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What Is Bouillon?

Wow! We thought this would be a simple question and we’d put the answer in italics somewhere on the website. But, after searching the wonderful world wide web, we found a LOT of definitions. Did we mention they didn’t match?

Instead, this sounds like a blog post to us. Buckle your seat belts because here we go!

Let’s start off with fan favorite Wikipedia which has an entry for “Bouillon Cube” and another for “Bouillon”. Adding complexity to an already complicated situation, Bouillon is apparently a municipality of Belgium. But whatever.

The good news is, everyone agrees that the term comes from the French word “bouillir”, meaning to boil. The French further expanded this to “bouillon”, meaning liquid in which something has been boiled.

However, pretty much everyone agrees that bouillon is made as a broth. (Keep in mind, the definition of broth is also up for grabs, but that’s for another time.) 

But here’s where things begin to fall apart.

  • Is bouillon the same thing as broth, or is broth a liquid and bouillon is crystallized broth?
  • What exactly is being boiled? 

Our Take

We believe it likely comes down to whether you’re describing products currently available in stores, or if you’re attempting to be historically accurate.

In the store, broth is a liquid and bouillon is a crystallized form of this broth. Confused? So were we.

To make things simple, we’re going to defer to the experts at Food.com because they have one of the best definitions.

Bouillon: Any broth made by cooking meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables in water. The liquid strained off after cooking is bouillon. A bouillon cube is a compressed, flavor-concentrated cube of dehydrated meat, poultry, fish, or vegetable stock. Bouillon granules are the granular form of the dehydrated concentrate.

Our interpretation is:

  • Bouillon equals broth
  • Broth equals bouillon
  • Bouillon cubes are a unique entity always referred to as bouillon cubes

Why Is There So Much Confusion?

In a word – marketing. It’s difficult to put products on shelves that have the same name but different forms and that may be located in different aisles.

Think about it: Would you buy “dehydrated broth”? Probably not. But if you think of broth as the liquid and the cubes as “bouillon”, well that’s different.

Either way, the French are looking at the rest of the world thinking, “What is wrong with you? First of all, it’s all bouillon, and secondly, stop dehydrating stuff.”

Forget What It’s Called – What’s it Made From?

Both Merriam Webster and Wikipedia define broth (also known as bouillon) as “a savory liquid made of water in which bones, meat or vegetables have been simmered.” Merriam Webster also throws in cereal grains to this mix.

But then, what is stock?

Well, the CIA (not the ninja-like spies, the Culinary Institute of America) says broth is made by boiling meat, and stock is made by boiling bones. But there’s a vegetable version of both and last we checked veggies don’t have meat or bones.

So, then there’s the faction that says broth has seasoning and stock doesn’t. But that’s up for grabs too.

After a bit of digging, we found a definition on the website, thespruceeats.com that’s clear and actually explains the vegetables, which was honestly bothering us.

The Spruce Eats defines stock as made from bones plus vegetables with no seasoning. The goal is to extract the collagen from the connective tissues which yields a thick base. When cool, it can become gelatinous, which is stock’s defining characteristic. They also explain that stock is a base for other things and not a finished product by itself.

In their definition, broth is a liquid in which meat is boiled. It usually has the same vegetables as stock, but it’s generally seasoned. Broth can be served by itself, and thus becomes soup.

Since this all sounds logical, and we love logic, we have decided this is our definition.

Bouillon Is Global

Bouillon is a global phenomenon, popular in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The US is actually one of the smaller markets, but we’re becoming more excited about bouillon, mainly due to the new and enticing flavors being introduced.

Now admit it, when you saw the title of this post, your mind went straight to those foil-wrapped cubes that come in 3 flavors, beef, chicken, and vegetable. But bouillon has evolved beyond the basic and now there are international flavors like curry and miso.

You can make a simple meal by adding water and some veggies, or add a teaspoon here and there to spice up a plain old dish and make it special.

There’s no limit to what you can do with bouillon.

Grab a spoonful of granules, call it whatever you want, and shake up your meal!

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