Stock vs. Broth: What's the Difference?

Stock and broth are similar, but they're not exactly the same. Here are the ways they're alike and different.

Basic Chicken Stock
Photo: John Kernick

Stock and broth are foundational in cooking. From soups and stews to a cooking medium for everything from grains to vegetables, to the basis of sauces and gravies, it is no wonder that many recipes begin with stock or broth in their ingredient list. The two are used nearly interchangeably in print, and in fact, many recipes will call for stock OR broth, which raises the question. What exactly is the difference between stock and broth?

What's in stock and what's in broth?

The main difference between stock and broth starts with the primary ingredient. Stock is generally made from bones, and broth is generally made from flesh. In both cases, they are often supported with aromatic vegetables, but in the case of stock, left unseasoned for maximum flexibility in recipes, whereas broth will usually contain at least salt and pepper. For stock, bones are usually roasted before use for color and flavor, for broth, the meats tend to be used directly from raw. This is why many stocks are darker than broths from the same proteins.

What are the texture differences between stock and broth?

The second difference comes in texture. Because stock is made of bones, it tends to have a slightly thicker consistency, due to the collagen and natural gelatin in the bones, and you will find that good stocks may gel when chilled. This makes stocks wonderful for use in sauces and gravies and stews where the texture can really help with the consistency. Broths have a thinner more watery texture, making them great as the basis for soups where you do not need that thickening.

But what about vegetable broth and stock?

Obviously, this is different for vegetable stocks and broths, where no bones or meat are used in either product. Some companies will add plant-based gelatin to vegetable stock to give it that added thickening, which is a trick you can also do at home if you want to make homemade.

Can you substitute stock for broth and vice-versa?

While you can technically use them for nearly identical applications in cooking, you will want to pay attention to seasoning for your final products. Dishes made with stock will need more aggressive seasoning than those made with broth. If you do not want to make your own, and do not want to have to fill your larder with both options, you can find a happy medium by keeping low-sodium broth in the pantry as your single choice. The only place you really cannot sub broth for stock is in recipes that call for veal stock, which is a reference to a reduced product that is essential for classical sauce work, sometimes called demi-glace.

Can you buy stock or broth?

You can also purchase concentrated stocks and broths to which you add water before you continue with recipes. Stock bases are usually sold as pastes or in liquid form, where broth bases are most commonly sold as powders or in cubes and can be referred to as bouillon. To use either of these in recipes, simply follow the package directions to add water to create the amount of stock or broth called for in your recipe.

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