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Vegetarian Substitute for Chicken Broth

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

Chicken broth is a popular ingredient in many dishes, often used to add flavor and richness to soups, stews, gravies, and sauces. However, for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, using chicken broth is not an option. 

Thankfully, there are some amazing substitutes for chicken broth that will add the same depth of flavor and richness to your meals without compromising on your dietary preferences.

In this blog post, we will explore some of the best chicken broth substitutes, their benefits, and how to use them in your cooking. Whether you’re a committed vegetarian or simply looking to add some variety to your cooking, you’ll find plenty of options to explore.

What is Chicken Broth?

Chicken broth is what happens after you allow leftover chicken parts (bone, unused meat, organs), some vegetables (typically carrots, onions, and celery), and herbs to cook in water for a long time, then strain out the solids.  

Chicken broth is often used to add rich flavor to a dish and can be used anytime you need a cooking liquid

Most of the time, home cooks use the terms stock and broth interchangeably.  For what it’s worth, however, the distinction between the two is fairly minor. 

Broth is made from the flesh of the animal, and stock utilizes the bones.  Additionally, the stock is generally not seasoned, whereas broth, at a minimum, contains salt and pepper but often includes other herbs or spices as well.

Why Vegetarians Need a Substitute for Chicken Broth

Unfortunately, because chicken stock (and beef, seafood, and pork broth) is made with animal parts, it is not vegetarian-friendly.

But many recipes, even those that may appear vegetarian at first glance, contain chicken broth for maximum flavor.  On top of flavor, broth adds some micronutrients to your meal because of the vegetables in the cooking process.  

Ideally, we find a vegetarian option that provides both the flavor and the nutritional benefits of chicken stock.

Common Vegetarian Substitutes for Chicken Broth

There are a couple of no-brainer or easily attainable options to replace chicken broth in a recipe.  We’ll run through those first.

Vegetable Broth

The most obvious, and the one I use most frequently, is vegetable broth. I typically buy it for ease, but it really isn’t that hard to make it yourself, either.

Vegetable broth, or vegetable stock, almost always contains carrots, onions, and celery, just like chicken broth. Basically, these basic ingredients are simmered in seasoned water, then strained.

If you choose to make it yourself, however, you can do literally anything you want.  What many people do is throw any vegetable scraps into a freezer bag until they have a couple of cups worth, then add those along with chopped onion, carrots, and celery to 8-10 cups of water.

This is a great way to reduce food waste as well as reduce the grocery bill, as well as realize you forgot to buy more broth at the store. Or is that just me?

I tend to buy some every time I go for a bit, realize I have just a crap load of broth, then stop buying it until I realize I don’t have enough for whatever I’m cooking. Definitely not efficient.

Mushroom Broth

I love mushroom broth in certain foods.  It has a much deeper flavor than vegetable broth or even chicken broth, really. It has a much more prominent umami flavor. 

Again, you can just buy mushroom broth in many stores. Or you could make it yourself. 

You’ll make it very similar to the vegetable broth described above. However, often people will sear the mushrooms and onion before making the broth to get a char on them and deepen the flavor of the broth. You can use fresh or dried mushrooms here and can use the stems and other leftover parts, just like in the vegetable broth. 

A general rule of thumb is to use a ratio of 1 pound of fresh mushrooms or 2 cups of dried mushrooms for 2 quarts of water.

Plain Water

While this is certainly the easiest option, it is also the most boring. You’ll definitely need to amp up the flavors elsewhere. 

Additionally, if you’re using tap water, you’ll be able to taste the metallic flavor in certain dishes.  Obviously, this is a bigger factor in some places than in others.

Other Vegetarian Broth Options

The above options are the most obvious and most common substitutions for chicken broth. But they are by no means the only ones. Nor are they always the best option!

Seaweed Broth (Kombu)

So it turns out that studying kombu is what led researchers to determine that there is a 5th flavor, this umami I keep talking about. Kombu broth is the basis for Japanese dashi, which generally includes bonito (fish) flakes.

Making kombu broth isn’t hard; in fact, it’s easier than making your own vegetable or mushroom broth. Finding kombu may be difficult, depending on your location, however. 

White Wine

This is particularly good in Italian pasta dishes. Choose a dry wine instead of something sweeter. 

I usually go with Chardonnay because I don’t drink white wine, and Chard is usually available in those smaller bottles. Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc would likely also work.  

It is important when cooking with wine to make sure that there is some cooking time involved. It needs to mellow into the dish a bit.  Also, if your recipe also calls for vinegar, I would taste test before adding both!

Soy Sauce and Water

What you are doing here is essentially adding salt and umami to the water to make sure your final dish isn’t bland.  I actually add soy sauce to quite a few dishes that aren’t inspired by an Asian recipe. 

When cooking without meat, you need to get that rich umami flavor somewhere, and my son doesn’t like mushrooms. 

When using this to replace chicken (or beef broth), you can do some experimenting to your own taste, but I would start with approximately 1 Tbsp of soy sauce (I use low-sodium) to 1 cup of water.

Miso Paste and Water

Miso is a Japanese seasoning. It is a paste made from fermented soybeans. There are many types of miso, each with its own flavor profile.  I find that white miso paste is pretty easy to find, but the other varieties are more difficult. 

White miso is fairly mild in flavor, making it work well in many dishes if you need a replacement for chicken broth in a pinch.   

The container that miso comes in may be a bit deceiving.  A little goes a long way with this ingredient. I would start with 1/2-3/4 Tbsp in 1 cup of water and taste test.  Unlike the soy sauce option, make sure the water you are using is at least warm, or it won’t dissolve into a liquid that you can use as a broth.

Nutritional Yeast and Water

Nutritional yeast is a staple in many vegan households. If fortified, it can be a source of vitamin B12. It is often used to impart a cheese flavor to vegan dishes, so keep that in mind when using this as a broth replacement!

To make this, dissolve approximately 1 Tbsp of nutritional yeast in 1-1/2 cup of water (or 1/4 cup yeast to 6 cups water) and simmer for about 15 minutes. 

Pro tip: you can also use nutritional yeast to thicken soups or stews in place of flour or cornstarch.  

Lentil Broth

Lentil broth is a relatively new find for me. It’s not quite the direct substitute to chicken broth that vegetable broth is, due to the starch found in the lentils. 

However,  because of this, it could be used in place of broth and cream to make a cream-based soup. It is also higher in protein than typical broths.

I think this is one of those things that may be easier to just buy at the store.

Substitutions for Chicken Broth in Specific Recipes

Any of the options above can likely be used interchangeably, especially when you’re in a pinch.  However, the different flavor profiles may cause you to pick one over another in certain circumstances.

White wine is great in cream-based pasta dishes, such as alfredo or stroganoff.  You can also use it when making various fruit-based desserts.

Mushroom broth is great in heavier dishes, such as stews and chilis.  It has a darker color than chicken or vegetable broth, which could ruin the appearance of a lighter-colored dish.

A vegetarian version of chicken noodle soup (maybe a chickpea noodle soup?) would do best with a vegetable broth or stock, maybe with some white wine added as well.

Miso, kombu, or soy sauce broths would be great for any number of various Asian-inspired dishes.  Particularly since many sauces used in traditional cooking tend to have hidden fish products.  Consider using one of these for egg drop soup, homemade ramen, pho, or udon soup.

I haven’t used nutritional yeast and water as a broth substitute, personally. However, I imagine it would be great in a vegan version of broccoli cheddar soup. Pasta dishes might be great for this too.

As for lentil broth, I’ve used it in soup recipes that have cream as the last ingredient. This will give the soup more protein and keep it vegan.  I’ve also used it in other soups and just enjoyed the thicker consistency. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, using a vegetarian substitute for chicken broth can be a healthy and ethical choice while also being a great way to add new and exciting flavors to your cooking.

Whether you choose to make your own vegetable or mushroom broth, try a seaweed broth, or experiment with soy sauce, miso paste, or nutritional yeast, there are plenty of delicious options to explore.

By experimenting with different ingredients and cooking techniques, you can enjoy all the rich and savory flavors that chicken broth offers in meals that are just as satisfying as their meat-based counterparts and don’t compromise your dietary choices.

So, next time you’re making a recipe that calls for chicken broth, consider trying one of these vegetarian alternatives instead and see how it transforms your dish. 

Can Vegetarians eat chicken broth?

The short answer is no.
The more nuanced answer is probably not, but sometimes they do…
Chicken broth is not a vegetarian food item, as it is made from the flesh of an animal. However, some vegetarians may be willing to eat something made with chicken broth in certain circumstances. THis is their choice.
Remember, our decision to be vegetarian is based on a variety of factors.

Is there a vegetarian substitute for bone broth?

Not directly. Bone broth is made when you include the bones in the broth-making process. This infuses the final broth with collagen, which is only present in measurable amounts in animals.
The good news is that the benefits of collagen are largely overblown.

What is the best substitute for chicken broth?

This depends on what you are making. Vegetable broth is the easiest and most comparable substitute for chicken broth. However, certain dishes may end up tasting better if you use white wine, mushroom broth, or lentil broth instead.

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