for the cheapest competing canned-sardine products.
Fast-forward to this 21st century. It's been many years since the aforementioned Underwood “single-layer Norwegian” product disappeared from U.S. supermarkets (at least in my Midwestern region). Thus the average sardine shopper’s only remaining choice is between the lowly American “fish tails” or the top-of-the-line imported “two-layer brisling" products, including the subject of this review.
Nowadays, these “Crown Prince” Two Layer Brisling Sardines in Olive Oil cost well over two bucks per 3.75-ounce can. The best deal in my neighborhood is at Walmart, where the going rate is $2.28 per can. By contrast, a can of the competing “King Oscar” equivalent costs $2.52.
So, how do these particular Crown Prince and King Oscar products differ? And how do they compare to their 1960s ilk (that I nostalgically recall)? To answer those questions, earlier today I went to Walmart and bought a can of each of these competing products; and a short while ago—with a spiral-bound notebook at hand—I proceeded to compare and contrast the oily, piscine contents of both cans.
Packaging. Both products’ underlying cans look equivalent and feature modern pull-top lids (which, of course, are much quicker and easier to remove than were the “key-wind” lids that I somewhat amusedly recall from yesteryear). I had no trouble removing either of those lids completely. The Crown Prince tin comes enclosed by a thin-cardboard box whose predominantly red color is punctuated with green, white and black graphics. By contrast, the King Oscar comes enclosed by a plastic wrapper whose predominantly red color is punctuated with green and white graphics.
Appearance. Upon removing the respective tins' lids, I beheld basically the same sizes of optimally, traditionally small decapitated fishes that I’d generally encountered with the comparable two-layer-sardine products of yesteryear. However, whereas the King Oscar fishes’ silvery skins were fully intact, the Crown Prince fishes were missing roughly 50% of their collective skin. In other words, the topmost layer presented a variegated “silver-and-brownish” appearance that wasn’t so tidy and appealing.
Aroma. My snout was unable to discern any significant difference between the two cans of freshly opened sardines. Neither product smelled unduly fishy (as sardines go!).
Texture/Firmness/Moistness. As I proceeded to use a typical dinner-table fork to remove, alternately, one fish at a time from each respective can, I noticed that the King Oscar fishes seemed marginally firmer than their Crown Prince counterparts. (The latter were somewhat more prone to fall or break apart. That said, the difference was so modest as to seem pretty minor.) Both products felt satisfactorily moist and soft to the palate.
Flavor. Devouring the aromatic contents of the respective cans, I began with a single fish from the Crown Prince tin; not only was its aforementioned texture softly satisfying, but also its flavor was thoroughly delectable. Though I could detect only a vague trace of the “natural-wood smoking” touted on the box, it was enough.
Next I sampled one of the (likewise “natural-wood smoked”) King Oscar fishes. Its flavor was a bit stronger; and if you like your sardines a bit less mild, perhaps you’d favor this brand. That said, the two brands actually tasted somewhat more alike than different. Given that the “Crown Prince” is a “product of Scotland,” while the “King Oscar” is “packed in Poland,” I was surprised that the respective fishes were all essentially the same size and had pretty comparable texture and taste. The Crown Prince sardines were wild-caught “from Managed Fisheries in Scotland.” [According to CrownPrince.com, “Crown Prince sources" their "Brisling sardines (Sprattus sprattus) from the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.”]
Both products’ packages mention that the sardines were “wild-caught.” One wonders exactly where the King Oscar fishes were actually caught. A pertinent page at KingOscar.com mentions (somewhat confusingly), “... brisling caught wild in the pristine Norwegian fjords and the North Sea, as well as sild and other small fish netted in the Baltic Sea.” At any rate, I repeat that the respective “Crown Prince” and “King Oscar” specimens that I bought and relished were altogether rather similar.
Nutrition facts. The ingredients list for either product is essentially identical: Hand-packed brisling sardines; extra virgin olive oil; and salt.
Whereas a single serving (one can) of the Crown Prince product provides 16 grams (32% of the Daily Value) of protein; 210 calories; 29% of the DV of saturated fat; 23% of the DV of cholesterol, and 17% of the DV of sodium, the King Oscar product provides 14 grams of protein; 240 calories; 20% of the Daily Value of saturated fat; 17% of the DV of cholesterol, and 13% of the DV of sodium. As you can see, the two products are, nutritionally, largely comparable.
[Note: You can consult the pertinent pages at the respective websites (CrownPrince.com and KingOscar.com) for complete details about these products’ “Nutrition Facts.”]
I relished both products (and I must say that this was the first time I’d “semi-simultaneously” savored two cans of such brisling sardines during a single meal!). On this particular occasion, I concluded that I slightly preferred the relative milder flavor of the tender Crown Prince product (despite its topmost layer’s aforementioned mottled, “scuffed-skins” appearance vis-à-vis the more visually appealing King Oscar product). That said, on some future occasion—in a different temper—I might just as easily favor the slightly more robust taste, and marginally firmer texture, of the King Oscar product.
Consequently, this particular “taste test” yielded few conclusive results. And if I do ultimately give the nod to the Crown Prince product, it would primarily be because it cost me “only” $2.28 (at Walmart), while the competing King Oscar cost $2.52.
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