Chicken broth isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. Its association with being sick and stomaching only warm fluids also conjures a bit of negativity, especially in COVID times.
But the ingredient’s importance goes beyond just a simple bowl of chicken noodle soup. Chicken broth is the base for some of our most beloved chili, stew and sauce recipes. It is also used to cook rice, beans, pastas and other carbs that we crave on a regular (or hourly, if you’re me) basis.
There are, surprisingly, a large amount of mainstream chicken broths on the market, each with different depths of flavor, sodium contents, herbal notes and viscosity.
I purchased six popular varieties — both in can and carton — and put them to the ultimate taste test.
Here are my results after heating up each contender in a saucepan and sampling spoonful after spoonful. (Frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t started to grow feathers.)
Quick note: This list does not include bone broth, which is what I actually prefer, for its added health benefits and depth of flavor. I also avoided stocks, which are typically thicker (since they’re made with bones and not just chicken meat).
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There was something about Progresso’s chicken broth that made it take on the taste of its carton. Even when heated, I couldn’t get over the artificiality of it all and immediately cleansed my palate with a splash of Red Bull (that’s when you know it’s bad). While I think Progresso absolutely kills it in the canned soup game (its Pasta e Fagioli is bangin’), I couldn’t wrap my head around why this recipe hasn’t been updated. Sometimes it’s time to phase out the O.G. and opt for something a bit more friendly on the tongue.
I, of course, appreciated Whole Foods’ organic offering for its quality of ingredients, but this had virtually zero flavor. It was more like water with the faint taste of chicken which, when eaten on its own, isn’t the most palatable. I was also searching high and low for the added carrot and celery juices (which I love, because they remind me of Thanksgiving), but got absolutely nothing. This broth could definitely benefit from some added herbs and onions, though it’s an ideal choice for those on a low-FODMAP diet since it’s practically, well, just chicken water.
This carton was a little weak in flavor, but I was generally pleased with Amazon’s take on the timeless classic. It’s nothing to write home about, but at least it lacked notes of cardboard (unlike #6) and actually had some onion and sweetness (unlike #5). I’d use this as a base for a soup, but it has to have a ton of other ingredients tossed in to zhuzh it up. Again, and not to sound like a broken record, I’m not mad at it, but I’m also not jumping up and down over it. It’s fine. It’s OK. It works. It gets the job done. A solid C+.
Nostalgia probably played a significant role in Campbell’s ranking, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Upon first sip, it instantly shot me back to my childhood and, as a result, felt the most homemade. This is and will forever be a pantry staple because it’s simply "mmm, mmm, good" — with plenty of umami flavor thanks to the MSG. In fact, it inspired me to make chicken and dumplings next week.
I had never tried College Inn Chicken Broth prior to this taste test and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. The broth is very chicken-forward and probably the richest on this list, making it ideal for risottos, stews and pilafs that can stand up to the intensity of flavor. It was also the saltiest of the bunch, which may be off-putting to some consumers, but not for me — I could literally have "bring on the salt" tattooed on my forehead and it still wouldn’t accurately reflect my love for the seasoning.
Vegetal, earthy and pleasantly onion-forward, I was downright shocked to place Swanson at No. 1. Other than Campbell’s (which actually owns Swanson), I may be a bit biased with mainstream, mass-produced brands by assuming they'll skimp on quality, but this chicken broth was robust in flavor and tasted as if it was prepared from scratch by a chef. The company also says it doesn't use any artificial ingredients, so hats off to the Swanson recipe developers for turning me into a lifelong fan.