Stock vs. Broth: What’s the Difference?
You don’t have to have a degree from culinary school to know how important broths and stocks are to creating delicious cuisine. But is there a difference between the two? Is it better to use stock vs broth in certain situations and recipes? Is there really much difference between homemade and store-bought broth or stock?
And then there’s bone broth. Where does bone broth fit into the stock versus broth debate?
Stocking your fridge with a few key ingredients can make any home cook’s job easier, but when it comes to broth vs. stock, things can start to get confusing. We’ll do our best to untangle these terms, explain the benefits of each and offer some tips on how to make your own.
The Difference Between Stock and Broth
A quick Google search looking to define stock vs. broth might leave you more confused than when you started – especially if you’re looking for vegetable broth. Celebrity gastronomer Alton Brown defines stock as a cooking liquid in which animal bones and connective tissue are cooked for a long period of time, yielding a thick, collagen-rich liquid. He defines broth as a cooking liquid in which animal meats are cooked for a shorter period of time yielding a flavorful, thinner liquid.
He’s careful to mention that restaurants typically work with unseasoned stock, whereas home cooks often end up with a hybrid, since it can be challenging to completely remove all meat from the bones.
So stock is made from bones and broth is made from meat. Seems like a simple way to tell the difference. But what about vegetable broth and bone broth?
Vegetable Stock vs. Broth
Digging a little deeper, the folks at Fine Cooking set about differentiating between vegetable stock and broth. Can there really be a difference if bones aren’t involved? They ultimately conclude that in the case of vegetables, there’s really not a difference in content between stock and broth. However, when using the terms in cooking, the difference is in function and seasoning, whether or not bones are included.
In Harold McGee’s book, “On Food and Cooking,” he defines stock as a base for more complex recipes, such as sauces or more complex soups. It’s often very basic and unsalted for versatility. Broth refers to a liquid in which something has been boiled and tends to be salted, possibly flavored with herbs and spices. Broths are often the base for a soup such as chicken soup or vegetable soup.
The growing health trend of sippable bone broths has meant more options at the grocery store, but it doesn’t really help clear up the confusion. If you’re using the definitions we just laid out, the term bone broth seems impossible, right?
Broth, by Alton Brown’s definition means “no bones.” Bon Appetit writers consulted the founder of one of the first sippable bone broth stands in New York City, Chef Marco Canora, of Hearth and brodo. He confirms the confusion, asserting that the term is a misnomer. Bone broth is actually cooked just like stock – slow-cooked bones in water over a long period of time, extracting the nutritious collagen that gives bone broth a rich mouth feel and texture. When done correctly, both stock and bone broth cool to a gelatinous texture.
However most sippable bone broths are flavored with fresh herbs and spices, and they’re also salted for added enjoyment. Chef Marco also mentions that it’s ideal – and more delicious – to choose bones and joints with a little bit of meat still on them. So in a way, bone broth is a hybrid between stock and broth.
Store-Bought Options For Stock vs Broth
You may have noticed the sheer volume of options at the grocery store for stock and broth. You have chicken broths, beef broths, veggie broths, even fish broths. You see the household brands like Swanson and Campbell’s, but in most cases, these brands don’t slow-cook their stocks. For most store-bought brands, the biggest difference between broth and stock is ingredients and sodium content. Stock is more likely to have fewer ingredients and less salt.
There are bone broth options at many grocery stores as well. High-quality bone broths are going to be pricier, because they utilize the proper slow-cooking method. The longer you cook a liquid, the more of it that evaporates, which means your liquid is denser with nutrients, flavor and collagen.
But you might not need this level of complexity for every recipe you make at home. In some cases, a simple broth will work just fine. Just don’t count on boxed stock having the same health benefits as bone broth.
When deciding which cooking liquid to choose, know what you plan to use it for. Here are a few simple guidelines:
- Need a base for a rich sauce or gravy? Go with stock.
- Making chicken soup? Go with broth.
- Looking for a nutrient-dense, flavorful liquid for sipping? Go with a good-quality bone broth.
- Trying to switch from cooking oils to more water-based cooking? Make your selection based on how much flavor you want to impart on your veggies, as well as the sodium content. If you want a low-sodium liquid to which you can add your own flavors and seasonings, go with stock. If you want more noticeable chicken or beef flavor, go with broth.
How to Make Homemade Broth and Stock
Keep homemade broth or stock in your freezer or refrigerator to prep in advance and save time during your weeknight meal prep. While stock and bone broth take longer to make, the process is simple, and the rewards are great. We’ll be using the terms stock and bone broth interchangeably for this explanation, since your home-cooked version will likely be a hybrid of the two.
Regularly making bone broth is a great way to help you maximize ingredients you’re already using in your kitchen. Keep a large freezer bag handy to store veggie and meat scraps and bones (chicken carcass, ribs, chicken bones) from prior meals. Carrot tops, onion and garlic skins, celery butts, and pepper tops all make great stock ingredients and will be strained out at the end, along with the bones. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to start from scratch with fresh bones and veggies.
If you don’t have any particular dish in mind, you can’t go wrong with a simple chicken stock. Head over to your local butcher and ask for chicken wings or feet – they’re chock-full of gelatin. If you’re working with a big stock pot (think 2 to 3 gallons), you’ll want 3 to 5 pounds of chicken feet or wings.
Then you’ll make a French mirepoix: diced celery, carrots and onions. You can also add pressed or chopped garlic to the mix if you like. Add everything to your pot and fill it with water, leaving at least a couple of inches at the top.
Some chefs choose to add an acid, such as lemon juice, raw whey or apple cider vinegar to the water and allow the bones to bathe in it for 30 minutes before turning on the heat to maximize the breakdown of the bone matrix. Simmering the bones for a long time is sufficient for breaking down the bone matrix, but this extra step is recommended in more traditional recipes.
If you’re using a slow-cooker, simply turn it on low and cook for at least six hours or as long as 24, depending on the size of your cooker. (You don’t want to cook it for so long that there’s no liquid left!) If you’re using your stove top, you’ll do the same, but you might want to make sure you’re able to stay home with it if you’re not comfortable leaving an open flame unattended (safety first!). Ideally, you’d also be around to skim the fat off the top as it rises during the cooking process.
Once you’ve cooked your stock to your liking, strain it into jars for freezing. Make sure you leave some room for it to expand as it freezes, or you’ll have a mess on your hands.
And just like that, you’ll have your very own supply of homemade bone broth to drink or cook with! Bon appetit!
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