Best Frugal Chicken Broth: Most Flavor For The Least Money?

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betterthanbFor me, cooking at home means using a ton of chicken broth and chicken stock (yes there are technically differences between broth and stock but mostly the terms are used interchangeably in recipes). It comes in handy in all kinds of recipes, and basically makes everything taste better (assuming you’re not vegetarian).

At $1 per cup the cost can add up, so I perked up when America’s Test Kitchen ran a Chicken Broth Taste Test. They tested various brands by drinking them straight-up, used in a plain risotto, and reduced in a gravy. The PBS cooking show America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) – which also publishes with Cook’s Illustrated magazine – can be thought of as the Consumer Reports for cooking in that they do not accept any advertising and are entirely subscriber-supported. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about chicken stock:

  • It’s okay to buy chicken broth. Yes, every single food “expert” will tell you that homemade stock is best and it’s so stupid easy you should do it yourself. But did you know that ATK themselves use boxed chicken stock for most of their own cooking? Since their last chicken broth test in 2005, they have used Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth on a daily basis. So don’t fret about it. Apparently it isn’t that stupid easy. Making my own chicken stock all the time is one of those things I’ll save for early retirement. (I admit homemade does taste better.)
  • Most chicken broth is “a science project of flavor enhancers and salt”. Not necessarily something you’d like to hear, but apparently adding nucleotides and glutamates do indeed make things taste more umami and meatier. Many of these additives are considered “natural flavors” because they are made from extracted from things like yeast or soy protein. Also, too much salt may not be good for you but having too little means any broth will taste bland.
  • Brands can change their formulas. As mentioned before, the 2005 taste test winner was the Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth. However, that product was recently reformulated with a new recipe and was no longer recommended in this 2014 test.
  • It’s okay to buy chicken stock concentrate. Most chicken broth in stores is made by the same behind-the-scenes company (International Dehydrated Foods) in the form of a concentrate. Water is then added before final packaging by retail brands. Of course, that makes it heavier and bigger, so it costs more to ship and thus raises the store price. Therefore, a concentrate isn’t necessarily a more processed or more artificial product.

In the end, there were only two fully recommended products after performing the taste test.

The Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base (jar) is their Best Buy as it costs 85% less at $0.16 a cup vs. $1.06 a cup for the Swanson. In addition, the concentrate will last for two years stored in the refrigerator. When you need it, just add water to reconstitute. It has things like disodium inosinate and guanylate which probably interact with the naturally occurring MSG inside the hydrolized soy protein. Curiously, the label specifically states that no MSG is added.

The Swanson Chicken Stock (box carton) is the overall winner regardless of price, and it does not indicate any added glutamates on its ingredient list for those that don’t like that sort of thing. The issue for me is that my regular grocery store doesn’t sell Swanson Chicken Stock, only the cheaper and more popular Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth (which was still rated relatively good but not as good as the stock).

ATK Founder Kimball said the worst one was Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, which tasted like “possum” or “roadkill”. Ew. I have personally been buying the Costco Kirkland Signature Chicken Broth, which I don’t believe was tested. But I’ve seen the Better than Bouillon at the store, so next time I will try it out. Sounds like a good thing to have as a backup.

(Note: All of this info is available via ATK’s freely-available text and video content at the time of publishing. If you register for free on their website (e-mail required), you’ll get more details on their review rankings and other tested products. There is also a paid subscription level with even more access.)

Also see: Best Value in Chef’s Knives?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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  1. The Better Than Boullion at Costco is the organic, low sodium version which is an added bonus to the fact that it’s the best chicken broth I’ve ever had. I never found any of those boxed or canned chicken broths (from Swanson to Pacific Organic to Imagine Foods to the Kirkland Brand) to have any real flavor whatsoever. Definitely try it. I did and I always keep a jar in the fridge, not as a backup, but as my main go-to for chicken broth. I don’t even bother buying anything else anymore!

  2. Life is good, Jonathan, if you’re reviewing Chicken Broth.
    Have great holidays!!

  3. Did they (ATK) include Minor’s Chicken base in their testing? It is an ingredient for professionals, but still accessible to the home kitchen.

  4. Yes, Better Than Boullion chicken broth is pretty good.

    But I didn’t like their beef broth as much, and absolutely hated their vegetable broth (threw it away).

  5. I’ve used both Better Than Boullion and Pacific Organic from Costco and never liked Pacific Organic either. I don’t know how long that Better Than Boullion will last in the fridge. What exactly is the shelf life on those? I also find the ones sold in the Asian markets different too. When I want to make some quick noodle soup, I’ll use the Asian chicken broth cans instead of the western brand ones. Guess msg does taste better.

  6. I guess I am just odd man out. Really dont get using the “better living through chemistry” fake chicken broths. I for sure have seen the tv chefs use it in seeming everything, but if you are using quality ingredients, not sure why you need it. I dont particularly want my veggies to taste like imitation chicken. I mean if you want chicken soup, or actual chicken flavor, use an actual chicken. If you just want chemical flavor enhancer, go buy MSG powder in bulk.

    By way I live where Tyson and their contract farms are big part of economy. You ever see how real chickens are commercially raised, you wouldnt consider actually eating one of them, might prefer the artificial chemical broth. And terms like “free range” and “organic” have far different twisted legalese meanings in corporate high profit world than Uncle Bob hand raising few pet chickens on his country acreage. Corporate chickens dont actually run free in sunny grassy fields and eat bugs and do natural chicken stuff. Heck they are bred to grow so abnormally fast, they couldnt do natural chicken stuff if they wanted to once they get near slaughter size. If not harvested on schedule, they would soon die on their own, due to their deformities . Ever notice the oddly twisted and deformed looking leg bones in commercial chicken? Or maybe most people wouldnt realize such oddities in modern age. I grew up on old style farm with old fashion breeds of livestock that actually were free range. They didnt grow as fast, but they sure were healthier and tastier IMHO. Now its factory mentality, all about pushing out product fast as possible at the lowest cost per unit and using marketing hype to make up the difference.

  7. The Better Than Bouillon will last 2 yrs in your fridge. I picked some up last night @ Costco. It’s on sale too, so the timing of this posting by Jonathan is spot on.

  8. I am a big fan of the Better Than Bouillon Organic Chicken Base, for taste and budget. Just a warning: they also make a non-organic base (which is the version pictured at the top of this post) which I find to be quite unpleasant, and it’s quite easy to mix the two up as the packaging for both are quite similar at a casual glance.

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