Beef Broth

Several years ago, we all but banished beef broth from the test kitchen’s pantry. Is it time to lift the embargo?

When we surveyed the beef broth field in 1998, tasters found every brand so dreadful that we all but banished supermarket beef broth from the test kitchen. The problem boiled down to an appalling lack of beef flavor. Lots of salt, plenty of vegetal flavors, a few metallic off-notes—but hardly anything that said beef beyond the brownish hue. When we learned that the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires only 1 part beef to every 135 parts water, we weren’t surprised that most products came up short. (That translates to less than an ounce of beef for each gallon of water.)

Since our original tasting of beef broths, an impressive collection of new products has hit the supermarket shelves, so we decided to take another taste. We were especially intrigued by the increased availability of beef “bases,” stock concentrates (just add water) that were once used almost exclusively by restaurants. Could any of these make us reconsider our boycott of beef broth?

Where’s the Beef?

Tasters sipped 13 beef broths–seven liquid broths and six made from concentrated bases–simply heated and served straight up. The top eight brands moved on to a full battery of tastings: plain (again), regular strength in a simple beef soup, and reduced in an all-purpose gravy.

The good news first: Some of these broths didn’t taste half-bad! Even better, a few broths actually tasted like beef. Hints of mushroom, onion, other vegetables, and even chicken were still more common, but two brands elicited consistent praise for assertive beefiness.

In our lineup, every broth contained a generous amount of the most common additive–salt. Most contained some form of sugar (including plain sugar, corn syrup solids, and maltodextrin). So far, so familiar. It was when we looked more closely at the less familiar ingredients that we stumbled upon our most important clues–namely, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and autolyzed yeast extract. Many sources we consulted lumped these additives together simply as “flavor enhancers,” but more diligent digging revealed that they work quite differently.

So which broth to stock? Based on our tests, just note the first few ingredients listed on the label. We found the winning combination to be beef plus a flavor amplifier–in the form of yeast extract–near the top of the list.

Winner:  Redi-Base Beef Broth

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Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

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