What’s the Difference Between Broth and Stock?

So much of what we cook calls for the addition of some kind of liquid—usually wine, water, broth or stock. We’re pretty clear on the first two, but we’ll admit that we’re not totally sure about the difference between broth and stock. Aren’t they, um, kind of the same thing? Good news: We’ve got the answer—and the newly-acquired knowledge is such a game-changer, we just might start making these two flavor-boosters at home on the reg.

First, what is broth?

Best known as the foundation of any good soup, broth is a quick-cooking but flavorful liquid made by simmering meat in water. While the meat used to make broth may be on the bone, it doesn’t have to be. That’s because broth derives its flavor primarily from the fat of the meat, along with the addition of herbs and seasonings. According to the soup industry experts at Campbell’s, vegetables are often included when making broth, usually a mirepoix of diced carrot, celery and onion that is sautéed first before water and meat are added. Per the soup pros, the end result is a bit more subtle-tasting than stock, making it an ideal base for soups, as well as a great way to add flavor to rice, vegetables and stuffing. You can even drink this mild but tasty liquid on its own. Broth is also thinner than stock in terms of consistency (but more on that later).

Got it. And what is stock?

Stock is made by simmering bones in water for an extended period of time. A light chicken stock can come together in about two hours, but many chefs let stock go for 12 hours or longer to achieve a more concentrated flavor. Stock is not made with meat (although it’s OK to use bones that have not been completely cleaned) and is generally a bolder and more flavorful liquid than broth. The reason for this is that throughout the extended cooking process, protein-rich marrow from the bones leeches out into the water and, according to the stock connoisseurs at McCormick, “protein is a key ingredient in building flavor.” The presence of bone marrow is also what gives stock its richer mouthfeel—an almost gelatinous consistency (not dissimilar to Jell-O) that is noticeably thicker than broth. While stock is often made with large vegetables (think: halved onions and whole peeled carrot), they are strained from the pot at the end of the cooking process and little or no seasoning is added to the liquid. When making stock at home, you can even roast the bones prior to boiling for a finished product that is deeper in character and color alike. So what can do you do with the stuff? Well, a lot. Stock makes a mean pan sauce or gravy, and it can also be used in place of water as a flavor enhancer when steaming rice or braising meat.

So what’s the difference between broth and stock?

There are a lot of similarities between broth and stock and they can be used interchangeably in certain recipes (especially if you only need a small amount) but there are some noteworthy differences between the two, specifically in terms of cooking time and the mouthfeel of the finished liquid. While meat is involved in the preparation of a good broth, stock requires the use of animal bones. Broth can also be pulled together in a relatively quick period of time, whereas a rich stock can only be achieved after many hours on the stove. Stock is best used to flavor sauces and meat dishes, while broth is a foundation base for soups and sides.

One more question: What’s the deal with bone broth?

Bone broth is totally trending, and its name flies in the face of everything we just learned about the difference between stock and broth. Don’t let that throw you off, though: Bone broth is a misnomer. It’s all the rage right now, but bone broth is made like stock and basically is stock—so feel free to use either term to describe it.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...