Imagine the sharp strike of the knife as it chops through ginger, garlic and onions; the swelling of each rice grain from its opaque raw state to a soft mass that thickens its surrounding liquid; and the warm scent of chicken permeating the kitchen as it cooks.

Such from-scratch cooking experiences are incomparable and always produce the best results—but for the rest of us with 9-to-5 work schedules, hectic deadlines, or kids, there’s arroz caldo mix. These almost-instant mixes promise to take most the guesswork out of preparing the Hispanic- and Chinese- influenced chicken porridge by having all the necessary ingredients pre-measured and in a box you can store in the pantry (with a long shelf life), ready for boiling away whenever the craving hits. Two brands in particular can be found on supermarket shelves with a minimal price difference, but how do they compare?
Note: We prepared both mixes simultaneously following each package’s instructions as they are written. We used similar pots at similar levels of heat and stirred at timed intervals. Each porridge was tasted plain with no added seasonings or ingredients, but tasters were given freedom to season their own bowls afterwards.

White King (Php 34/113 g)

White King’s lighter-colored porridge makes for a great canvas, flavor- and appearance-wise.

Preparation: The package instructs you to boil the powdered mix with five cups of water for ten minutes or “until the rice is cooked”. The amount of water called for felt disproportionally large to the package contents. It also took us closer to 17 minutes to get the rice al dente.

Appearance: Just as its promotional pictures would suggest, White King’s porridge is generally, well, white, with a few flecks of green that resemble dehydrated chives.

Aroma: You get the umami essence of chicken powder, as expected, as well as a surprising, discernible zing that reminds us of fresh ginger (and not just the dehydrated or powdered stuff).

Taste: White King offers a more subdued, less salty porridge. The overarching hum of chicken powder serves as its flavor backbone, along with notes of onion and ginger (which comes at a milder level than its aroma would suggest but is present nonetheless), before concluding with the rice’s natural sweetness. It can start to feel boring midway through the bowl and we wish there were more garlic, but this is nothing a dash of patis or calamansi can’t fix.

Sarap Pinoy (Php 31/113 g)

Sarap Pinoy’s porridge takes on a more yellow tone.

Preparation: Just like White King’s, the package has you boil the contents with five cups of water for ten minutes or “until the rice is cooked”. Our experience with preparing it as written also follows, it taking us closer to the 15-minute mark to get the rice cooked.

Appearance: Sarap Pinoy stands out with its more golden-yellow hue—likely a reference to the use of kasubha (safflower) and/or turmeric as some Filipinos do in their arroz caldo recipes. You find more specks of chives and bits of slightly toasty garlic throughout that help break the monotony.

Aroma: You get a more in-your-face savory scent where we can identify chicken powder, garlic, onion, and powdered ginger.

Taste: Immediately, Sarap Pinoy strikes us as tasting saltier, with more than one member of the team noting it tastes strongly of MSG. The said saltiness helps boost the flavors of the ginger and of the chicken, but the overall sensation strikes us as flat. We also found it to have a peculiar grassy aftertaste by the end.

The Verdict: White King

White King’s deeper (and more natural) flavors make it the box of choice by a mile. It may be less intensely seasoned, but it’s still flavorful enough to stand on its own. The relative neutrality also makes it a great canvas for adding in your own seasonings or sawsawan of choice—as you’re meant to do when eating arroz caldo, anyway—which is easier than having to dilute the flavors on Sarap Pinoy’s saltier porridge.

Which brand do you prefer? Tell us in the comments.

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