Learn the basics for flavoring vegetarian and vegan dishes with vegetable stock, base, broth and bouillon. Understand the differences and how to make them.

Vegetarian and vegan options are on the rise both in foodservice and in consumers’ homes. To chefs and foodies alike, this means having vegetable stocks, bases, broths and bouillons on hand to make veggie-based soups, chilis, casseroles, gravies, sauces, rice and more. In this article, we’ll go over the differences between stocks, bases, broths and bouillons. We will explore how they’re made and what vegetables to use. We’ll even go over how to get creative when making your own vegetable-based flavors. 

Below, for your convenience, is a table of contents; skip around if needed. 

Table of Contents

What Is a Vegetable Stock?  

Vegetable stock is a versatile liquid used to make other dishes. There are a couple of variations on how to make it. The easiest way is to rough-chop some vegetables, and then put everything in the pot, onion peels and all. Cover in water, simmer for about 1 to 2 hours and strain. That’s it. You’re done.  

Another variation requires chopping the veggies finely, lightly coating them in oil and either sautéing or baking them until soft and beginning to brown. Place everything in a pot, cover in water and simmer for about 1 to 2 hours and strain. This variation will have a darker color due to the browning prior to simmering. It will also have a stronger taste because the precooking and the smaller pieces allow more nutrients and flavor to seep into the water. 

Stocks are not seasoned, as they are considered an ingredient. However, commercially produced stocks typically have salt added as a preservative, making them shelf stable until opened.    

What Is a Vegetable Base?

A vegetable base is a concentrated vegetable stock. Start with vegetable stock, place it back onto the stove and continue to simmer until the liquid has evaporated by at least half.  

The most significant difference between a base that is made from a protein and one made from vegetables is the protein base will begin to thicken due to the collagen. If you want a thicker vegetable base, you can add cornstarch, arrowroot powder or puréed vegetables until you’ve reached your desired thickness.  

A base is used in a similar fashion as a stock. However, some recipes require less liquid, in which case using a base is ideal. A base has a richer vegetable flavor, darker color and thicker texture. It is not generally seasoned; however, adding salt will give it a longer shelf life.  

What Is a Vegetable Broth?

A vegetable broth is a stock that has been seasoned. To make it, warm up vegetable stock and season it to taste with your favorite fresh herbs, spices and salt and pepper.  

Most people know that if you’re not feeling well, a cup of warm, savory broth will help. Nutritionally speaking, broths are full of healthy minerals our bodies need, especially when sick. In many countries, broths come standard with meals.

Create a delicious vegetable broth by seasoning with herbs and spices like these:

  • Basil
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Celery Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Coriander
  • Garlic Powder
  • Ginger
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Paprika
  • Peppercorns
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric

What Is a Vegetable Bouillon?

Vegetable bouillon is a highly concentrated broth; in other words, it’s a stock that was seasoned and then concentrated. Having bouillon on hand simplifies making a soup, stew, chili or even a broth. Bouillon can be found in your local grocery store in either a cube, powder or paste. 

What Vegetables to Use to Make a Stock

There are so many delicious veggies!  Mirepoix (Meer-PWAH) is the French term for a flavor base made from vegetables. Traditionally, the vegetables used are onions, carrots and celery used at a 2:1:1 ratio.  These vegetables create a neutral and savory-flavored stock. 

However, for those of you that like to experiment, the following vegetables are excellent in stocks. Just a fair warning, not all veggies are neutral-flavored and will limit what finished dishes your stock can make.  For example, garlic and tomatoes are strong-flavored so those might make an excellent stock if you’re preparing Italian cuisine.  

  • Asparagus 
  • Basil 
  • Bay Leaves
  • Beet Greens 
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chives
  • Cucumber
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Kombu
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Marjoram
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions (peel and all)
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Parsnips
  • Peas (pods and all)
  • Scallions
  • Shallots
  • Spinach
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnip greens
  • Zucchini

Quick Tip:

Keep a quart-sized bag in your freezer. Anytime you cut up vegetables, throw in the peels, ends and unusable stems in the bag. They are perfect ingredients for making your stock.  

Vegetables to Avoid When Making A Stock

There are a few things that can go wrong when making a stock.  The flavor can be too strong from overpowering vegetables. The stock could become cloudy or leave your mouth with a gritty feeling from vegetables that are high in starch. The stock could also become overly bitter, ruining any final dish you try to make with it. To ensure these issues don’t happen, here’s a complete list of vegetables to avoid when making stock.  

  • Beets – overpowering and will color the stock purple
  • Bok Choy – bitter 
  • Broccoli – bitter 
  • Cabbage – bitter
  • Cilantro – overpowering
  • Collard Greens – bitter 
  • Corn – starchy
  • Kale – bitter
  • Kohlrabi – bitter
  • Peppers (hot) – overpowering
  • Potato – starchy
  • Pumpkin – starchy
  • Radish – overpowering 
  • Rutabagas – bitter
  • Squash – starchy
  • Sweet Potato – starchy
  • Turnips – overpowering

How Long Do Stock, Base and Broth Last?

Once a vegetable stock, base or broth is made, it will last between 5 to 7 days in the refrigerator. If you don’t want to use it immediately, you can freeze it, so it’s on hand whenever you need it. One fun trick is to use an ice cube tray to freeze it into little squares. This way, anytime you want a dash of vegetable flavor, it’s as easy as melting an ice cube. 

How to Use Stock, Base and Broth

Anytime a recipe calls for water, you can use vegetable stock instead. It adds a savory note to rice, quinoa, beans, soups, chilis, casseroles and more.

Whenever a recipe needs a little something extra, but adding too much liquid would ruin it, add a vegetable base to enhance the flavor. Add vegetable base to pasta, noodles, stuffed mushrooms, bean dip and other items.

Broth can be consumed on its own or used to make delicious soups such as roasted tomato, butternut squash or minestrone. 

Where To Buy Vegetable Stock, Base, Broth and Bouillon

Compared to protein-based stocks, plant-based stocks take significantly less time to make in-house, usually 1 to 2 hours versus 4 to 8 hours for a protein-based version. However, that’s still a long time, and sometimes that’s time you don’t have; or if you need a lot of stock, like a restaurant, consistency is a concern. 

Here are a few options for buying stocks, bases, broths and bouillons.  Home chefs can purchase these items at their local grocery store. Just head to the soup aisle, and you will find everything you need. Our favorite brand is Better Than Bouillon®.

Food-industry companies, such as meal-kit manufacturers, restaurants, industrial-manufacturers and casinos, can buy vegetable flavor bases directly from flavor specialists like us, Summit Hill Foods, or through their favorite distributor or DOT Foods.   

Custom Vegetable Bases for Foodservice

What sets Summit Hill Foods apart from other flavor companies is the ability to work with chefs, food scientists and regulatory specialists to create customized base flavors. We have two development kitchen locations: one in Salt Lake City, Utah, and one in Rome, Georgia.  

Our research and development teams can take your existing recipe and get it ready for large-scale production. They can also work with you to create new recipes per your application needs. Say you’re interested in a fresh ginger kombu ramen soup for a grocery meal-kit or a vegan mac and cheese sauce for your restaurant–we can help you out. We can host a virtual development session and even a virtual tasting, making the best use of today’s technology. And of course, we host customers with in-person, on-the-bench development sessions too. We’ll work together to create just the right flavor, texture and consistency for your ingredient, and we have the ability to make it in our test kitchen just like you would make it in your restaurant or manufacturing facility. Once your ingredient is just the way you want it, we can scale it up for manufacturing in the right-size batches to meet your needs. We invite you to contact us to talk about your next great flavor need.