What are the main ingredients of a stock cube?

Concentrated broth cubes or tablets are one of the oldest processed foods, having exceeded one hundred years of existence. They arrived in Spain a little later, in the middle of the 20th century. And although they have changed slightly in form and function since then, “the difference between the amount of animal or plant protein they had in their early years and what they currently have is remarkable,” says Lluís Riera, a food technologist.

Advise consumers to always check food labels, especially if they are unsure which ingredients and additives they contain. “You must know that the order in which they are described indicates the proportion of each of them from plus to minus”, adds Riera.

Lots of salt and a little chicken

Therefore, it is significant that in the case of bouillon cubes from the most popular brand in Spain (and others as well), salt tops the list. Followed by monosodium glutamate, corn starch, palm oil and in fifth place free-range chicken, with 5% of the total. “It is little, yes, but there is something, because if it is sold as chicken broth, meat, fish or any other product, the law requires it to have that food. Without specifying too much in what quantity ”, he adds.

Salt is the most abundant ingredient in most broth cubes.

You shouldn’t resort to this product if you are looking for nutritional properties, as they are quite scarce. Its main function is to enhance the flavor of dishes or make a soup to get by when you don’t have much time to cook a good broth.

science in the kitchen

The development of this product was possible when scientists discovered which food elements were essential for the survival of the human being. They concluded that protein and creatine, critical to muscles, were of the utmost importance.

Vegetable broth tablets

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From these discoveries, the German chemist Justus von Liebeg developed a liquid meat extract in 1840 that could be used in cooking. It wasn’t very practical at the time, nor was it affordable for most families, which is why they kept experimenting until they found the pill format, which went on sale in the early 20th century. A decade later there were already up to ten brands on the market, mostly British and German.

Other sources assure that the invention is to be attributed to the Frenchman Nicolas Appert, who proposed it to provide food to the Napoleonic troops. Most likely, each of them contributed in some way to making it possible.

The faso myth of the nails

It took a little longer to arrive in Spain, as it was in the 1940s and at the hands of a Catalan brand, still very popular in the market. The concept is more or less the same. “What has certainly changed is the quantity of each ingredient. If you compare a label from those early days with a current one, a much higher percentage of those that should be main stands out, ie chicken, meat and vegetables ”.

The story – or maybe it’s just a legend – tells that in those days it was the wife and co-founder of the brand who cooked the broth which would then be dehydrated and transformed into the famous pills. “Flavors, preservatives and other additives have increased over the years,” explains Lluís Riera. But, underlines the food technologist, “we must disprove the myth that from time to time appears that nails, feathers or animal hair are used for their manufacture. The agri-food industry is highly controlled and would be impractical ”.

Flavors, preservatives and other additives have increased over the years

Lluis Rierafood technologist

The bottom line is that it is not a highly recommended product from a health point of view. From the beginning, a broth prepared with a cube diluted in half a liter of water provides 1,100 grams of salt, which is half the daily dose considered healthy for an adult. And we are not talking about glutamate or palm oil, with 7% saturated fat, which are some of the most discussed products.

Nothing like homemade broth

“Now, you have to consider that in the end, if you use a stock cube to flavor a dish cooked for several people, it will be very diluted,” Riera points out. And those 1,100 grams of salt will be distributed to all diners, so its impact is far less significant.

Chicken and vegetable broth

Chicken and vegetable broth

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What is not convenient is to use it every day and in everything that is cooked. Because we must also take into account that it is often also used in restaurants in quantities that we do not know and it is impossible to check what has been consumed during the day if you eat away from home. So the recommendation is to avoid it in the diet if it is intended to be the healthiest, and if used regularly, do so with caution.

Riera explains that there are other alternatives on the market, “like the cubes that are usually sold in health food stores, with less salt and additives”. Even liquid broths prepared in slow cooker from bones and meat scraps not for sale, or the so-called dark ones, increasingly present, based on ribs, chicken bones and other meats cooked in the oven before boiling them in water.

The healthiest and richest option is to prepare the concentrated broth at home and freeze it into cubes

Lluis Rierafood technologist

These are increasingly consumed because, among other things, they make it possible to exploit parts of the animals that would otherwise be discarded. “But the healthiest and richest option, if you have time, is to prepare a good amount of concentrated broth at home and freeze it into cubes for use when it is convenient”, concludes the expert.