The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 24, 2011

Quick and (almost) Plastic-Free Broth / Soup Base Tip

Homemade stock, broth, soup base (whatever you call that watery stuff that is the basis for so many recipes) is delicious and certainly healthy. But it takes time to make, and apparently I’m not the only one who often doesn’t have the time to make soup stock from scratch. I discovered several others like me this weekend while posting a whole slew of Show Your Plastic Trash Challenge tallies. A handful of people ended up with plastic-lined cans or plastic-coated tetrapaks of chicken or other broth in their weekly plastic waste collections. And after leaving the same advice three times in a row, I thought I ought to post it here.

My favorite store-bought broth is called Better Than Bouillon.

Better Than Bouillon is a concentrated paste that comes in a little glass jar with a metal lid. Of course, there is a plastic coating inside the lid (as there is inside all metal lids), and as I recall, there may have been a clear plastic security seal around the outside of the lid. But each jar makes 38 cups of broth, and since there’s no water in the jar, the packaging to product ratio is much lower than that of cans or boxes of pre-made broth. And the stuff is actually delicious.

Better Than Bouillon comes in both organic and non-organic versions, and flavors include vegetable, mushroom, chicken, beef, turkey, and more. And there are veggie “meat” versions, as well as low sodium.  None of the bases contain MSG.

Another plastic-free option are the powdered broth mixes you can buy from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, health food stores, and coops. But honestly, I have yet to find one that tastes decent. In fact, Better Than Bouillon is so good that BlogHer’s own food blogger Kalyn, from Kalyn’s Kitchen, added it to her ongoing list of Kitchen Picks. She’s a food blogger, not necessarily an eco-blogger, so if she thinks it’s good, it’s good.

And the glass jar is a handy size for storing little bits of leftovers in the fridge after the soup base is all gone.

Nope. I’m not getting paid by Superior Quality Foods to promote their product. I just like it and think it’s a good alternative to buying cans and boxes of broth. Do you have other suggestions?

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10 years ago

Great to see the review of the broth. This will be definitely tasty as the name suggests and it will be definitely healthy. These types of products must become more popular in India too. Cheers mate. Keep posting in future also.

11 years ago

Great tip for veggie scraps. I have one for storage — why take up room in your freezer — bottle your broth hot and store in the cupboard – re-uee jars from other productis – the best are the ones that have the little pop button in the middle of the lid — that way you can ensure that what you have bottle is vaccum sealed — if you use flat lids it can be guess work as to whether they sealed effectively — if any lids are faulty, have a dint or such and do not suck in the pop top — you know to either use soon or store that broth another way. Thanks for the great tips and discussions.

11 years ago

I know people already mentioned the hidden MSG present and making your own broth, but I thought this added some interesting points about Better than Bouillon:
I still have some and I’m not about to chuck it, in case of broth emergency. Now, though, I made my own bone broth and freeze some for back up. Plastic free whole food strategy!

12 years ago

Sorry to inform you all, but this product line DOES have MSG in it. Some of their versions (the organic) don’t necessarily have ADDED MSG. I see that in the Vegetarian No Chicken Base, the 3rd ingredient is hydrolyzed protein which is one of MSG’s hidden names (any hydrolyzed protein contains MSG)

It also includes Autolyzed Yeast extract which is yet another hidden name for something including MSG in it (they don’t have to report MSG in it since it’s only a part of these other ingredients, it’s just not PURE MSG).

It also includes maltrodextrin, which for people who are sensitive to MSG will also react.

But the organic one seems to be good

12 years ago

I love this stuff. I found it in my local grocery a few years ago and it is now a staple in my kitchen.

12 years ago

I love this product. We have used it for years and we are very happy with it. And after we use up the paste then we put spices or other things in the jar. *grin*

12 years ago

i have survived for twenty two years as a vegetarian partly because of this product. well ok i exaggerate bc i dont think it was around when i began. but i love it. super time saver.

Lara S.
12 years ago

MSG free!! That would be heaven for me, since I just started eating soup for dinner as a part of my weight loss plan. I hate MSG, so I make the broth myself with the veggies of the soup, but since I cook only for myself and share the fridge I can’t buy a huge variety of veggies, which would make a tasty broth. So my soup is pretty lame. Here in Argentina all the broths available have MSG, so I’ll try to find a good recipe for homemade broth that doesn’t require a thousand ingredients.

I’m really concerned about MSG in Argentina, people buy all kinds of artificial flavors that are packed with it, and use it in their homemade foods. They use basil cubes (with MSG) instead of basil!! It’s gross.

12 years ago

Hey, for all of you concerned about MSG, I have bad news. MSG goes by a LOT of names, and almost all broths and boullions have it– yeast extract, anything autolyzed or hydrolyzed. Food labels are allowed to say “no MSG” or “no MSG added” if it goes by these other names. Also, “natural flavor” could be MSG, but isn’t necessarily. Whole Foods makes broth in the carton that is actually MSG-free, but I’m not sure if they have any plastic-free alternatives. Does anybody know?

12 years ago

One of my favourite things in my quest to buy less stuff and make more stuff from stratch is the stock bag! I keep a bag in the freezer and whenever I am cooking I throw in anything that would be good for stock – carrot tops, the outer laters of onion, bits of garlic, pumpkin skins, ginger skin, chilli ends, basically anything that would otherwise go in the compost but is good for stock. When the bag gets full I grab a few extras from the garden like bay leaves or kaffir lime leaves, make stock and freeze it in portions.

Its not salty like commercial stock but I just put in a pinch of salt when cooking :)

Katie M
12 years ago

What wonderful ideas, and now i am super-inspired to make my own broth or bullion! I have been composting all my veggie scraps, but now i see a second life for them before composting.

For bullion, I have been using “Edward & Sons”
cardboard box & foil wrapper, no MSG.
I have tried the not-chick’n and the veggie, bought the not-beef but have yet to try it.

upon inspection of the box just now, i see that it is a product of Switzerland so that will actually weigh a little heavier in my decision to purchase it again.
Hopefully If i can start making and freezing my own I won’t need to!

Nubby Tongue
12 years ago

I LOVE this stuff! it’s been the “secret weapon” in my kitchen for two or three years now. Aside from using it as a broth, you can also use a tiny smidge of it to deepen the flavor of other dishes.

My husband goes nuts for this and it’s dead easy:
-2-3 cups mashed baked/boiled butternut squash
-salt and pepper
-caramelized onions
-1/2 tsp better than bouillon chicken base.

It’s tastes complex but it’s simple and actually very healthy.

12 years ago

Eureka! I’ve been trying to get away from canned chicken broth for over a year and have not been able to find a suitable alternative. Thank you (I use lots and lots of chicken broth)!

12 years ago

A second benefit of using BTB is that it’s way cheaper than buying the cans or boxes of stock so you get more for your money. But… the flavor is a bit off – when you don’t taste just that it’s fine (like in a gravy), but I made a risotto and it tasted really strong and not so awesome – now when I make risotto with BTB I water down the concentration about twice as much as the jar recommends and it’s fine. Just wanted to give that heads up. Oh, and I use the vegetable broth base.

12 years ago

I second the second-hand dryer purchase in addition to using a clothes rack. You can pick dryers up fairly cheap and there are a lot around right now . . . don’t know where you are but there’s Craigslist here in the Bay Area, and of course Ebay and the Press Democrat ‘under $500’ section where people run free ads for items under $500. Good luck!

and . . veg broth is very easy to make. I freeze mine in 1 qt canning jars. I’ve never had one break in over 30 years . . . just make sure you leave a head space of at least 1 1/2″.

12 years ago

Oh I love it!!! I never thought of saving my vege scaps to make vegetable stock but what a great idea! Thanks for the valuable suggestions. :)

12 years ago

Have I got a question for you.
Its un-related to boullion (though really it sounds like I wish there was rapunzel brand cubes here instead of just knorr since I could never make it at home), hope you don’t mind I didn’t know where to ask and didn’t want to bother you with an direct personal email. SO feel free to move and or delete this as necessary
My laundry dryer bit it this weekend. Not only the belt broke but the motor went too – burned out, so it can’t really be reparied. Its an empty vintage husk now.
SO I have been looking at options. Energy effieciency, replacement parts, user reviews and all of that.
I figure I have three options.
a) new tumble dryer – least risky, possibly not energy efficient as a person would like, possibly involving a lot of first hand parts and plastic – most expensive
b) used tumble dryer – no initial impact, but unreliable (used) and possibly cost more than its worth if it broke down shortly after purchase – risky investment – not energy efficient
c) new spin dryer – made mostly of plastic but *super* efficient – still risky since they’re not too well known/tested and who knows how long it would last or whether parts would need replacing
How would you choose and why?

12 years ago

Ditto on Rapunzel. While I’m new to examining packaging, they do not appear to have any plastic on them. I keep a box of the Vegan with Herbs (when I need to add flavor) and the Vegan with Sea Salt (when the recipe already contains plenty of flavor). I like to make my own broth as well, but I use it so much that I have to have another option on standby.

12 years ago

I have to say, for me its home made or nothing. But stock from scratch isn’t hard nor time consuming. The trick is to roast your bones and veggies before adding the water to get great flavor. I break up my chicken or turkey carcass and add some cleaned veggies to a big roasting pan with some olive oil and roast in the oven till brown and carmelized, maybe and hour stirring once or twice. Then dump everything in a pot and cover with water. I put my roasted bones in a 6qt crockpot with water to the top and let it cook all day while I am gone. Easy.

There are no rules as to what needs to be in a good stock. If you are avoiding carrots, use squash, onions, garlic, parsnip, thyme, sage etc for great flavor. You get even more flavor if before you roast your veggies you clean and trim them up as you would for soup, then blend in a blender after cooking in the water rather than discarding them. Even more flavor that way.

12 years ago

BTB (veggie) is my favorite stock base too. Keeps forever, so economical, flavor is great, no MSG and also WAY less sodium than the Knorr and other cubes.

Making my own would be ideal, esp. because if you are using your carrot ends and onion peel, you are making a truly waste-free broth. But, I don’t live in the ideal world, and my goals this year are making my own bread and then maybe starting on youghurt, so broth is very low down on the list.

But in a pinch you can make your own broth out of dried herbs. This recipe is from an awesome cookbook by Bobbie Hinman called The Meatless Gourmet–international-flavored recipes, easy to make, no special ingredients. I think it is hard to come by–used is your best bet.

Vegetable Broth Mix
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons celery salt (or use celery seed to eliminate salt)
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dill weed

Combine all ingredients and stir well. Store in a jar with a tightly fitting lid. Stir before each use.

Use 1 rounded teaspoonfull to each cup of water.

I don’t this tastes fantastic on its own, like one gourmet commenter said a broth should, but works fine in recipes and lasts a long time. Also makes a nice gift to someone, in a small glass jar. : )

12 years ago

BTB is wonderful! I’ve used the seafood/lobster base to make the broth for a yummy asparagus risotto…thanks, Beth for letting others know about this option. One veggie and completely plastic free alternative – save the peelings, parings, trimmings, skins from your veggies (in the freezer), and make some vegetable stock when you’ve accumulated enough (about 2 cups worth) scraps. Cook up with about twice the volume of water, some salt & pepper, and strain…it’s amazing what you can make from onion skins, carrot tops, and potato peelings! It’s even good to freeze in smaller portions if needed.

12 years ago

I generally make my own soup stocks. But I do always have a selection of Kallo organic stock cubes in the cupboard for those times I’ve run out!

Each cube is wrapped in foil, and then the box is cardboard. In fact, there are a number of brands of cubes which I’ve found don’t have plastic packaging (Oxo, Knorr etc) but as has been noted, the ingredients leave quite a bit to be desired. So, I use the Kallo ones. I’m in the UK though – so maybe Kallo isn’t available in the USA. Maybe those big name brands are packaged differently in the USA? Plastic packaging for shop-bought watery stock is sadly becoming more common here but you can get non-plastic-packaged cubes in all supermarkets and neighbourhood shops.

12 years ago

I have used Better Than Bouillon for many years and love the Organic Vegetable. People rave about my vegan dishes especially my marinara and soups ~ I use BTB in all . . . the one downside is that it contains Maltodextrin so I have cut way back on it’s use. I wish they would find a natural alternative to Maltodextrin. Thanks for this post Beth.

12 years ago

Well… I use Knox Bouillon most times instead of Stock. It also comes in a glass jar and well a plastic lid. I will have to try this “better than bouillon” stuff. Thanks for posting on it!

12 years ago

I bought this stuff once for a shortcut when I only need a little broth or don’t have any extra homemade stuff in the freezer. Maybe I have just been spoiled by the homemade broth I usually make, but I was disappointed in this stuff. Fortunately, it has a pretty long shelf life, so I’ll use it up eventually in recipes where it doesn’t make too much of a difference.

I read on the 101 Cookbooks blog that your broth should be delicious enough to eat by itself if you want your soup to be good. I didn’t think this product was delicious enough to be a main component of the flavor of a dish. The blog recommended the Rapunzel brand cubes you can buy at Whole Foods. They come wrapped in that foil-paper like normal bouillon cubes, but I’m not sure if there’s plastic in it or not. Those cubes are wrapped in cardboard, so if the foil/paper is plastic-free, then the entire packaging should be as well.

I’m sticking to the homemade broth when I have the option. It’s really easy, and just as convenient if you have the freezer space to store some. You just have to dump some vegetable bits in a pot, leave it for an hour while you do something else, then strain it and store it.

12 years ago

I love love love Rapunzel’s Bouillon cubes. Cardboard box and the cubes are wrapped in foil paper. Comes in different flavors. The not-beef is really good for making vegetarian pho. They sell it at Berkeley Bowl.

12 years ago

I was wondering about Knorr bouillon cubes ), whether there’s any plastic in the packaging. it definitely has MSG in it (it’s the second ingredient after salt, yikes!), but I think there might not be plastic in it. the cubes are wrapped in foil coated paper and they’re inside a paperboard box, I suppose this might be coated in plastic, I’m not sure. but this brand definitely looks better, I’ll have to pass the tip along to my brother-in-law who does most of the cooking in our house.

12 years ago

I used to buy Better Than Bouillon organic veg and chicken and love them. But for my veg bouillon, I made my own this fall and I’m totally converted. Here’s the recipe:

It makes a whole lot, is way cheaper and you can use it just as easily as the BTB base. And, as long as you get all the ingredients plastic-free, it’s completely void of any plastic packaging. Give it a try!

12 years ago

I remember loving this stuff back in my pre-allergy days. But then I had to give up everything and anything that said “flavorings” or “spices” in the ingredient list. But… I wrote to them and am hoping against hope that they might have something vegetarian made without celery, parsely or carrot tops.

Failing that, anybody have any suggestions for how to make homemake broth taste like something without using celery, parsley or carrot tops? I suppose I could bend my vegetarian rules and try chicken broth… but even that’s nearly impossible to find without celery etc in it. Sigh…

Mary Hunt
12 years ago

Try the brown up a bunch of onions (in butter) and add in the beef broth – instant French onion soup that rivals what you get at restaurants. I love the Better than- product line.

Kathy G
12 years ago

Although I keep a “broth bag” in my freezer like Katie does, it’s good to know there’s an alternative. I’ll look for BTB next time I shop.

12 years ago

I am writing the name of this stuff down now… I love to make my own broth (at least from chicken) every time I cook a whole bird, but for some reason I just don’t necessarily like the way it tastes and I’ve been looking for some different alternatives to test out.

Thank you!

12 years ago

While it’s convenient to have something like BTB around, I think the most eco-friendly thing to do is make your own broths and stocks. It’s not hard to do – I keep scraps of veggies in my freezer (like carrot and celery tops, parsley stems, etc) and when the container is full I put it in my crockpot for several hours with water. If I’ve baked a chicken I do the same thing with the chicken carcass. Fill glass jars with the broth and they freeze beautifully.

12 years ago

I have been using BTB for years…since way before I cared anything about my plastic consumption. It’s one of the things I keep in my fridge to use in a pinch.

12 years ago

Does BTB contain MSG That is a deal breaker for me on most broths/boullions. There is no better way to salt a casserole or soup than with MSG free boullion!

12 years ago

Yes, I LOVE this stuff! I’m not vegetarian, so I get the low-sodium chicken version and it is amazing! :)

12 years ago

Wow, Beth– I just posted a recipe for rice porridge and how much Better than Bouillon makes it SO much more delicious. They make broths taste so delicious. Yummy! :)

12 years ago

I am so glad to have found your blog. You have great tips! Thanks.

12 years ago

Thanks for the suggestion. I am going to have to try these. I do make my own and find it to be quite fast actually… an hour of letting veggies simmer on the stove. The issue for me though is that we use veggie broth so much I can’t keep a steady supply, since we only use leftover and discarded veggies.