Broth. Stock. The store sells both, but with seemingly the same ingredients, and it’s honestly kind of hard to tell what the difference is. It leads to a lot of questions: Are you missing out if you use the wrong one? Are you going to ruin a delicate recipe if you choose one over the other?
Well, we’re here to change all that. Broth and stock have a lot in common, the most important thing being that they’re way better when you make them from scratch. Aside from that, there are just a few basic differences that make them suitable for different things — read on to find out what exactly they are and when to use them.
Broth simply refers to a liquid that meat has been cooked in. It often also contains bones, vegetables, seasonings and aromatics. Vegetable broth and bean broth also fall under this category even though they don’t contain meat.
When to use it
Broth is already seasoned; so only use it in recipes when you know the flavor profile will work. Broth made with chicken is great for light soups, risotto and other rice dishes and white sauces; beef broth is a great base for heartier stews and tomato-based sauces; and pork broth is delicious with ramen noodles and veggies.
Stock is made by boiling bones, sometimes with fresh aromatic veggies (though classically, just the bones) to make a rich liquid. Bone broth? Yeah, it’s basically just a modern marketing campaign for stock. The collagen, gelatin and flavors in the bones give stock a richer mouthfeel than broth — good stock will turn to jelly when you refrigerate it. Classically, stock is unseasoned.
When to use it
Since stock is unseasoned, it’s a great base for a lot of dishes. Cook meat and veggies in your stock and add seasoning, and you have a soup; reduce stock and add salt, butter and wine for a rich sauce; add flour, butter and salt to make gravy. Since it’s unseasoned, stock is more versatile than broth — you can change its flavor profile by adding other ingredients.
To easily made stock, save your leftover bones from meals in a bag in the freezer, then boil up a big batch of stock when the bag is full. You can roast the bones first to give them more flavor. Freeze the stock in an ice cube tray and then use a cube or two when a recipe calls for it.
What about store-bought broth and stock? Well, the store-bought kinds tend to be pretty interchangeable. But in general, stocks tend to be richer and more fully flavored, while broths are a little thinner. Either way, you’ll want to give them a boost at home — try simmering some carrots, celery and onion in either before you use it in any of your meals so they pick up some of that homemade goodness. And always opt for the low-sodium products so you can control the salt level on your own.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2017.