Let’s just get one thing straight: there are very few kitchen endeavors more worthwhile and satisfying than making homemade stock or broth. Roasting bones and tending a barely simmering pot with patient skimming and straining transports me into a Zen place and fills my home with aromatic comfort. That said, I rarely have time for it. It’s a labor of love (key word: labor).

Consequently, 9 times out of 10 (i.e. most non-holiday or special event cooking), I resort to the store bought stuff. And if you are a Cooking Light regular, you may have noticed that most of our recipes call for unsalted stock as opposed to broth. So why is this? Well, there’s the obvious issue of sodium (duh).

Aside from the fact that many folks watch their sodium for dietary reasons, though, there are also substantial culinary reasons to go with unsalted. The main one: if you are making a liquid that you are then going to reduce into a sauce-like consistency, then you have to go unsalted or else you can end up with a stingingly salty solution after reduction. Other reasons may be that you are adding something naturally salty to a dish (e.g. cured meats, certain cheeses, soy sauce, etc.), and you may tip the saline balance to unbearable if you add those things to an already seasoned base.

There’s also the fact that most store-bought broths just have that flavor. They make everything taste like canned soup. Which, if you’re making soup or some other comforting dish, is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve got many fond memories of being nursed back to health on a steady diet of Campbell’s Chicken and Stars. But if I’m taking the time to make homemade risotto for my family or guests, I’m generally not looking to evoke memories of Rice-a-Roni or some other boxed delight.

Fortunately, unsalted stocks have become ubiquitous at most grocers over the past 3 or 4 years. There are selections from Kitchen Basics, Progresso, and Swanson to name a few. Around here, we go with Swanson for the most part. It’s readily available, has a versatile mildness, and was the winner in our side-by-side blind tasting here in the Test Kitchen. I keep it on hand at work and at home for those occasions--like everyday for the most part--that time and energy don’t allow for homemade.