Bouillon cubes have been around for over 100 years, flavoring soups, sauces, casseroles and any other dish that benefits from a savory, umami-rich blast of spice. Though hard and square, these small cubes are actually made from stock and/or dehydrated meats and vegetables. They can be dissolved in water to make an instant broth, or melted into a curry to enhance the richness and flavor. Many cultures have made bouillon cubes a staple ingredient, and it's one food that can be found on grocery store shelves all over the world.
- Varieties: Chicken, beef, vegetable and lamb
- Common Uses: Soups, sauces, broth and curry
- Shelf Life: 2 years
- Other Names: Stock cube, broth cube
What Are Bouillon Cubes?
Bouillon cubes are basically dehydrated stock packaged in an easy-to-use block form. Typically this food is made up of dehydrated meat and/or vegetables, MSG, salt and various seasonings. The seasonings depend on what company is making the bouillon cubes, and the top providers include Maggi, Knorr and OXO, which all started the trend of bouillon cubes in the early 1900s. Bouillon cubes are used to add flavor to soups and sauces, as a substitute for stock, and to thicken and spice a curry.
The first bouillon cube was created 1908 by Swiss food manufacturer Julius Maggi, and it was called bouillonwürfel. Before the commercial cube launched in Europe, Maggi used his own powdered bouillon in his readymade soups and sauces. Shortly after Maggi launched the bouillonwürfel, Britsh company OXO and German food manufacturer Carl Heinrich Theodor Knorr started producing their own versions of the bouillon cube in 1910 and 1912 respectively. These three companies still produce most of the world's bouillon, and it can be found in countries all over the globe.
The idea behind bouillon is to provide a lot of flavor and umami to foods without having to make a batch of bone broth or stock from scratch. Over the decades bouillon cubes have become a staple ingredients in some cultures. For example, in Central and West Africa Maggi bouillon cubes are often used to make classic dishes like poulet braisé and jollof. Maggi is also the bouillon cube brand favored throughout India, where it's put into curry and soups. In Mexico Knorr bouillon cubes are a popular choice when making rice and chicken enchiladas.
Bouillon Cubes vs Bone Broth
Bouillon cubes were created as a way to replace bone broth and stock, which take a lot of time and space to make. Bone broth also uses a lot of meat and/or bones. Bouillon cubes, on the other hand, are prepared from dehydrated stock or meat and can be turned into a meaty and flavorful broth in the amount of time it takes to boil water. Plus a box of bouillon cubes fits in the back of pantry, where a cup of bone broth must be in the fridge or freezer.
Despite the time and amount of food it takes to make bone broth, it's made with fewer ingredients than bouillon cubes, which are made with MSG and spices and tend to be very salty. Though fattier, most bone broth is bland when compared to bouillon cubes, and for that reason it's a better ingredient to use when you want greater control over the flavor of a dish. The bouillon cubes will impart the spices that are mixed into the square, something that depends on the brand and flavor of the bouillon. Bone broth also has collagen, where bouillon cubes do not.
Bouillon cubes come in a few different varieties, and beyond that, each brand puts its own spin into the cubes with an array of spices. Producers aside, the main varieties of bouillon cubes are chicken, beef, vegetable and lamb, though the latter isn't as common as the other three. Chicken, beef and lamb bouillon are made from dehydrated meat from the respective animal, often along with dehydrated vegetables, spices and MSG. Vegetable bouillon skips the animal proteins and just uses produce, which can include vegetables such as carrots, onion and celery.
Bouillon Cubes Uses
Bouillon cubes are used to add more umami and spice to certain foods, namely curry, soup, stew, rice and sauces like BBQ sauce. These cubes can also be dissolved in water to make broth. Some grate the cubes to create a rich powder that can be tossed with popcorn or sprinkled on food like salt. In fact, the powder that comes with a pack of instant ramen or in a noodle soup cup is basically a crushed bouillon cube.
How to Cook With Bouillon Cubes
Each bouillon cube is made differently. Depending on the brand, the spices vary, as does the type of meat and the amount of MSG and salt used. No matter what kind of bouillon cube is used they all dissolve the same way in hot water and sauces. One cup of boiling water mixed with one bouillon cube makes one cup of broth. You can melt a bouillon cube directly into a sauce to add a layer of meatiness and umami-rich flavors, or you can use it to make a broth which you then add to the sauce. Bouillon cubes can also be grated into a powder and used like a seasoning salt.
What Do They Taste Like?
Overall, bouillon is a brick of umami savoriness with a strong, salty taste. The nuances of the flavor depends on what brand and type of bouillon is being used. Spices and added vegetables may include onion, parsley, garlic, summer savory, basil, rosemary, turmeric and more. The meat used also plays a part, as chicken bouillon tastes like poultry, beef has a rich red meat flavor, and vegetable is lighter and showcases the spices more.
Bouillon Cube Substitute
Broth and stock are the best substitutes for bouillon cubes since bouillon is often used to make instant stock. In fact, the word bouillon is a French word that means broth. Use chicken stock to substitute for chicken bouillon cubes, beef stock to substitute for beef bouillon cubes, and vegetable stock in place of veggie bouillon cubes.
Recipes That Use Bouillon Cubes
There are many ways to use bouillon cubes, especially when making sauces and soups.
Where To Buy Bouillon Cubes
Any supermarket or grocery that sells pantry supplies should have bouillon cubes on hand. It's an easy ingredient to source no matter where in the world the shopper is. There are many types and brands of bouillon cubes, and while all of them may not be available at the local grocery store, at least one company will be represented. Find them in the soup aisle, usually in small cardboard boxes near or on the top shelf.
The best place to store bouillon cubes is in a cool, dry pantry or the refrigerator, though it's not necessary to keep store bought ones cold. Bouillon cubes can last for around two years. If they go bad there will be an unpleasant smell, funky taste, and the color may change. Homemade bouillon won't last as long since there are less preservatives, but it will still stay good for months, especially if kept dry and cool.