Stock. Broth. What’s the difference? We often say stock when we mean broth and broth when we mean stock, and while the two ingredients have similar uses, there are differences. Let’s settle the stock vs. broth conundrum.
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Home cooks and expert chefs use both broth and stock to add flavor to many dishes such as soups, stews, and sauces. Both ingredients are great for deglazing when you want to release all those sticky bits at the bottom of your pan. Why do with water what you can do with flavorful stock or broth? They bring a whole lot more to the table. But what exactly is the difference between broth and stock?
If you buy it from the store, the label will, of course, tell you that. But put them in a bowl next to one another, and you’d be lucky to guess which is which. Both broth and stock are great to cook with, but they do serve slightly different purposes.
What are the main differences?
The key difference between broth and stock is how it’s made. Stock is made with bones, while the broth is made with pieces of meat, which may also contain some bones or cartilage. This process makes a critical difference in flavor and consistency.
Aside from that, their uses may vary as well. Broths can be served as finished dishes (and even sipped as a beverage) or used to prepare other dishes. Stock, however, is always used as a cooking ingredient.
What is a stock?
When cooking beef, chicken, or turkey bones in water for several hours, the collagen in the connective tissue and cartilage turns into rich gelatin providing body and richness to the liquid. When cooled, you can actually see gelatin in the stock solidify. The flavor from the bone marrow also infuses into the water.
In the end, it tends to be thicker and silkier than broth, and its flavor is more condensed. You can also use veal, fish, lamb, game, and ham bones. The type of bones you use will indicate the type of stock (i.e., chicken stock, turkey stock, beef stock, and so on).
What are the main types of stock?
White stock is made with light meat and bones from veal or chicken, and no dark spices are added that would impact the color. The bones are usually quickly blanched before adding them to the stock. It’s commonly used to make white sauces.
Brown stock can be made with any type of meat bones, and the bones are roasted beforehand. Darker spices and tomato products may be added, hence a darker color.
Fish stock, just as it sounds, is made with fish bones. It’s also referred to as fish fumet, a key ingredient for seafood bisques and chowders.
Court bouillon is essentially quick stock. Traditional stock may be cooked for several hours, but court bouillon may only be cooked for 30 minutes. The flavor is less intense, but that’s on purpose so it can be used in lighter dishes when you don’t want the stock to take over the main ingredient.
What is broth?
It’s cooked the same way, only with different ingredients. No bones. However, it is made with meat — the shank, neck, and shoulder have the most flavor. By combining the meat, mirepoix, and seasonings and aromatics in simmering water, you’ll get another delicious cooking liquid that’s more clear.
The consistency is thinner since it’s cooked without bones. Unlike stock, it won’t gel as it chills because there’s no collagen. A quality broth is judged by how clear it is, while the quality stock is defined by a richer flavor, less clarity, and deeper color.
They both require a mirepoix
This is where stock and broth are the same — the mirepoix. It sounds fancy, but it’s a combination of onions (50%), carrots (25%), and celery (25%). I also add additional seasonings such as bay leaves, thyme, parsley stems, and garlic. This is called a bouquet garni or sachet d’epices. You can also leave it entirely unseasoned for a more traditional route.
Start by adding all these ingredients plus the meat or bones to cold water and bringing it to a simmer. Cook it for several hours (aim for 6 to 8), skimming frequently, and then strain it when finished. Once it’s cool, it’s ready to freeze or start adding to your meals right away.
Cooking with stock or broth
Stock and broth are used in soups as well as braises and stews. They are also often used to make gravy from scratch and in multiple types of sauces. (Remember to use white stock when making white sauces — never brown stock).
But how do you know when to use stock vs. broth? Generally speaking, they are interchangeable. However, stock has a more concentrated flavor compared to broth and will bring that to your dishes. Of course, the flavor is important, but if the dish you’re cooking has a delicate or essential stand-out main ingredient, you may not want the stock to overtake it. In that case, reach for broth.
What are the store-bought options?
Most grocery stores carry several types of stocks and broths in the form of ready-to-use liquids, cubes, granules, and bases. While these are convenient options, the flavor won’t compare to homemade stock or broth.
If store-bought is all you have on hand, you can add flavor by simmering it with mirepoix and bones. Some advantages to store-bought (aside from convenience) include the option to buy low-sodium, unsalted, or low-fat options.
Broth has fewer calories than stock but fewer nutrients as well. Bone broth is the one exception. While labeled a broth, it’s technically a stock and contains various nutrients, including collagen and amino acids, that comes from the bones. This goes for all stocks.
If you’re watching your salt intake, making homemade stock and broth does allow you to control the salt levels, but you can also buy low sodium or unsalted options at the store.