Organic chicken broth

Last night I hijacked my local eco-group meeting to run a blind tasting of organic chicken broth. In the line-up were 9 store-bought varieties and one home-made broth.

  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart Nativa Organic (700mg/47%)
  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart Nativa Reduced Sodium Organic (520mg/35%)
  • Pacific Organic (590mg/39%)
  • Pacific Low Sodium Organic (80mg/5%)
  • Swansons organic: Costco (570mg/38%)
  • President’s Choice (PC) organic (800mg/53%)
  • GoBio Organic (from cubes) (952mg/63%)
  • Harvest Sun Organic (from powder/cubes) (470mg/31%)
  • Better than Bouillon Chicken Base (from paste) (700mg/47%)
  • Homemade (no salt added)

This turned out to be an interesting experiment for two main reasons.

The first is that we did not agree at all on which was the most tasty chicken broth option. I had thought there would be one outright winner.

The second is the issue of sodium content. In the list above, the milligram figure in brackets is the sodium content per cup (250ml) from the product label. The percentage figure I calculated myself.

I know labels display this percentage, but I found a discrepancy in percentages between the different brands. So I went to the Health Canada site and found the recommended daily sodium intake at source. This varies from <500mg/day for children under the age of one, to a maximum of 1,500mg for a regular adult (older adults should have less).

I am not quite sure wherein the disconnect lies. Based on the percentages they offer, most of the nutrition labels seem to be using a much higher figure (between 2,350 and 2,600mg) for recommended daily intake. Am I missing something? I can’t figure out this systematic error, but it is significant enough to be pretty worrying. And this is on top of existing doubts about the actual measuring of nutritional value.

The bottom line is that store-bought chicken broth is salty, very salty. Some varieties certainly taste saltier than others, but all (with the exception of the Pacific low sodium) are big offenders. The two stand outs on the list are the PC product (claims 33% but 53% by my calculations) and GoBio (claims 40%, 63% according to me). Shoppers sells a reduced sodium version of its organic chicken broth, but don’t be taken in: this is not low sodium (still at 35%).

The only genuinely low sodium offering I found was the Pacific brand at 5% (and, of course, my own broth).

So what of taste? I imagined my homemade version (just boiled bones, no veg added this time) would win hands down. Instead, it elicited comments such as `not enough body’ and ‘innocuous’. I wondered whether that might be partly to do with how much salt people are accustomed to (I seldom add salt to my cooking) but, given the results below, maybe not.

Perhaps I am just used to my own stock and like it. Generally I found the store broths to be very single dimensional…little depth or body to the flavour (a common comment). But now to the results.

First the losers. Nobody had much good to say about the Pacific regular, Shoppers regular or Swansons. I, personally, hated the Loblaws/PC brand but others found it OK.

Overall the top scorers, interestingly enough, were the Shoppers reduced sodium and the Pacific low sodium. One taster liked the über-salty GoBio, noting that it was `delicious but a little too salty’ (another taster thought it  `chemically’).

So there you have it. An unscientific test but an interesting one, for sure.

Ideally I would always make my own broth, but I know that is not always going to happen. So, my choice from now would be the Pacific low sodium variety. The ingredient list is a bit worrying (containing, as it does, cane juice – i.e. sugar – and something called `organic chicken flavour’: what is this if not the whole product?).

The price tends to be a little higher than the store-brand varieties (round here it ranges from about $2.99 to $3.49 for a litre while other brands can be had for closer to $1.99 if you catch the sales or buy in bulk), but the absent sodium and robust flavour make it worth it, in my view.

My last observation is that that I struggle with buying any heavy liquid product that contains largely water (wine is exempt here!). It is a terrible waste of energy and packaging. The tetrapaks that house most broths are recyclable in most places but are one of the hardest and most energy-demanding products to recycle.

For that reason, and because I am originally from the UK where these are the norm, I have always favoured broth cubes. I was therefore disappointed that the 2 powder/cube products in the test did not score more highly. I found them both very salty. I’ll continue to keep the Harvest Sun product as a stand-by, but the GoBio ones have to go before my blood pressure goes through the roof.

Better than Bouillon products, which have recently appeared on many supermarket shelves around here, are also interesting. They are made in the US and come in multiple flavours from lobster to mushroom (not all organic). They are hands-down the cheapest option. A glass jar of paste costs around $7 but makes around 10 litres of broth, by my calculation. The paste will last for several months in the fridge, once opened. Salt content is at the high end and the broth itself is a little soapy. But for those days when you just have to make a soup but do not have anything else at hand, its another reasonable option.