We all buy packaged chicken broth of some kind. It's a great short cut if you don't want to make your own stock. However, there are issues. After tasting 8 different kinds, we found a huge variety in quality, taste, saltiness and overall appeal.
We chose to stick to primarily tetrapak stocks because they tend to come in quantities that are most useful in the kitchen (the cans are quite small). They keep well in the fridge after opening and they are shelf stable. The process they go through should preserve the flavour better and keep it fresh. By chance we also tried a new chicken concentrate product from Knorr which seemed smilar to our much loved and sadly missed PC chicken concentrate which, in their wisdom, PC took off the shelves. We chose brands that we thought most people would use and are readily available in most grocery stores. Here are the 8 contenders:
All the stocks are approximately 1 L and retail for between $3.99 and $4.99 although prices vary depending where you get them.
Pacific Organic Chicken Broth
Pacific Organic Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
Campbell's Chicken Broth (with 25% reduced salt from their regular brand)
Campbell's Organic Free Range Chicken Broth
Imagine Organic Chicken Broth
President's Choice Organic Chicken Broth
Loblaws Blue Menu Chicken Broth (no sodium)
Knorr Homestyle Chicken Stock Concentrate
In our judging criteria, we were looking for a stock that could be used as the basis for soups and sauces, something with a rich flavour, not too much salt and could be reduced to make a tasty sauce. We tasted all the stocks blind--they wered heated and served in numbered bowls. Overall the colour of all the stocks looked similar to a homemade stock, however this is where the comparison ends. We were very disappointed in the flavour of most of them and none met our criteria for a great homemade stock substitute. We were shocked at how bad so many of them tasted and wondered how they could possibly pass as chicken stock as there was little to no chicken flavour. Several also had an off-putting, yeasty, molasses-like flavour. Others had so much salt in it was left on the tongue. After tasting them there was definitely only one which came the close and even then we had our reservations. Here are our top three qualified picks:
In third place was the Knorr Homestyle chicken stock concentrate, which was slightly fresher tasting and less salty than the traditional Knorr powder. Dilluted according to package directions, you can easily use it to make soups. We don't recommend reducing it, as the end product tastes only of salt. We were surprised with this selection because when we later looked at the package, we found that chicken was distressingly far down on the list of ingredients. However, it did have the familiar Knorr chicken stock flavour and would work just fine for soups.
In second place was Imagine Organic Chicken Broth. This had a good flavour that was quite vegetably and peppery with a balance of chicken flavour. It would work very well for soups, but again we wouldn't recommend reducing this one for sauces either. When we reduced it by half it was inedible.
Our top pick, was the Campbell's Chicken Broth with 25% less salt than their regular chicken broth. This one had a balanced chicken and vegetable flavour and was the only one we would even consider having straight as a soup with noodles in it. This one tasted the best reduced for a sauce although it was still quite salty.
You could make sauces with any of these as long as it did not call for reduction. In other words sauce thickened with flour or cornstarch would be OK but the modern pan sauce - reduced stock and an acid would not work.
Making your own stock substitute
As these were mediocre at best, making a stock substitute yourself is an option or buying it frozen from reputable butcher shops. Ask first if they salt it or not - my butcher (Cumbrae) does not.
Another option is to make a fast chicken stock by taking the packaged stock and adding in a couple of chicken legs, 3 cups of water and some onions, carrots, celery and maybe a clove or two of garlic. Let it simmer gently for 45 minutes or until flavourful. Doing this will improve the flavour immeasurably and allow you to reduce it to make a sauce...not to mention, give you two cooked chicken legs to nibble on!