Sometimes, there’s no homemade chicken stock in the freezer. So I zipped around San Diego and gathered up a bunch of chicken juice — mostly broths, but also a few boxed stocks — from the stores. Patrick joined me for a tasting, as did his parents Tom and Judith.
We started in with the non-organic chicken broths. “Ooh, this Saffron Road [$3.99 for 32 oz. at Whole Foods] says ‘artisan roasted,’” I cooed. “And such a lovely dark caramel color,” commented Patrick. “But don’t be fooled by marketing!” I spat after tasting. “This is hollow, flat, and watery, with no finish. Really terrible.”
The Safeway Chicken Broth ($2.99 for 32 oz. at Vons) wasn’t terrible, but was oversalted, and saddled with a slightly sour finish. “I just can’t get my tongue around it,” said Tom.
“Swanson’s 100% Natural [$3.59 for 32 oz. at Vons] — it’s a trusted name,” said Judith. “This definitely has a strong chicken smell and taste,” agreed Tom. “There’s a long, salty finish — maybe a bit too much salt. And I’m still longing for a richer taste, a stronger mouthfeel.”
He found it with the Fresh & Easy Chicken Broth ($1.99 for 32 oz. at Fresh & Easy). “Wonderful. I can taste the fatty richness,” he said. Patrick added, “It’s got good balance: besides the chicken, there’s an onion note. A good base for soup.”
Groans rang out over the final non-organic broth, Trader Joe’s Free Range Chicken Broth ($1.99 for 32 oz. at Trader Joe’s). “Thin! Sour! Reminds of paint thinner!” said Judith. “This could ruin a recipe if you used it.” Tom thought the Trader Joe’s buyer must have been asleep at the switch.
Trader Joe’s fared only slightly better with its Organic Broth ($1.99 for 32 oz. at Trader Joe’s). “It’s like drinking onion juice,” moaned Patrick. “No chicken, just carrots and onions. Totally unbalanced.” He found the same one-note problem in the Imagine Organic Free Range Broth ($3.49 for 32 oz. at Whole Foods). “No chicken flavor, just tastes like celery.” Tom was surprised how thin it tasted: “I want fat flavor in my broth.” Judith answered, “You want chicken flavor, too.”
I hoped they’d find it in the Pacific Organic Bone Broth ($3.99 for 32 oz. at Sprouts). “Maybe the bones add richness. It does have nine grams of protein per serving.” Alas. “This is watery and acrid and aggressively unpleasant,” said Patrick. “Reminds me of a cartoon showing a grocery store. ‘This aisle: tastes bad, good for you. That aisle: tastes good, bad for you.’ I’ll skip the extra protein.”
But Pacific’s Organic Chicken Broth ($3.79 for 32 oz. at Vons) fared better. Judith thought it had “a discernible chicken flavor and a hint of vegetables. It lacks richness, but I wouldn’t mind cooking with it.” We also had some success with O Organics Chicken Broth ($3.29 for 32 oz. at Vons) and the 365 Organic Chicken Broth ($2.19 for 32 oz. at Whole Foods). Both were surprisingly chickeny for how thin they appeared, with the 365 showing the best.
Finally, we tried the three chicken stocks. “This has a big flavor,” said Patrick of the Kitchen Basics Original Chicken Stock ($2.99 for 32 oz. at Sprouts). “It’s almost beefy. After the broth, it’s like going from string quartets to gutbucket rock.” Judith liked the concentrated flavor. “It’s almost like bouillon.” I agreed, saying I admired the boldness. “Stock tends to pick up richness from the bones as it’s made.” It was certainly more impressive than both the Swanson Chicken Cooking Stock ($3.99 for 32 oz. at Vons) and Safeway Chicken Cooking Stock ($3.29 for 32 oz. at Vons). They were lighter and thinner and, as Judith put it, “perfectly serviceable,” but nothing more.
Finally, we tried the organic Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base ($5.99 for 8 oz. — 38 servings — at Whole Foods). It’s a paste; you heat one teaspoon per cup of hot water, and the extra effort was worth it. The result was the clear winner of the day, with Fresh & Easy finishing a distant (but respectable) second. “Perfect,” I said. “You get everything you want in terms of chicken and vegetable flavors, and not too much of any one thing.” “Just super flavorful,” agreed Judith. “I love the richness,” added Tom.