Once upon a time I popped a stock cube out of a shiny wrapper. Then I spooned a heap of bouillon into my soup. Then I put the bones from the Sunday roast in a pan to make stock. Then I started actually acquiring bones and simmering them for hours or even days, specifically to make bone broth.
Is this progress or madness?
Let me share with you how my thinking and practise has evolved.
The era of the stock cube
Who doesn’t love the simplicity of the stock cube? I remember being introduced to the concept of crumbling the cube and adding hot water to it in home economics at school. It adds a nice meaty flavour, you can match the type of cube to the type of meal you’re cooking and hey presto: A full flavoured meal.
I never had any problem with the stock cube until I married my husband who strongly objected to my use of oxo stock cubes
Oxo’s website encourages you to ‘Beef up your bolognese, stew or cottage pie with the magic taste of our rich and versatile magic cube‘. It turns out that he was quite right to be wary, as there is indeed quite a lot of magic in a stock cube in the same way in which there is quite a lot of magic in MsG (Monosodium Glutamate). Let’s look at the ingredients for the beef stock cube.
Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Salt, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Flavour Enhancers (Monosodium Glutamate, l), Colour (Ammonia Caramel), Beef Fat (4.5%), Autolysed Yeast Extract, Dried Beef Bonestock, Flavourings, Sugar, Acidity Regulator (Lactic Acid), Onion Powder.
I’m encouraged to see that there is actually some bone stock in Oxo’s product. However, there are also quite a few very dubious ingredients. I’m not excited by the monosodium glutamate ie MsG, yeast extract, autolysed yeast extract or the flavourings.
(For anyone interested, Kallo organic stock cubes have much better ingredients than oxo. In particular there is no added MSG.)
The era of Vegetable bouillon
So when I got married, I became a marigold vegetable bouillon user. It is very easy to use, it doesnt contain added msg. To be honest soups and casseroles can taste a little ‘samey’ when using it a lot but it is perfectly fine.
The ingredients are
Sea salt, hydrolysed vegetable protein, potato starch, palm oil, vegetables 8% (celery, onions, carrots, leeks), lactose, spices (turmeric, white pepper, garlic, mace, nutmeg), parsley, lovage.
All the ingredients sound fairly reasonable, although it is hard to get to the bottom of whether hydrolysed vegetable protein contains unnatural glutamic acid that produces the same effects as MSG. There is a bit of a question mark over this (please comment if you have any information on this!!). I never made a definite decision to stop using this for flavouring but somehow I have generally stopped having a little tub loitering around even towards to back of the cupboard because I came across a much better flavour enhancer.
The era of home made stock with left over bones
Honestly, what else are you going to do with bones leftover from your roast chicken? At some point a few years ago I began to keep the bones from roasts and boil up a quick stock. As I learnt more about the benefits of stock I would sometimes cook it for longer in a slow cooker with a bit of vinegar or wine added. Whilst I didnt love washing up the slow cooker after making the stock, I loved the frugality, the taste and the idea that at some level this was swapping a potentially damaging flavour enhancer for a nourishing food.
The era of acquiring bones to make stock
Eventually I slipped into my present territory. I don’t just save bones from the roast but I actively seek to acquire bones. I ask my local butcher for his beef bones. I have bought big bags of grass fed rare breed chicken and beef bones from a local supplier. I have even had top quality chicken caracasses delivered to my door. I asked for an instant pot for christmas partly to make the stock making process easier and quicker. This year I have even resolved to work out how best to improve the gelatine content of my stock. This may involve copious amounts of research to work out how best to acquire chicken feet.
Am I mad? Am I following a bandwagon? To be honest….I might be. Of course I dont have time to drill down into the science of good stock (not that there is a lot available although this obscure article is fascinating). However, it tastes good. I can confidently say that (except for certain extreme conditions) it is not bad for you as it has been eaten for centuries in nearly every culture. In fact, it is almost certainly good for you. We have made various changes in our diet over the past couple of years so it is impossible to really separate the effect of one change in our diet from another change in our diet. However, taken together, these changes (including increasing amounts of stock) seem to be making really positive impacts on our general health. I’m not talking colds and coughs – we are still getting plenty of these – but digestive and inflammation issues seem to be settling down.
My new instant pot is certainly making it easier to make copious amounts of stock and I seem to be working out a better system for storing stock in the fridge and freezer in order to make the storing and cooking process easier.
So, out with the shiny wrappers, in with the bones..