What is vegetable stock?
Vegetable stock is a standard staple in the vegetarian kitchen. It’s the extracted essence of multiple vegetables, made by simmering them down until soft and then pushing out the juices.
Is there a difference between vegetable stock and broth?
Only slightly. Stock is technically the liquid obtained from the cooked vegetables. It’s not meant to be eaten on its own and is typically used to add flavor or create a base. Broth is more like a light soup. So once you season stock and have it in a bowl to sip you’ve made broth. Most stock, however, has already been seasoned and has added salt so it’s actually broth. This fact probably only matters on cooking school final exams!
Are there different types of vegetable stock?
Yes. Regular stock is more of a light variety. Dark vegetable stock also exists, but you usually have to make that yourself. It’s more intense and made from more assertive, earthy vegetables and, as the name implies, it’s much darker. You can also have mushroom stock, where the principal flavor comes from mushrooms.
How do I buy it?
When buying vegetable stock you have three choices. You can buy it in liquid form, usually sold in quart-sized shelf-stable containers. It’s found right with the beef and chicken stock. Because each brand uses their own unique combination of vegetables and seasonings they taste very different from each other.
You can also buy it in cube form. This is usually more economical than buying the liquid. It’s also much easier to carry home if you find that you cook with stock a good deal.
The cubes are dropped into water that has been brought to a boil. They dissolve in the water, creating stock. Some brands dissolve easier than others. Sometimes I have to stir and mush the cube quite a bit to get it to break up completely.
It’s also available as a thick paste sold in small jars. The brand you’re most likely to find on the grocery store shelf is Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base. You mix it in hot water, just like the cubes, but you’ll typically add one teaspoon of paste per cup (8 oz) of stock desired. Like the liquid form, the paste must be kept refrigerated once opened. It seems expensive at first, but one jar will make 38 cups (2.375 gallons)!
Which is better, prepared liquid, paste, or rehydrated cubes?
It comes down to personal preference and convenience. I like the pre-made stock myself. I just don’t think that the cubes have a comparable flavor—at least not any brands that I’ve tried.
What should I watch out for when buying vegetable stock?
Like canned soups, it can be very high in sodium. There are low-salt and no-salt-added varieties available and these are the brands I typically look for. My theory is that you can always add more salt to a recipe. You don’t need it to come from all the ingredients before you even have a chance to pick up a salt mill. Besides, freshly ground sea salt is the best flavor anyway.
Many stocks use yeast extract. This is a somewhat controversial subject. Some people believe that it reacts in the body the same way that monosodium glutamate (MSG) does. It’s a flavor enhancer that I generally try to avoid. They way I look at it is I want the ingredients listing to read the same way something made in my own kitchen would. This way, you’re tasting the true flavor of the cooked vegetables and not just tricking your tongue into thinking it’s good.
By the way, Better Than Bouillon has autolyzed yeast extract in its ingredients. The non-organic version also uses partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
What do I use vegetable stock for?
It’s used to thin soups and to add a more complex flavor than water alone will do. It’s the base of many vegetarian dishes, from stews and rich savory dishes, to bastes and marinades for foods such as tofu and seitan. It can be used in place of water or meat-based stock in almost any savory food. For example, you can cook rice or grains in stock instead of water. Or, my favorite way for a more balanced flavor, is to use half stock and half water.
Can I make my own?
Yes! It’s super easy to make your own. In fact, this is a great way to use those vegetables in your refrigerator that are looking a little tired and wilted. I don’t think making your own is the most economical way to go necessarily, unless you’ve already got the veggies and need to use them up.
But this is the way to do it if you want the best flavor. Plus you can season it however you like. Here’s my recipe for homemade vegetable stock. Give it a try and let me know what you think!