If you cook vegetarian or vegan, you need a vegetable broth solution that works for you. There are lots of options, so I thought I’d offer my take on the advantages and disadvantages of each.
A couple of caveats. First, salt. Some prepared broths and bouillons contain more salt than others. Until you’re sure about the broth you’re using, taste your soup or dish before adding additional salt.
Second, back up your supply, whatever option you choose. It’s one of those ingredients that you can run out of without noticing, and you discover too late that you don’t have what you need.
There’s no rule that says you have use just one solution, even in the same dish. Combining them might be a good way to go too.
Vegetable broth powder (aka bouillon powder)
This is what I use. It’s very easy to measure, and each container lasts a long while. It doesn’t go bad and has a nice flavor, although you wouldn’t mistake it for homemade broth from a good recipe. I use Seitenbacher Vegetable Broth and Seasoning, which is easy to buy on Amazon and is not heavy on salt.
Vegetable bouillon cubes
Cubes have about the same advantages as broth powder, with some small differences. Salt is the main ingredient in some cubes (such as Knorr’s), and the cubes often contain oil and thickeners to hold their shape. I’ve heard good things about Rapunzel cubes, and they have a choice of no-salt cubes. If you like the taste of them, bouillon cubes are convenient, have a long shelf-life, and are simple to use.
Vegetable Base Bouillon
This very thick concentrated liquid, similar in texture to molasses, comes in jars. “Better Than Bouillon” is the brand people know best. The taste is fine but not any better than the powder I use, in my opinion. I find measuring this product very difficult; it sticks to the spoon, and I often get more than I need. Because of that, it seems to run out quickly, way before I get the 38 teaspoons promised on the label.
Ready-to-Use Broth in Shelf-Stable Quart Containers
Full-strength broth ready to pour directly into the pan offers the ultimate convenience. Pacific Foods makes the most widely available vegetable broths (regular and low-sodium, both organic), but several other national and generic brands are available. For me, the taste of many of these broths is not very good—carrots seem to dominate the flavor. There’s a brand called Imagine that has a “Vegetarian No-Chicken Broth” that I’ve heard is good-tasting. Boxed broths are more expensive than all the other options, usually from $2.00 to $4.00 per quart, so if you cook a lot, that can add up. Also, they take up a lot of room, and once they’re open, you have to use the rest within about a week or freeze it.
Homemade Broth from Scraps
Some enterprising cooks clean and collect scraps when they cook and put them in a freezer bag. When the bag is full, they simmer the scraps with water for about an hour, strain the mixture, and use the broth right away or freeze it. They use onion skins, carrot peels, celery leaves, mushroom stems, the green ends of leeks, the tops of bell peppers, and whatever else they’ve cut off their vegetables.
I don’t use this method for two reasons. 1) It’s extra work I don’t feel is worth it, partly because 2) the taste of the broth varies by batch, depending on the scraps, and I don’t necessarily want a surprisingly strong onion, celery, cabbage, or other taste in a soup or dish.
Homemade Broth Following a Recipe
Judging strictly by flavor, this is the best solution. There’s nothing like fresh broth with balanced flavors made at home. There are many great recipes available for different kinds of broth: basic vegetable broth, mushroom broth, Asian-inspired broth, etc. Of course, the downsides are the time investment and making sure you have the ingredients on hand. For special soups or for the base of a special gravy, I make broth from scratch, but I do it only a few times a year.