How to Give Bland Vegetable Stock a Boost (2024)

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In an ideal world, we'd all be making our own full-flavored, long-simmered vegetable stock. In fact, we'd be making broth customized with spices and herbs to complement whatever dish we'd planned to make with said stock. We'd be whistling a happy tune as the pot bubbled away.

But in this world, most of us turn more often to boxes and cans. And while the convenience is great, the stock or broth inside isn't always so. And that's especially true when it comes to vegetable stocks, which can end up tasting either too bland or too aggressively flavored to play nice in recipes. But thankfully, there are plenty of ways to boost your vegetable stock without compromising its vegetarian integrity.

Add a Tasty Paste to Vegetable Broth

To add both deep flavor and an underlying sweetness, add some tomato paste (about 1 tablespoon per quart of stock). This work especially well for broths destined for soups like minestrone and rich, aromatic stews. To make tomato paste's flavor even richer (and eliminate any metallic notes), cook it briefly in a dry skillet, or with a little oil, over medium heat just until it's fragrant. You can do the same thing with garlic paste.

Miso will also add depth of flavor and sweetness, but it will also bump the salt factor so be judicious with your other seasoning. Don't pre-cook it the way you might with tomato paste though—that would kill the beneficial bacteria and much of the flavor. Instead, whisk a spoonful into a small amount of stock and then add back to the rest of the simmering liquid.

Boost the Umami of Vegetable Broth

Veggie stock can often suffer from a lack of savoriness—that richness that usually comes from animal bones. Anchovy paste is a quick fix to reach umami bliss, but there are plenty of vegetarian ways to get there, too. Soy sauce, tamari, or liquid aminos add great depth, but watch out for using too much—you'll end up making the stock only taste like super-salty soy. Start with about 2 teaspoons per quart and adjust from there. Remember, you can always add more.

If you have time for an infusion, you could add a bit of seaweed or dried mushrooms to warm stock and let them steep. (Bonus: You can eat them afterward.)

A Parmesan rind is a wonderful way to infuse stock with flavor, especially for Italian dishes; but if you want to keep it vegan, a dash of nutritional yeast is a great option to lend stock a similar savory essence.

And then, of course, you could go straight to the source of umami and toss in some straight MSG—say 1/2 teaspoon per quart. Plenty of people are doing it.

Add bright, fresh flavor to vegetable broth

A few fresh herb sprigs—whatever complements the dish you plan to make—can do wonders for a boxed broth. Just warm up the broth, toss in some parsley, cilantro, tarragon, sage, thyme, or a combination, and let the broth steep like tea for several minutes before fishing the herbs out. Don't boil fresh herbs in broth, though, or they could make the stock bitter.

How to Give Bland Vegetable Stock a Boost (2024)
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