Stock vs. Broth: What's the Difference?

They're both flavorful bases for all sorts of dishes, but there are some key differences—learn the best uses for each, plus when you can swap one for another. 

Broth and stock are key building blocks of many cuisines around the world, forming the flavorful foundation of innumerable dishes. A good broth is the secret to the very best soup, such as chicken soup and beef and barley, while a rich stock is the foundation for superior braises, stews and sauces, including French classics like demi-glace and sauce Espagnole, as well as the very best turkey gravy.

Broth and stock are made in similar ways and share many characteristics, but there are some important differences. Whether you are making broth or stock from scratch or buying it from the grocery store, it's important to know the differences between the two and how they'll impact the recipe you're making. Here's everything you need to know, including the best uses for each, when you can swap one for another, broth and stock substitutes, and more.

What Is Stock?

Traditionally, stock is an extremely flavorful liquid made by simmering meaty bones, usually over a long period of time. Stock can be made with beef, veal, chicken, turkey or fish bones. "In classical cuisine, stocks are referred to as fonds de cuisine or 'foundations,' because they support everything else that is prepared with them, such as sauces, soups, braises and stews," explains Michael Handal, chef-instructor of culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.

With a few exceptions, like vegetable stock (more on that below), Japanese dashi and some store-bought stocks, when you see the word "stock," you can assume it started with bones.

In addition to bones, stocks typically include aromatic vegetables, such as onions, carrots and celery; herbs such as parsley and thyme; and spices like bay leaves and whole black peppercorns. Other aromatics like leeks and parsnips are sometimes included.

Another hallmark of stocks made in professional kitchens is that they typically have no added salt. That's because stocks are used in dishes that will be reduced and/or seasoned. "The salt, in most stock applications, would be too intensified in the final product," says Handal.

What Are the Main Types of Stock?

Stocks are typically broken down into three main categories: brown, white and fumet:

Brown Stock

Brown stocks, which are full-bodied, aromatic and intensely flavorful, are made by first roasting bones and aromatic vegetables. Tomato paste is added, then cooked until caramelized. Then water is added and the whole mixture simmers for 12 to 24 hours, Handal says.

Because a lot of gelatin is extracted from the bones and cartilage over the long cooking time, brown stocks have a rich body when warm and are gelatinous when cold. "Brown stocks are used as a cooking and finishing base in braises and stews, but reach their ultimate calling when used to produce the myriad of brown-based sauces in the French repertoire, starting with sauces such as Espagnole, demi-glace and jus de veau lié," says Handal.

White Stock

White stocks are similar to brown stocks, but nothing is roasted. They're simply made by combining all of the ingredients and simmering for four to six hours. White stocks still have some gelatin and body but they're much lighter than brown stocks. White stocks are used when you don't want or need the flavor and color that brown stocks get from the roasted bones. For example, says Handal, "A classic veal blanquette would utilize a white veal stock and a light velouté base to keep the white color and appearance associated with that dish."


The term fumet (essence) typically applies to fish stock but is also used to describe vegetable stock. Fumets are made by gently cooking the ingredients to extract flavor but not enough to produce browning. They're then simmered for an hour or two. Fumets can be used in sauces, soups and stews like this cod chowder or, for a vegetable version, this minestrone.

a photo of a pot of broth
Getty Images

What Is Broth?

Broths are traditionally made with a similar process to stocks, with some key differences. One of the biggest differences is that broth is made with meat rather than or in addition to bones. "Broths are very flavorful due to the addition of meat to the broth ingredients, but much lighter in mouthfeel than, say, a beef or veal stock that has cooked for many hours," Handal explains.

Like stocks, broths contain aromatics, but they also typically contain additional seasonings, including salt. (Note that if you are making homemade broth and you are not sure what dish you'll be using it in, Handal suggests holding off on adding salt since the broth might be concentrated in cooking, which could make the final dish too salty.)

Broths also usually have a shorter cook timethan stocks. "Broths do not require the long cooking time of stocks, and are, therefore, not nearly as gelatinous, or viscous, as stocks would typically be. Cold broths are fluid and do not congeal," Handal explains.

A broth is meant to shine as an element of a dish, rather than serving as a base on which to build. So, in the classic example of chicken soup, you want a bite that's all broth to taste just as delicious as a bite with meat or vegetables. In addition to being an important component of a great soup, broth can be used to cook risotto and tortellini (as in Italian tortellini in brodo). Handal also mentions French pot-au-feu, Italian brodo di carne and Chinese egg drop soup as good uses for broth.

What About Store-Bought Broth and Stock?

While chefs swear by homemade stock and broth, perhaps you are more likely to grab a carton of stock at the grocery store. Even though store-bought options may be labeled as broth or stock, what's inside may not follow the definitions above.

A scan of the ingredients on multiple brands of stock and broth at my local grocery store turned up stocks with added salt and no bones as well as broths with bones and salt—in other words, the exact opposite of what you'd expect. And I've yet to encounter a store-bought stock that's become gelatinous when chilled.

Does it matter? Probably not. The main exception is if you're reducing the broth or stock to make a sauce. Then it's worth noting the sodium on the Nutrition Facts panel. If it's on the higher side, consider waiting to add salt until the sauce is done reducing, so you can taste and adjust accordingly.

How Does Bone Broth Fit into the Equation?

You're no doubt aware of the bone broth trend, but did you know that bone broth is basically just brown stock? "Generations of professional chefs have been preparing stocks for use in their kitchens in much the same manner as what we now call bone broth," says Handal.

The main difference between stock and what's marketed as bone broth in the U.S. today is that the bones are not always roasted for stock, while they usually are for bone broth. Also, sometimes an acid like cider vinegar is included, as it's thought to help extract the collagen in bones, cartilage and connective tissue, Handal explains.

Unlike traditional stock, bone broths are often seasoned since many people simply sip on them. Those seasonings can be as simple as salt but some people add additional layers of flavor with grated ginger or ginger juice, grated turmeric, chili oil and fermented vegetables.

What About Vegetable Stock and Broth?

With all this talk of meat and bones, you might be wondering about vegetable stocks and broths. "A vegetable broth and a vegetable stock are one and the same thing," says Handal. "The only difference would be the terminology." If you are making your own vegetable stocks and broths at home, Handal recommends following the no-salt rule for stock. And if you're buying it at the store, look for a low-salt or no-salt-added option.

Are Stock and Broth Interchangeable?

Handal advises caution when subbing homemade broth for stock in some recipes, explaining that a broth would be too light for a brown sauce like Madeira or a red-wine pan-reduction sauce, while something like a rich, dark brown veal stock would be too intense for a dish like tortellini in brodo. That said, in many, many dishes—especially your average weeknight dinner— it's just fine to use stock and broth interchangeably. And if you're using store-bought, it's unlikely they're much different anyway. You might need to adjust the seasonings, though, especially the salt. When in doubt, purchase one that's lower in sodium or unsalted so you have more control over the saltiness of the final product. You can always add more salt, but you can't take it away!

What Can I Substitute for Stock and Broth?

When browsing recipes or shopping for broth or stock, you might also see consommé and bouillon. What these terms mean in a professional restaurant kitchen or when you're making them from scratch can be pretty different from the products you'll find in cartons, cans and jars next to the broth and stock.

"In a professional kitchen, a true consommé is derived from a well-made stock with the additional steps of clarifying it into a clear liquid," Handal explains. This sort of consommé can be served as a stand-alone dish or form the basis of a wonderful soup. In the grocery store, consommé often means a soup based on a rich stock—these can be very salty, so use caution substituting store-bought for homemade consommé.

Bouillon is simply the French word for broth, but at the store it typically refers to cubes, powders or pastes that serve as a broth base. These products can be super-convenient, but just beware that they can be very salty. Handal says to be particularly careful using packaged bouillon for anything that needs to be reduced, such as a pan sauce. "Perhaps for a soup base where you could control the additional seasoning, there might be some wiggle room," he adds.

How Do You Store Stock and Broth?

Freshly made beef, veal, chicken, turkey or vegetable stock or broth can be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days. Fish stock, which is highly perishable, should be kept no longer than one to two days before freezing, Handal says. For store-bought stocks and broths, check the label to see how long it can be stored in the fridge. For the best quality, use frozen stocks and broths within three months. Transfer to the refrigerator to defrost.

Stocks and broths refrigerate and freeze well, so if you're making them consider making extra for your future cooking projects. After preparing, allow the stock or broth to cool and transfer it to a tightly sealed container, such as glass, stainless steel or plastic. For smaller portions, you can also use ice cube trays to freeze stock and broth—this is great for impromptu pan sauces! If you will be freezing the stock or broth, be sure to use a freezer-safe container and leave some room at the top to account for the liquid expanding.

Are Stocks and Broths Healthy?

"'Healthy' is a relative term," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. "If you have a cold or flu, any kind of warm liquid, like stock or broth, might make you feel comforted and feel better. If you have high blood pressure or cardiac issues and you eat stock or broth daily, it might not be as healthy for you since it's most likely higher in sodium content than other foods you might choose."

Perhaps the biggest thing to watch out for is sodium. "Not all stocks and broths are created equal when it comes to sodium content," says Taub-Dix. "While some might have around 100 milligrams of sodium per cup, others contain more than 400 milligrams and beyond for the same amount … and that's just for 1 cup. I've seen some bouillon cubes weighing in at almost 1,000 milligrams of sodium."

But if you keep an eye on sodium levels, both broth and stock can be healthy. Taub-Dix notes that stock is often considered healthier than broth since it tends to be slightly higher in protein and other nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, than broth.

How you use stock and broth also impacts how healthful they are. "I like to think of stocks and broths as veggie vessels," Taub-Dix says. "Soup is a perfect carrier for vegetables and lean protein. Add fresh, canned or frozen veggies, quinoa, barley or whole grains, or make it a main dish by including some chicken, beans or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles