Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Low Sodium Pantry: Supermarket Broths

OK, so it goes without saying that homemade salt-free broth is best. But it also goes without saying that sometimes people don’t have entire afternoons to devote to simmering a pile of bones, straining the broth, and then freezing it up in two cup containers. So why even worry about broth? Because it can add a lot of flavor and interest to what might be bland, tasteless dishes when the salt is removed.


First things first, though. Swanson’s Low Sodium Chicken Broth boasts 1/3 less sodium than their regular canned chicken broth. Sounds good but… The reality is that even their low sodium broth contains a whopping 570 mg. of sodium per cup of broth. That’s a lot! Unfortunately, Swanson many times is the only so-called low sodium canned chicken broth available in local grocery stores. Swanson’s broth is often on sale too, making its lower price attractive. Also, Swanson's taste pretty good, with a true chicken flavor. However, I still prefer not to use it, but if I do, I’ll be sure to water it down to lower the sodium content.

But there is some good news. Kitchen Basics is another brand of broth/stock found in most grocery stores, and it has come out with two new products -- unsalted chicken stock (130 mg. sodium per 1 cup) and unsalted beef stock (130 mg. sodium per 1 cup). That’s good news because Kitchen Basics products are readily available in most areas, and they’re reasonably priced.

Also more & more supermarkets are including natural foods sections. Look for either the Imagine or Pacific brands where the health foods are located. Check out your local health foods store too. Imagine has only 115 mg. sodium per cup of broth.
Pacific brand has even less sodium at 70 mg. per cup of broth, and Trader Joe’s low sodium chicken broth also has only 70 mg. sodium per cup.

I did a taste test of the four lower sodium chicken broths. Why chicken broth? Because I think it's more versatile than beef broth. I use it for all kinds of things -- chicken dishes, vegetables, pork, soups, and sauces. The Imagine and Kitchen Basics broths both had prominent vegetable flavors, similar to what you might end up with if you had made your own broth. Pacific had a pretty decent straight forward chicken flavor, and I thought Trader Joe’s was weak and the least flavorful. Pacific, Trader Joe's, & Imagine had a hard to define "murky" quality to their broths. OK to use in situations where you add a lot of additional flavorings.

My suggestion? Buy a carton of Imagine, Kitchen Basics, Pacific and/or Trader Joe’s chicken broth. Taste them yourself and see what you think. Be forewarned though, Imagine & Pacific broth cartons are more expensive than the much cheaper store brand broths.

I’ve also found canned Health Valley no salt added chicken broth in the natural foods section of my local grocery stores and local health food stores. It contains 130 mg. of sodium for 1 cup of broth. Imagine also has a low sodium beef broth with 125 mg. of sodium for 1 cup of broth. Kitchen Basics’ low sodium vegetable stock has 210 mg. sodium for 1 cup. And both Imagine and Pacific make a low sodium vegetable broth with about 140 mg. per cup.

Dry Granules:

I keep boxes of Herb-Ox Sodium Free Instant Broth & Seasoning packets on hand. I can find them in all my local grocery stores. This product is completely sodium free and is in dry granular form. The chicken bouillon tastes just like the Lipton instant chicken noodle soup mix. It reminds me of the chicken broth flavoring used in packaged rice & stuffing mixes. It can be used when making homemade flavored rice. I throw a packet in long cooking braised dishes where I know its artificial flavor won’t be overpowering.

The Herb-Ox beef bouillon tastes better. I use it all the time to enhance beef dishes. You can make a salt free French Onion Dip by combining a pint of sour cream with 2-3 beef broth packets and about 1 tablespoon of dried minced onions. Add a shot of low-sodium Worcestershire sauce. Let the mixture chill and serve with crudités or chips.


Trader Joe’s has an interesting broth product I really like, reduced sodium chicken liquid concentrate packets. Each pouch contains enough flavoring to make 1 cup of broth with 360 mg. sodium per cup. The individual packets do not need refrigeration; that’s a real advantage. I think it tastes really good, but the salt content is a bit too high to use all the time. The only time I use it is if I’m making something with at least two cups of liquid (such as a stew or chili) to dilute the salt content.

Another broth option is paste-style concentrates. These moist-packed broth bases dissolve easily in hot water and must be refrigerated after opening. One real advantage is that a single jar of concentrate lasts a long time. You hardly ever have to worry about running out.

Superior’s Better Than Bouillon is a well-known brand. Unfortunately, their low sodium bases leave a lot to be desired. One teaspoon of concentrate makes 1 cup of broth, but that one teaspoon contains about 520 mg. of sodium. That’s a lot! I ordered their low sodium products based on their reputation; at the time their website did not offer nutritional information. I was shocked when the low sodium bases arrived and realized I could not in good conscience use them.

Since then I’ve found another online sources for the paste style concentrates, Minor’s. I’ve been using both the Minor’s chicken broth base for quite a while now. It contains 130 mg. sodium for the ¾ teaspoon of concentrate needed to make one cup of broth. I don't mind ordering this base online because each individual container lasts such a long time. Even with shipping charges, I think the products are well worth the effort & cost.

I keep all these varieties of broth flavorings on hand – the cartons, the instant granules, and the concentrated bases. I use the different varieties depending on the dishes I’m cooking. For example, if I’m making a braised dish with a lot of flavorful ingredients, like chili, spaghetti sauce, green chile pork stew, pot roast, etc., I’ll use either the instant granules or concentrated bases. I just want to add an additional flavor dimension to the dish, but the broth itself will not be the star. My main hesitancy is in using the chicken granules when I’m making a gravy or sauce where that artificial chicken flavor will be prominent. In those instances, I’ll use either the broth cartons or the concentrated bases. The concentrated bases are great when you end up with a weak tasting sauce, gravy, or soup. Just a bit adds so much flavor.

For delicately flavored chicken based soups, I'd suggest sticking with homemade broth; if that isn't feasible, then diluted Swanson's low sodium broth or unsalted Kitchen Basics. The other low sodium chicken broths are good mainly if the broth itself isn't the star.

(For more info check out these two posts: New Product - Swanson UNSALTED Cooking Stocks and  The Search for Low Sodium Broth Bases.)


Mama Squirrel said...

Lots of good advice--thank you! I'll link.

shambo said...

Mama, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you found the information useful.

OhioMom said...

I have a confession to make, I don't spend hours making my own broth plus I have no room to store quarts in the freezer. Great posts, I will be checking for the Kitchen Basics.

shambo said...

Linda, don't worry. I won't tell anyone your deep, dark secret. I'm another one who rarely makes homemade broth just because it takes so long and then you've got to have room to store it. Unless I'm making soup, I only use one or two cups of broth at a time. Can you imagine how full your freezer would be if you saved just one or two cup portions!

Hallie Fae said...

Even thought I'm not on a low sodium diet I always always use low sodium broth when making soups or any dishes, adding in my own spices compensates for the lack of salt. I love that they have so many more low sodium products out there now.

giz said...

It's so impressive the quantity of low sodium soups available. Every time I cross the border to the U.S. I make sure I stock up on Herb Ox - I love it and it's not available in Canada.

Anonymous said...

This is a really old thread but I have to mention the possibility of MSG as an ingredient in low-sodium or sodium free soup, broth and boullion products. As always, read the ingredient list.

shambo said...

You've made an important observation. I think the foremost rule of shopping for a low sodium diet is, "Read the labels." Take the time to read them carefully and thoroughly. Thanks for that vital reminder!