Taking Stock: A Review of Store-Bought Stocks
Nothing makes me feel like more of a cook and health-conscious mom than standing over a steaming pot of homemade stock, stirring the meat and vegetables that I cut that morning. BUT, and this is a big but, there are many days when I just don’t have the time or the desire to commit four hours to the task. To make my life easier, I always ensure that I have a few cans of stock stored away in my cupboards for just those moments. So, when a recipe calls for homemade stock and you just don’t have the time, store-bought stock is a quick and easy alternative.
When shopping for stocks, I usually pick what’s on sale, but that’s not always the healthiest or tastiest option — and the restults have been hit or miss. So, over the course of a weekend, I forced my husband to put down his Playstation controller and taste-test over a dozen different meats and vegetable broths, and two seafood stocks (thanks, Honey, I owe you for this one!). We rated each stock based on taste, aroma, and appearance, and also took into account nutritional value and price point. Here’s what we found…
Chicken stock is arguably the most commonly used stock for cooking, which is why grocers tend to carry a greater variety of it. In my search of four local markets, I was able to find about 8-10 brands, and reviewed six of the most commonly reoccurring ones. As you can see from the photo above, the colors were surprisingly diverse, spanning the “chicken spectrum” from a poached to deep fried. Even more surprising was the difference in taste and smell. Among the six stocks, there was a definite top three and bottom three, with a clear winner that pulled above the rest. (Note: every stock we rated contained zero fat and less than 20 calories per serving, therefore, I only noted the sodium content for each brand.)
Butterball (pictured top left): With no surprise, Butterball, a name synonymous with poultry, had the best overall taste, smell, and appearance. It was sufficiently chicken-y, without being either overly salty or overly bland. The price was appealing, too, at $0.49 for a 14.5 oz. can. Of course, good flavor comes at a cost, and with Butterball, it’s the cost of high blood pressure; 820g of sodium per serving.
Swanson (bottom left): Swanson brand was by far the easiest to find, as it appeared in the soup isle of every grocery store I visited. It was our second pick for flavor and price at $1.50 for a 32 oz. carton. The aroma and color were a bit off-putting, but if added to a dish with other aromatics, could easily be countered. Slightly better for the heart, Swanson contains 510g of sodium per serving.
College Inn (top middle): Fairly easy to find, comparable in price to the other two, and even less sodium per serving (450g), College Inn was the final in our top three picks. An excellent aroma of roast chicken, with a subtle (if not slightly bland) chicken flavor.
Here’s a brief rundown of the bottom three picks in the order we rated them:
Kitchen Basics (bottom right): This brand was easier to find than College Inn, but much more expensive than the rest with a price of $2.69/32 oz. carton. It had the second lowest sodium count at 210g per serving, and although it had a nice smell of grilled chicken, there was too strong of a vegetable flavor — which would be excellent for vegetable broth, but not for chicken stock.
Emeril’s (top right) and Rachael Ray (bottom middle): We found that neither of these stocks were worth the price ($2.62 and $1.98 respectively for a 32 oz. carton). Emeril’s was very salty and left an oily finish on the tongue, with a high sodium count of 590g per serving. Rachael Ray’s Low Sodium Stock-in-a-Box obviously had the least amount of sodium per serving (135g), but also had the least amount of flavor.
When buying pre-made stock, I want to spend my money on something that tastes good, but is also healthy. Although Butterball had the best overall flavor, I plan on using College Inn for my “chicken stock emergencies.” The smell was fantastic, the lower sodium count was appealing, and the somewhat thin flavor can easily be punched up with the addition of other vegetables and spices. Next week…beef stock!