They're essential ingredients in so many recipes, but can they be used interchangeably?
measuring cups of chicken vegetable broth and water
Credit: Marcus Nilsson

Every soup, stew, and many sauces require broth or stock. They add a depth of flavor and are the base of recipes as diverse as split-pea soup, chicken pot pie, and fish stews like Cioppino. These flavorful, comforting liquids all contain mirepoix (onion, celery, carrots) and aromatics (like peppercorns and bay leaves), but they vary in other ingredients (meat vs. animal bones) and their cook times. That begs the following questions: What's the difference between stock and broth? Can you substitute one for the other? And when should you use each?

What's the Difference Between Stock and Broth?

The main difference between the two is that stock is made with cleaned animal bones (chicken, beef, fish, or veal are the most common) and broth uses bones with meat still on them, or meat alone. A robust, flavorful stock (known as a brown stock in classical French cooking) begins by roasting bones and mirepoix (celery, carrots, and onions); some stock recipes recommend rubbing the bones and vegetables with a tablespoon of tomato paste for added flavor and color. Because stock is made with bones, which have high amounts of collagen, it tends to be richer and fattier than broth-it also takes longer to make than broth (typically three to twelve hours for one batch). Of course, there's an exception to every rule: Vegetable broth and vegetable stock are the same thing (vegetables and herbs are cooked in water to extract their flavor).

Despite the differences between stock and broth, the terms are often used interchangeably. Traditionally, stock was unseasoned and broth was seasoned, since broth was often consumed as-is in a soup, and stock was typically enhanced with other ingredients. You can substitute stock for broth, and vice versa, but may need to adjust seasoning accordingly.

When to Cook with Stock and Broth

Beef stock is often used as the base of French Onion Soup-it gives the soup its signature dark brown color and robust flavor. Veal stock is the base of French bordelaise sauce, a rich and glossy sauce served with steaks and short ribs. Chicken stock is used in many recipes, from noodle soup to stuffing.

Broth is best used as a delicate base for soups including Tortellini Soup, Turkey-Pesto Meatball Soup, and Broken Wonton Soup. Dashi, is a Japanese broth, is made by boiling kombu seaweed and bonito flakes for a briny flavor that serves as the base of miso soup. Vietnamese Pho is also made with a light, aromatic beef broth that gives flavor to this rice noodle soup. Broth can also be used as a hearty base for rice.

Why Making Stock and Broth Is Best

While there are plenty of store-bought options, it's easy and relatively inexpensive to make your own chicken stock or vegetable broth. Save vegetable scraps and chicken, meat, or fish bones in freezer bags and freeze them until you have enough to make stock or broth. Make a big batch and store it in airtight containers in the freezer, ready to use whenever you need it over the coming months. Not only will you reduce waste, you'll also save money.

What's the Deal with Bone Broth?

Bone broth has been trending in recent years thanks to health claims that it fights inflammatory diseases, improves digestion and, you guessed it, bone health. This soothing drink is a hybrid of broth and stock. Despite its name, the process for making bone broth is more like making stock; animal bones are roasted, then simmered for several hours, or up to an entire day. But like a broth, it's seasoned afterward, so it's delicious on its own. The proteins and collagen found in animal bones infuse the liquid with nutrients, which we then drink and absorb.


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