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Chicken stocks: we test six of them

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We recently needed a good tasting chicken stock for a project and realized that we buy whatever is on the shelf and dump it into the recipe. Does it really matter? Are they really all the same?

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It turns out they aren’t the same at all: they vary in flavor quality and the variance is not proportional to price. Most chicken stocks are available in both regular and low sodium versions, but on a given day you market not have all of them in both versions. There was a time when grocers were collecting a premium for the low sodium version, but this seems to have subsided. So this time, we tried all regular varieties and found only the Campbells too salty.

Of the six stocks we tried, 5 were available in 32 oz (quart) cardboard containers, and two in cans. Campbell’s was only available in the usual 10 ½ - oz can, but College Inn was available in both cans and cardboard containers. All of our purchases were made at the Stop & Shop in Wilton, CT.

Here are our results, ranked in descending order.

College Inn: $2.79. Nice chickeny flavor with a hint of vegetables but not all that rich.

Swanson: $3.79. Some chicken flavor but a bit of an odd aftertaste.

Stop & Shop: $2.49. Chickeny but a faint metallic aftertaste.

Natures Promise: $2.29. This is Stop & Shop’s organic house brand. While it had actual fat globules floating in it, it had no flavor whatever.

Kitchen Basics $3.29. This purports to be a premium stock, and is much darker in color than the others. However, the color seems to come from browned vegetables. It had no chicken flavor at all.

Campbell’s $1.79 – On a per ounce basis, this was far the most expensive at about 17 cents an ounce. While it had a nice dark color, it was way too salty to actually eat.

Our conclusion is that the College Inn brand is your best choice of the conventional canned stocks, with Swanson a close second if you disregard price. Even the third-ranked Stop & Stop broth was acceptable. The bottom three we found unacceptable because they had no chicken taste, or in the case of the Campbell’s excessive salt.

In the past year or so, 12-16 oz containers of stock have been replaced with these ridiculous 32 oz varieties. Once opened, the best way to use them is to freeze the rest.

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