With salt levels low, the chicken and vegetable flavors in ready-made stocks or broths are even more important to healthy cooking. Stocks and broths seem simple, but ingredient labels reveal lots of sodium and frequent use of protein additives and vague flavorings. With various free-range, organic, and all-natural claims, it’s tough to know which is best for your soup, risotto, or stew. We tasted nine chicken, six beef, and five vegetable stocks and broths. Some were too watery. In others, one vegetable or another overpowered the base flavor. A few had oddly vivid colors. None of the beef broths thrilled us: We’ll keep tasting. Meanwhile, these are favorite chicken and vegetable choices.
OUR TOP PICK―Chicken: Swanson's Less-Sodium, Fat-Free Chicken Broth
Price: $3 (32-ounce carton) or $1 (14-ounce can)
Testers said: In the blind test, raters gave high marks for pleasant roast chicken flavor and aroma. We agreed it would perform well in chicken noodle soups, simple pan sauces, as cooking liquid for couscous or rice, or gravy for roasted meats. Full disclosure: This is our Test Kitchen’s go-to option for recipe testing.
OUR TOP PICK―Vegetable: Swanson's Certified Organic Vegetarian Vegetable Broth
Price: $3 (32-ounce carton)
Testers said: Most tasters liked the richness and butteriness of this broth, with its balance of celery, onion, and carrot back notes. Try it in a veggie coulis puree, a gratin, a vegetable soup, a pilaf, hearty root vegetable braise, or ratatouille.
VERY GOOD―Chicken: Emeril's All-Natural Chicken Stock
Price: $3.50 (32-ounce carton)
Testers said: The less-pronounced chicken essence here was balanced with plenty of aromatics. Many raters noted a pleasant saltiness. (Though not labeled low-sodium, the sodium count is similar to that of Swanson’s low-sodium chicken broth.) Use in savory bread casseroles or stuffings, for risottos, and as a braising liquid for beef or pork.
VERY GOOD―Vegetable: Emeril's All-Natural Organic Vegetable Stock
Price: $4 (32-ounce carton)
Testers said: Tasters noted this one had a neutral veggie flavor with a slightly sweet aftertaste, and many thought it would be a good stock or broth choice. If you like, bolster the flavor by simmering with herbs or celery, or use as is for rehydrating dried mushrooms, as the base of a simple vegetable soup, in stir-fry sauces, or for spicy Southeast Asian tofu or vegetable soups.
From the Test Kitchen: 5 Tips for Using Stocks and Broths
- Simple additions, stellar results. Simmer stock or broth with a bay leaf, whole spices, or dried crushed herbs that fit your recipe's flavor profile to boost taste.
- Double the flavor. Add vegetables and poultry to the broth--both will benefit. For example, if a recipe calls for shredded cooked chicken, cook the poultry in chicken broth. You'll strengthen the broth's flavor, and you'll also lightly season the poultry while it cooks.
- Think outside the box (or can). Prepare grains like rice or grits, or short pastas (orzo or acini di pepe), in broth.
- Refrigerate reserves. Opened cartons of stocks or broths can be refrigerated for 2 weeks. Transfer canned leftovers to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
- Freeze for later. Freeze leftovers in ice-cube trays, and transfer to zip-top plastic bags when frozen. The cubes can be tossed with hot pasta or used to season a pan sauce.
How We Test
Method: We held blind tastings of each of the stock and broth categories―chicken, vegetable, and beef―on three separate days. A panel of food editors and chefs rated the warmed broths.
Nutritional guidelines: Purchased stocks and broths can harbor lots of sodium. While not every brand will label its product as low-sodium or 1⁄3-less-sodium, we evaluated those within a similar range of sodium per cup. For example, the chicken broths we included had a range of 490
to 670 milligrams sodium per cup.