Homemade Vegetable Broth Isn't Worth the Trouble

November 13, 2015

If you made your own chicken stock or beef stock, I’m willing to bet that it is, in fact, worth the trouble to do so. As a vegetarian, I’ll happily take your word for it. And as a vegetarian who likes to cook, you might think that I’ve perfected the art of vegetable broth.

You’d be wrong. 

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For one thing, I almost never have vegetable scraps around—the vast majority of them are getting put to very good use. And since that’s the case, I’d have to be buying produce with the intention of turning it into stock, which just seems like a waste of perfectly good produce to me. (It will likely not come as a shock to hear that I’m not all that into juicing or otherwise drinking food instead of eating it.) 

Certain specialized vegetarian stocks I can get behind: corn cob, kelp, or Parmesan—yes; but a mishmash of vegetables—no. Even on the handful of times I’ve dutifully gone ahead and reluctantly bought produce in a misguided belief that it’s something that I should do, the results have been fine. Serviceable. More than adequate to use in any recipe and definitely better than anything that comes out of a box or a can. But have I loved the broth? Wanted to pour it into a mug, cup my hands around it, and slurp big sips of it while closing my eyes to take in all of its deliciousness? No.

Parmesan Stock

Which is why, with the exception of the aforementioned deviations, I’ve been making my vegetable broth the same way for nearly nine years now—with Rapunzel vegetable bouillon cubes. I understand the skepticism. How good can a compressed cube of broth be? Especially one that went from having charmingly retro packaging to updated packaging (below) that looks, well, still retro, but less charmingly so.

I was first introduced to Rapunzel (we're on a first-name basis now) by Heidi Swanson when she wrote about her Ultimate Chickpea Noodle Soup. And let’s be honest, if Heidi—who bakes everything from crackers to bread from scratch and makes grain bowls with ingredient lists sure to send you scurrying to a natural foods store—if she uses a packaged product as a shortcut sometimes, well, you can be sure it’s good.

And Rapunzel bouillon cubes are better than good. When you dissolve your first cube in boiling water, you, too, will be seduced by the slight sheen of fat across the surface (organic non-hydrogenated palm oil), the aroma of parsley and other organic herbs, and the taste of pure vegetable broth heaven. I would happily drink a bowl of the resulting broth straight-up—and I have done so on more than one occasion. When a broth tastes that good on its own, you can bet your final dish will be delicious, too. And with far less effort than making your own.

What is your favorite kitchen shortcut? Tell us about it in the comments!

First two photos by James Ransom, final photo by the author

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Fred Rickson
    Fred Rickson
  • Ruthie
  • Denise Lewis
    Denise Lewis
  • Elaine
  • Halli
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Fred R. September 19, 2017
It's absolutely amazing how the Internet substitutes for personal reading in keeping an urban legend alive. The MSG story was disproved, along with the quack English doctor who started it, about six months after its inception. The myth lives on, and probably will forever.
Ruthie September 18, 2017
You are correct, This product tastes good. But it has palm oil AND msg hidden as yeast extract. So making your own broth is definitely better. One half a cube = 43% of daily sodium requirement. Not so sure this is a good thing. In all this seems like an unhealthy choice.
Sharon September 20, 2017
Yes, but you have to realize that you're not talking about ONE person downing an entire pot of this "demon stock" on their own. Evenly distributed among several servings, only microscopic amounts of the so-called offending ingredients would be consumed. Once and a while won't kill anybody. All things in moderation. And let me make it clear that I don't have a dog in this fight, since I have never in my life used a bouillon cube for anything, However, I worked in a vegetarian restaurant that did use a powdered vegetable stock. It was okay, and the customers enjoyed the soup. Would I use it? No. I make my own veggie stock - always have. But let's not get on our high horses here. There are dozens of cultures all over the world that cook with palm oil. None of them are plagued with obesity or have children suffering from Type II diabetes. Nor are they dropping dead from heart attacks and strokes. There are many contributors to illnesses and disease. They are not contingent upon just one or two dietary staples. The hands down most unhealthy life-style choice is sitting down on our butts, staring into a TV, computer, or cell phone screen all day!
Ruthie September 20, 2017
The normal serving is half a cube diluted, but still half a cube. If you eat two bowls, it is the whole cube at 43% of daily sodium. People who chose to avoid palm oil, MSG and high sodium foods need to know, regardless of your 'a little won't kill you' approach. It is about choices. And the yeast extract IS MSG.
Denise L. September 4, 2017
The only problem with this is the high sodium in the one with herbs is that as a heart attack survivor I can not have that much sodium so I do everything from scratch. I know there are not salt versions but they are not as good. It is great for most people but not those with heat issues or high blood pressure.
Fred R. July 18, 2016
Seems like a commercial for Repunzel to me. Boil all veg till all the flavor is in the solution (1-2 hours), then throw the scraps out. Makes proper veg stock/broth.
Elaine July 18, 2016
I've used Rapunzel's bouillon for years. It does taste great, and is relatively inexpensive. And honestly, sometimes a cup of it is lunch. But I also make stock with carrots, onion, garlic and whatever herbs I have on hand. It's really no harder or expensive than buying prepackaged bouillon. Heidi Swanson has a recipe for homemade bouillon. I haven't tried it, but I'm sure it's amazing. I prefer not to use commercially prepared products simply because I can control what goes in my food.
Halli November 25, 2015
I'm not a fan of eating carrot peels and broccoli stems (and while I've seen recipes for broccoli stems, they don't seem terribly appealing), but I am a big fan of the stock I can make from them when I've saved up a pots' worth of peels and stems. While you claim not to have "scraps" lying around, you then keep going on about not wanting to buy produce just to make stock with, which I do agree with, but you seem to have not been referring to peels and stems, actual "scraps," which work wonderfully for broth.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 25, 2015
Give this one a shot Halli, it might change your mind on broccoli stems: https://food52.com/recipes/18997-broccoli-marrow-with-pecan-garlic-butter
Halli November 25, 2015
That sounds interesting, thanks, mainly because it doesn't say to peel the stems, which most stem recipes I've seen do and which has never gone well for me. It does still seem much more time consuming though than just chopping them for stock!
Dr.Insomnia November 25, 2015
Check out Ray Finamores "broccoli cooked forever" on this site. Not just a great recipe using broccoli stems, but literally one of my favorite recipes of all time.
jim November 23, 2015
LMAO, this should heat things up!!!
jim November 23, 2015
Sorry Ted, but in case you haven't noticed there are many poisons in our food, some of us are concerned, simply click and delete the email, or Unsubscribe, please stop whining?
carol M. November 23, 2015
I am not a vegetarian so the last thing I'm going to do is spend time making vegetarian broth. But my daughter and some of my friends are - and I think the canned/boxed broth is insipid - so I appreciate this tip. Which did not sound to me like a sales pitch but like a useful tip. Chill people, we're not all like yourselves!
Halli November 25, 2015
I make stock out of actual scraps (carrot peels and broccoli stems) to get some more use out of them before composting, not because I'm vegetarian (I'm not). Do whatever's best for you, but your comment that just because you're not vegetarian "the last think you're going to do is spend time making vegetarian broth" came across pretty oddly (as did the tone of the article itself, for that matter).
TF November 22, 2015
Save our forests. Don't use palm oil.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 23, 2015
Rapunzel's palm oil comes from small organic family farms were developed without clearing rainforest, you can read more in my comments below.
Ted November 22, 2015
Can we move this discussion to another advertisement, er.. article so I stop getting email alerts every time a new comment is added?
Fred R. November 22, 2015
Here's another palm oil tidbit. While new oil plantations in western Peninsular Malaysia do indeed eat up forest, did you know that the estates put up barn owl nesting boxes, which encourages large owl populations, which eat a lot of rats, which normally carry plague and eat local crops, and which negates the use of rat pesticides in the area. Sorry, it ain't always as simple as the Internet "god this is easy" would have you believe.
Dr.Insomnia November 22, 2015
Very interesting. On the converse, community gardens are havens for rats in cities. It's generally a bad idea to grow a lot of food near where you live if you want to control vermin.
Fred R. November 22, 2015
Where are the barn owls when you need them?
Sheila W. November 23, 2015
While I agree that it is probably time to move the subject off of palm oil containing broth cubes, I can't resist adding one more comment -- i.e., each one of us will have to decide the cost benefit of losing the essential rainforests to palm oil plantations --rainforests - the largest carbon catch areas on the planet which house animal and plant ecosystems that keep the planet in balance. The best example I can think of in which we messed with an ecosystem and lived to regret it is when the wolves were killed off in Yellowstone National Park --after the scientists realized the monumental mistake they had made, the wolves were reintroduced 70 years later with spectacular results. See this gorgeous clip for the story -- of which the moral is: We mess with Mother Nature at our own peril: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q.
So is it the lungs of our planet or palm oil products? The scientists at University of Bath are working on some alternatives that seem viable --though not as inexpensive -- but with luck, they'll find the solutions before all the animal and plant life is gone, and we find that we're out of oxygen.. http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/feb/17/scientists-reveal-revolutionary-palm-oil-alternative-yeast
PG T. November 22, 2015
*she uses bouillon cubes herself*
PG T. November 22, 2015
"Yeah," he said, dismissing the comment. "Marcella throws them in everything."
He was referring to Marcella Hazan, America's foremost authority on Italian food. Throughout her cookbooks, she not only suggests bouillon cubes as an alternative to homemade broth, she even also calls for them specifically in certain recipes.
PG T. November 22, 2015
C'mon, people!
Here's the venerable Marcella Hazen admitting to frequent & liberal *cube-age* in her kitchen.
Reply February 27, 2013 at 08:17 PM
Marcella Hazan said...
Thank you! I was very happy to read this. For the record, i am not a snob about bouillon cubes and in my life I must have used a bushel or two of them when I was out of broth. Barilla pasta I never use, even if you are making your own, it is so easy to find something better than Barilla. Marcella
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2015
Thanks for this PG Tipsy! :)
Sharon November 22, 2015
Geeze, so much judgment and pretense flying around here. You'd think that none of you ever consumed a can of soup in your lives! Are you all pioneers on the prairie, threshing your own wheat, making soap from tallow and baking hoe cakes on a hot shovel over an open fire? Seriously? Just because something is store-bought doesn't make it inherently bad. There's nothing wrong with using packaged products sometimes, and some ARE better than what most people can make at home. That being said, just boiling a bunch of vegetables will not develop much depth of flavor. Actually, onions (red & yellow - skins on), carrots and celery alone will produce an excellent stock base if you first drizzle them with a little olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven to a very deep char. Don't be afraid of the brown. Caramelization produces FLAVOR. And never pass up those distressed looking mushrooms at the market. They deliver a whallop of umami when roasted. Roasting is the key. Try it.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2015
Thanks for the tip Sharon!
Elaine July 18, 2016
Well, I actually am a soapmaker, and I have made soap from tallow I rendered as well as soaps made with vegetable oils. I buy vegetable stocks and bouillons, and I make them, too. I prefer homemade because I control what goes in it, but that's just me. I don't put other people down for their choices. Who knew stock could elicit such visceral responses.
geek November 22, 2015
I couldn't understand the snark and bizarreness of this article (how is saving scraps to make into a light lovely broth more wasteful then composting them?) until I got to the sales pitch for a product. Oh I get it now. Not gonna buy though. Thanks.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2015
Hi geek, no snark intended, and I certainly didn't mean to imply that saving scraps to make broth is wasteful, I merely said that I personally don't have a lot of scraps around that work to make broth with because I use them in other ways.
geek November 22, 2015
From the title to the overall tone I (and seemingly other commenters here ) got a distinct judgy whiff. You actually did come out and say "For one thing, I almost never have vegetable scraps around—the vast majority of them are getting put to very good use". You and your product would be better served by just saying "I don't have time to make my own broth so I use this delightful thing you can buy". This article just really turned me off.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2015
Right, as I mentioned, I said that because I'm into cooking with scraps (https://food52.com/topics/cooking-with-scraps), hence not enough scraps for stock. There's a lot of great content on Food52, hope you find something that's more your speed!
Halli November 25, 2015
I agree with geek - while it's obviously hard to tell tone in writing, the tone of this rubbed me the wrong way too. You also don't seem to be referring to things like carrot peels and broccoli stems, which like I posted is what I make my stock with. Do you really eat these? Enjoy then, but it did come across rather haughty and sounding like if other people make stock with scraps, you must be better because you don't have many.
Cyndi R. November 22, 2015
I've done it all--scraps, whole fresh vegetables, aceptic packs, cubes, and powders--and my most flavorful stock is still made from juiced or vita-mixed vegetables/tomatoes thinned a bit with water and strained if necessary. No palm oil for me and sodium is definitely a concern.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2015
It sounds like you've found a good option that works well for you! Just FYI, Rapunzel does have a no salt added option, and while there certainly are issues with palm oil, you might be interested to know that Rapunzel's palm oil is produced ethically and is certified Fair Trade. It comes from sustainably-harvested palm fruits in Ghana’s Eastern Region and the small organic family farms were developed without clearing rainforest.
Angelica November 22, 2015
Sounds interesting, tempting maybe... But, I'm with Jim and Sheila...palm oil kills it for me... and literally too...the environment (Indonesia & Borneo and now even it's nativeland, Africa) where most of it is farmed and the wildlife as well. It's challenging but I stay away from that mess of an ingredient. I do what HeatherAnne does, boil scraps I've saved in the freezer as well have a good balance of using store-bought and having a jar of Better than Bouillon at all times. The sodium content concerns me too and try to lessen that or choose low sodium. Great link for ideas on how to use scraps...pinning!
Fred R. November 22, 2015
They list a "no salt added" choice.
Lindsay-Jean H. November 22, 2015
There certainly are issues with palm oil, however, you might be interested to know that Rapunzel's palm oil is produced ethically and is certified Fair Trade. It comes from sustainably-harvested palm fruits in Ghana’s Eastern Region and the small organic family farms were developed without clearing rainforest.
Sheila W. November 22, 2015
My understanding of sustainable palm oil is contained in this link: http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/what_wwf_is_doing/certified_sustainable_palm_oil/

If Rapunzel's palm oil was truly produced without destroying rainforest and is certified by the RSPO, then that is certainly more palatable than oil from most palm oil plantations. But the concept of sustainable palm oil is controversial -- as a number of environmental organizations have claimed that some palm oil growers have attempted to gain and use membership in the RSPO as a shield, without making any real attempt to grow palm oil sustainably. This fraud has more to do with the ability of the RSPO to police their membership than anything else. In my mind, the best practice is to avoid products altogether that use palm oil as an ingredient -- and it is not easy to do, since palm oil has been used in everything from shampoo to toothpaste. But I think as the consequences of global warming and ecosystem destruction become more serious and place more of humanity at risk, new green companies will arise that produce truly sustainable products. I only hope that's the case.
Fred R. November 22, 2015
Just read the Rapunzel reviews on Amazon, and below, and is depressing that folks still repeat the disproven MSG hoax (hint: it was a quack English doctor that started it). You have more glutamic acid in your body at any given time than you will ever get in a normal meal....so maybe you are really allergic to yourself. Go read, and get over it.
Dr.Insomnia November 22, 2015
Chinese restaurant syndrome was the gluten intolerance of yesteryear. And these things never fully go away, despite what the science says. This is why we'll still be battling to get parents to vaccinate their children generations from now.