A first-rate soup is easy to make with a good stock. But can a stock you buy at the grocery store equal -- or even surpass -- homemade stock?
To find out, I blind tasted six store-bought vegetable stocks. Managing Producer Sally Swift warmed each stock in the microwave, poured it into a clear plastic cup and labeled it with a letter. I ranked each on a 5-point scale, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.
Stock A: Imagine Organic Vegetable Broth ($3.49)
This is mustard orange in color and tastes like carrot and celery. I don’t want carrot stock, I want vegetable stock.
Stock B: 365 Everyday Value Organic Vegetable Broth ($2.29)
It has salt, it has decent flavor, it’s rather delicate. It's rather light and rather nice. It's not bad, but it's just ordinary.
Stock C: Swanson 100% Natural Vegetable Broth ($2.99)
Remember the color of Tang? This is it. This really has a nice vegetable flavor. It’s not overly salted. But this bright orange stock just doesn’t do it for me -- it’s a wimp.
Stock D: Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth ($3)
It’s a cloudy, orangey color. It smells of celery seed and is a little salty for my taste. Not bad, but it’s not neutral enough.
Stock E: More Than Gourmet Vegetable Culinary Stock ($3.79)
Score: 4, 0
It's trying to be clear and is a brownish color. It smells sweet. This is a saltless stock. I know this brand, I know what it is. If it had salt in it, I think that it would have a very nice flavor. Even with salt it’s going to be too weak-kneed. It's close; I'll give it a score of 4 out of 5.
[Ed. note: Sally then revealed the brand of stock, including that it contains salt.]
I was wrong. It’s not what I thought it was -- it does have salt in it. OK, that does it. This is like dishwater. This gets a big fat zero.
Stock F: Kitchen Basics Unsalted Vegetable Stock ($3.25)
Score: 3, 4
This is really brown. It's very delicate; it's not as salty as the others at all, and really nice and full bodied. I’d give it a little salt, believe it or not, and I’d boil it down a bit.
[Ed. note: Sally then revealed the brand, including that it is unsalted.]
This is actually unsalted. This is sweet; it tastes of vegetables. I have got to give that the top score. I'm going to change the score to 4. That's our winner.
Lynne scores the vegetable stocks (Photo: Micah Taylor)
Kitchen Basics Unsalted Vegetable Stock is our winner, even though there’s really no champ here. Not one of these stocks is a standout compared to what you can do with a homemade stock. None of these match what you can do with 90 minutes of simmering at home -- none of them, they’re not within a country mile. None of them are as cheap, either.
(Photo: Micah Taylor)
To judge a store-bought vegetable stock, first read the label. Vegetables should dominate the list of ingredients, with salt and any ingredients with more than two syllables at the end.
Next, taste the stock. It should taste good enough to sip on its own. I don't like broths that have heavy salting, wishy-washy flavors, chemical tastes or one dominant ingredient. You always want a stock to be neutral so that you can salt it if you want -- or if you want to boil it down, it’s not going to end up being like a salt lick. That’s the great thing about an unsalted stock.
While Muir Glen is an underwriting partner, neither their brand nor the brands of their parent company are involved in the reviewing process, and their employees have no editorial input or oversight on the results.
Each week, The Splendid Table brings you stories that expand your world view, inspire you to try something new, and show how food brings us together. We rely on you to do this. You have the power to keep us cooking, sharing these stories, and helping you in the kitchen.
Donate today for as little as $5.00 a month. Your gift only takes a few minutes and has a lasting impact on The Splendid Table.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.