What Is Bouillon?

Bouillon cubes and powders are cheap pantry staples that add instant flavor to so many dishes.  

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If convenience were an ingredient, it would be bouillon. There was once a time when making broth or stock took the better part of a day. Bouillon changed that. Although the word actually just means "broth" in French, bouillon generally refers to the powders or cubes used to turn water into broth. It's a low-cost, convenient alternative to boxed broth and stock, so it's no wonder it's spread to kitchens all over the world. But what is bouillon? Let's break down this versatile ingredient.

What Is Bouillon?

Bouillon (pronounced bool-yaan) is the French word for broth. The terms bouillon and broth are often used interchangeably. Both refer to the translucent, flavorful liquid that is made by simmering beef, chicken, vegetables, and other ingredients. Colloquially, bouillon is often meant to describe the resulting broth from cubed and powdered forms of bouillon.

What Are Bouillon Cubes?

Made from dehydrated meat or vegetable broth, bouillon cubes are essentially evaporated, condensed bouillon in the shape of a cube that, when added to water, makes broth. The cubes are typically available in chicken, beef, or vegetable bouillon.

The FDA puts it this way: "Chicken bouillon cube or beef bouillon cube are appropriate names if the product is made from evaporated bouillon with sufficient chicken or beef extractives present to give definite characteristics, especially flavor, of the designated source. When dissolved in water according to directions the resulting product is bouillon."

Vegetable bouillon on the other hand contains no meat extractives. Popular brands of bouillon cubes include Knorr and Maggi.

bouillon cubes in wrapping
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What Are Bouillon Granules?

Granulated bouillon is just a dehydrated bouillon that remains in powdered form instead of being shaped into a cube. It tends to dissolve more quickly than the cubes, and it doesn't require as much packaging.

What Is "Better Than Bouillon?"

Better Than Bouillon ($9; amazon.com) is a food base (this can be chicken, beef, vegetable, fish, etc.), that's marketed as an alternative to the often over-salted bouillon cubes and powders. According to Summit Hill, the makers of Better Than Bouillon, it's essentially a concentrated form of stock made from cooked meat or vegetables that has been evaporated down into a thick paste. It can be dissolved in water to make instant stock or simply used to add concentrated flavor to dishes. It's said to impart a stronger flavor than powdered or cubed bouillon without all the salt (but don't be fooled, it's still quite high in sodium).

Other Types of Bouillon

There are a number of soups and stews that go by the same name, though they have no relation to bouillon cubes or powders.

In Haiti, bouillon is actually a type of soup made with some combination of beef, leafy greens, root vegetables, plantains, and more. It's traditionally served on Saturdays, and is usually made to feed a crowd.

In France, court-bouillon, which translates to "short broth," is an aromatic cooking liquid used for poaching fish. There is a Creole dish popular throughout Louisiana by the same name; here court-bouillon refers to a tomato-based seafood stew normally made with red snapper and shrimp.

How to Use Bouillon

In addition to dissolving bouillon in water to make broth, you can use it any number of ways to add salty, umami flavor to dishes. All that's needed to access the bouillon flavor is to add water, so you can dissolve them into curries, dips, dressings, marinades, sauces, soups, and stews. Try using beef bouillon to make a simple gravy. Chicken bouillon has become a staple in Mexican cuisine, including Mexican rice. It can also be used to add umami flavor to egg drop soup.

How to Store Bouillon

Bouillon cubes or granules will last up to two years when packaged tightly and stored in a cool dry place. This puts it at a major advantage over boxed broth, which, once opened, will only last about five days.

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