Taking Stock of Stock, Broth, and Bone Broth

The truth about stocks, broths, and bone broths.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

copyright RTP, used with  permission
Source: copyright RTP, used with permission

There is an ancient Chinese saying, “In chaos, there is opportunity.” It is an observation that certainly applies during the trying times we face during this pandemic. However in such situations, for those of questionable moral turpitude, opportunity for some can come at the expense of others.

During the height of the pandemic, a study revealed that as a result of the virus over 85% of Americans made dietary changes. One of the major changes people made was to search for a healthier diet. Many people were looking for foods that would improve their immune health. While there are certainly many cost-effective approaches to incorporating ingredients that improve our immune system and overall health, there is also an opportunity for people to exploit that desire in the name of personal profit.

One such comestible that has been highly touted as just such a remedy is bone broth. Real bone broth and stock deliver incredible flavor and pack a tremendously healthy punch. Of that there is no doubt. They have been used since the dawn of cooking, and modern science has verified their impressive healing potential. But what’s labeled on the box in the megamarket and what’s added – or left out – can be two quite different things.

There is a lot of confusion regarding the difference between stocks, broths, and bone broths. All three are fundamentally just water infused with flavorings. The difference is in exactly what ingredients and seasonings are used to create the end product. Let’s briefly explore the differences, and what to be wary of when purchasing pre-made, commercial versions.

Unfortunately, many people in the media, including many food writers, make no distinction between broths and stocks. Even more unfortunately, very often neither do commercial producers. In terms of labeling laws, "stocks or broths prepared with 'relatively small amounts' of meat or poultry,” are exempted from USDA jurisdiction. In fact, the USDA goes further and states, that absolutely no “distinction has been made between 'broth' and 'stock.' They may be used interchangeably as the resulting liquid from simmering meat and/or bones in water with seasonings.” Likewise, there is no legally binding definition for bone broth. Therefore, manufacturers are free to label their products with whatever they think sells best, as long as it contains water, seasoning, and some animal bits and bobs (the quality of which can less than desirable).

One of the big selling points of bone broth is its collagen content. Collagen is easily the most abundant protein in your body, of critical importance to bone, joint, and skin health.  Because collagen is present throughout the body, there are additional lesser-known benefits like enhanced immune function and maintenance of a healthy gut. For the most part, collagen can be thought of as the glue that keeps us together. The collagen supplement you buy from a store is similar to the collagen found naturally in stocks and bone broths. The result of slowly simmering the cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin of animals breaks down the collagen which can be seen as the naturally occurring gelatin in both stocks and bone broths.

copyright RTP, used with permission
Source: copyright RTP, used with permission

Stocks form the foundation for many culinary creations. Stocks are produced from combinations of primarily bones, vegetables, seasonings, and liquids. They are then simmered for a period of time to concentrate the flavors. Stocks contain bones, which are gently cooked for a long period of time along with connective tissue to yield collagen and other products which give it body and a rich texture and flavor.

Bone broths are simply stocks that may be made without the use of any vegetables or seasonings. If you make a traditional stock as described above, you’ve essentially made a magnificently delicious bone broth.

Broths are the lighter cousin of stocks. They often contain many of the same ingredients as stocks, but substitute out the bones for just meat. They are often made by simply reducing and straining the liquid in which the main food was cooked.

Whether broths, bone broths, or stocks, commercial preparations often contain additives and preservatives. Invariably, they also contain salts. As the use of these preparations often involves reducing the liquid, this can concentrate these compounds, resulting in off tastes and salty food. Industrial preparations can also be extremely expensive. Often what you’re paying for are famous faces and hyped up endorsements. Many a celebrity decorated box of stock and kitschy bone broth retail from $8 to more than $12 a quart. A well-known celebrity doctor sells his own brand of “collagen superfood powder made from real bone broth” for $50 a pound.

Making your own stock is easy and can be incredibly efficient from both time and economic perspectives. Making homemade stock generally involves utilizing many of the odds and ends the average home cook tosses in the bin. It gives you control over not only what you want to add, but what you can choose to omit as well. This ancient elixir is not only densely packed with deliciousness, it is loaded with healthful nutrients. Making it yourself will yield the most flavorsome liquid at literally pennies a quart. No wonder the humble stock is considered a culinary philosopher’s stone, turning what many consider garbage into edible gold.


International Food Information Council. (10 June 2020.). 2020 Food & Health Survey. International Food Information Council. https://foodinsight.org/2020-food-and-health-survey/

Labensky, S. R., & Hause, A. M. (2003). On Cookling: Techniques from Expert Chefs. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.

US Department of Agriculture. (2005). Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture.

US Department of Agriculture. (2007). A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat, Poultry, and Egg Products. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture.