Bouillon Powder Is Your Pantry's New Secret Weapon

It's good for so much more than soup.

June 22, 2022
Photo by Getty Images

Have you ever known the acute panic that comes from calling your favorite takeout place only to learn the line has been disconnected? Faced with the prospect of never tasting the world’s best—that’s right, best—chicken shawarma ever again, you may slip into denial, as I did. Maybe you drive by the shuttered storefront a few times, desperate for signage indicating this is only temporary. Then you begin ordering shawarma after shawarma, hoping someone else miraculously makes it exactly the same—garlicky, redolent of lemon and warming turmeric, and unmistakably chickeny.

Eventually, you have to move on, or, in my case, get in the kitchen and tinker until your weekly shawarma injection is restored. After several unsuccessful trials and far too much time spent scouring the internet for shawarma variations, I stumbled across chef and cookbook author Molly Yeh’s recipe for chicken shawarma tacos, which called for a sprinkling of that vintage pantry denizen: bouillon powder.

Bouillon powder is sort of unfashionable these days. Bone broth is in, long-simmered homemade stock is in, while manufactured bouillon cubes are decidedly out. But if you are searching for that elusive super-chickeny chicken flavor, reconsider. After marinating chicken breast slices for half a day in garlic, onion, olive oil, lemon juice, turmeric, chile flakes, a touch of cinnamon and a few shakes of the good stuff, I eased them into the cast iron skillet for a quick sear. I stole an impatient bite right from the pan, and there it was once more: The unmistakable umami that only comes from ground-up dried chicken seasoned with salt and spices. It wasn’t an exact replica of my beloved takeout version, but close enough to satisfy me within the realm of reasonable sodium consumption.

Since reacquainting with my old friend bouillon, I’ve begun sprinkling dashes of it into my paella, egg-and-vegetable stir-fries, and almost every soup and stew. I dust it over simmered roasted green chiles, which I cap with blistered asadero cheese for a Borderlands-style chile con queso. Bouillon also makes roasted potatoes sing and lends a lovely, secret umami note to biscuits when subbed in for some of the salt. The same holds true for drinking snacks like roasted nuts or popcorn, by the way.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“What is the photo at the top of the article?? Is that some kind of lovely chicken bouillon powder? I would assume it is because that’s what the article is about but there’s no information for the photo. I would love to know,the brand name…”
— Pamela_in_Tokyo

“It's like the Lipton Onion Soup flavoring, it's just really, really good," says Israeli-born restaurateur and chef Michael Solomonov, of Philadelphia restaurants including Zahav and Abe Fisher. “Osem Chicken Consomme is widely used in Israel today, and it’s a holdover from the food rationing that started in the 1940s, (when) it was used as a substitute for chicken stock in staple recipes like matzo ball soup.”

Solomonov even commissioned New York spice shop La Boîte to make a custom bouillon blend, which he used in the matzo ball soup served at his now-closed charity-minded restaurant Rooster Soup Co. To this day, Israelis use bouillon to punch up everything from casseroles to chopped liver, kugel and hummus.

While we’re on the subject, Michele Casadei Massari, executive chef and owner of Lucciola in New York City, would like to dispel the myth that Italians only cook with real meat stock.

“Chicken bouillon powder is the key to many traditional Italian recipes,” he says. When Massari makes risotto at the restaurant and at home, he simmers a pinch of chicken bouillon powder with white wine until reduced to deepen the dish’s slow-cooked flavors. He also adds it to the dry herb blend of thyme, chile flakes and dry onion flakes that flavors his arrabbiata pasta sauce. He likes to thin his spicy tomato sauce with water, then cook the pasta right there in one pot for a cozy, warming weeknight dinner.

The invention of the bouillon cube as we know it occurred around the turn of the last century in Europe, as the food companies Maggi, OXO, and Knorr took turns innovating their way toward inexpensive portable soups by concentrating beef solids into extracts. Yet people have been making flavor concentrates out of dried meat, salt and spices—aka the precursors to Cup-o-Soup—all over the world for thousands of years, from the Americas to Eastern Europe. It’s easy to see why: Name me a culture in which soup and stock haven’t played a crucial role as a sustaining and economic meal.

You don’t need meat to make bouillon, of course. A recent edition of my weekly 101 Cookbooks email from veg-focused food blogger, photographer and cookbook author Heidi Swanson—who’s lately been big into just-add-water meals in jars—offered up a homespun, vegan alternative featuring nutritional yeast, onion powder, coconut milk powder and nostalgic dried oregano and thyme.

Does all this mean #bouillon is trending once more? I prefer to think it never left us. It was just waiting in the back of our pantries, frozen in infinite preservation, wondering when we’d remember that after centuries, it still holds the key to savory je ne sai quois.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • chefrockyrd
  • Fred Rickson
    Fred Rickson
  • FoodieDawn
  • Plum in the Icebox
    Plum in the Icebox
  • Cin
Chicago-based food critic & freelance writer


chefrockyrd September 23, 2022
A bouillon that I turn to when I need an extra depth of flavor is mushroom. It's hard to find but I get it at my Italian market. It sells out quickly so I buy an extra box when I see it. It lasts forever. Maybe its available on line? I haven't checked.
Fred R. September 22, 2022
Maybe it’s just that I’m old (84), have a bit of high blood pressure, but all of the various bullion’s I have tried are loaded with salt. Believe it or not, I can add salt when cooking if needed. Anyone have a brand name of any stock or bullion that is not salt-dominant? Thanks for the time.
jg2448 September 29, 2022
Herb ox granulated Chicken Bouillion is sodium free. Also comes in beef flavor.
Fred R. September 29, 2022
Thank you.
CorinneCrone April 19, 2023
Rapunzel makes a salt free cube that's delicious.
FoodieDawn September 22, 2022
Does anyone have a recipe for making it myself? Dried chicken might be the sticking point though.
Plum I. September 21, 2022
My oma always used bouillon cubes and so do I, McCormick chicken and beef are vegetarian and I recommend very highly they are a staple! Great especially for us veggies to get that depth of flavour more easily couldnt live with out it. Switzerland has what is basically boullion in a shaker on tables, am sure other places too!
Cin July 3, 2022
Vegeta is lovely.
Dee A. July 3, 2022
I rely heavily on Better Than Bouillon for a boost to depth of flavor, whether it be chicken beef, or vegetable. While not a powder, the paste dissolves quickly and, once opened, keeps for a long time in the refrigerator.
Plum I. September 21, 2022
The vegetarian chicken one is a godsend
Maggie H. July 3, 2022
Hi! As I mentioned in the piece, Osem makes excellent bouillon powders/concentrates. I also like Wyler's. Yes, they are high in sodium, but you don't need to use a lot to get the depth of flavor they bring. You can also make your own (vegan) version to control the salt. The 101cookbooks recipe I linked to in the article is excellent!
Jerilynn J. July 3, 2022
Yes, please, tell us some good bouillon brands like the one pictured.
Fred R. July 3, 2022
Is it still as salty as it was 40 years ago? Seriously.
Pamela_in_Tokyo July 3, 2022
What is the photo at the top of the article?? Is that some kind of lovely chicken bouillon powder? I would assume it is because that’s what the article is about but there’s no information for the photo. I would love to know,the brand name…
Lynn July 3, 2022
What type of powdered bullion are people using. I wouldn’t even begin to know what to buy but I’m intrigued and would love to experiment with it
Ginny July 3, 2022
I use the Knorr chicken brand. Break off a small piece to enhance gravy, etc.
FoodFanaticToo April 20, 2023
Better Than Bouillon paste
HalfPint June 27, 2022
Bouillon is also used a lot in Chinese cooking. It's what adds a special unidentifiable something to wonton fillings or in braises and sauces.