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If you’ve bookmarked a cozy Sunday roast recipe, ventured to the grocery store for ingredients, and then found yourself scratching your head at a never-ending wall of boxed, canned, and bagged stocks and broths—fret not. When it comes to broth versus stock, you can rest easy: The terms are often used interchangeably in cookbooks, on blogs, and, yeah, even on our own site. If a recipe calls for stock or broth (such as some of these soup recipes), and you only have one or the other on hand, you don’t need to dash to the supermarket; they’re pretty much the same thing. However, if you want to be especially precise, there are some differences. Let’s get into it.
What is stock?
Stock is the flavorful liquid you earn by cooking ingredients in water. What ingredients? Primarily animal bones, which require a long cooking time to dissolve the loads of lip-sticking collagen they contain. Acid, such as a splash of vinegar or spoonful of tomato paste may be added to help break down the bones. Stock can be more viscous than broth, since the collagen—the proteins from the connective tissue in the joints and bones—helps to make a stock jiggly and gelatin-y at room temperature or colder. Its rich flavor is what adds depth and savoriness to favorites like chicken noodle soup and Thanksgiving gravy.
Much of the confusion around broth versus stock arose from the surge in commercial popularity of bone broth. Home cooks have enjoyed simmering and sipping bone broth since ancient times in nearly every part of the world (putting a bunch of bones and scraps into a pot is about as simple as cooking gets)—but pre-packaged, drinkable bone broths took over grocery store shelves circa 2015, in part spurred by the rise in popularity of the paleo diet. Confoundingly, though, bone broth is actually a stock. That same collagen extracted by simmering bones, along with a host of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, are what’s been attributed to alleged (and often overstated) wellness and health benefits of bone broth (which, again, reminder, is actually a stock).
If you’ve made homemade chicken stock (or broth), freeze it in quart deli containers and save it for an entire season’s worth of warming soups, stews, hot pot, pho, and risotto, or to deglaze pans after braising meat.
What is broth?
Broth is cooked using bones that still have some meat on them and, because they typically spend less time on the stove, they will be significantly lighter than most stocks. Chicken, beef, or veal broth should take between two and four hours to cook, whereas stocks can be simmered on the stovetop or in a slow cooker for eight to 12 hours, or even longer.
Extra flavorful broth goes beyond just meat. Think veggies (onions, carrots, and celery add up to a classic mirepoix); spices such as peppercorns and anise; and aromatics like bay leaves and parsley. Because vegetables do not contain collagen, technically it’s only possible to make a vegetable broth. But you’ll still likely find some labeled as vegetable stock on grocery store shelves.
Long story short in the mind-bending saga of broth versus stock: Whether you grab chicken broth or chicken stock off the shelf, it’s not likely to impact your recipe in any significant way. And if your store-bought stock is missing that oomph, we’ve got tips on how to zhuzh it up in a pinch.