19

I have exactly the same procedure and ingredients for cooking vegetable and chicken stock - of course, the latter contains chicken meat, which is the only difference.

The ingredients I put into my stock are:

  • onion,
  • a few garlic cloves,
  • two carrots,
  • celeriac,
  • parsley root,
  • leek,
  • spices: bay leaf, allspice and peppercorns.

Simmer time - about 2 hours.

It quite often happens that my vegetable stock is bitter, but it never happened with a chicken stock. I read here and there that vegetable stock shouldn't be cooked for long - even 45 minutes should be enough, and if simmered for too long it may become bitter. However, chicken or any other meat stock recipes call for a much longer time, and bitterness should not be a problem.

Thus, why is there a risk of vegetable stock becoming bitter, while it is not that much of a problem for a meat stock?

  • 3
    Are you saying that the chicken stock is exactly the same ingredients as the vegetable stock, except for the addition of the actual chicken meat? It seems like that, but your post is actually not 100% clear on that point. – Peter Duniho Sep 26 at 23:33
39

I notice that your recipe doesn't include any salt. That's important, because salt decreases the sensation of bitterness. Chicken contains a certain amount of salt, and I suspect that's making the difference. (The "umami" -- brothy -- taste of chicken may also decrease the sensation of bitterness, though as I understand it there's still some disagreement about that.)

Try mixing 1/8 tsp of salt into one cup of your vegetable stock as a test. I suspect that'll decrease the bitterness to a comparable level.

Oh, and if you want to make your stock less bitter without making it more salty, use parsley stems and leaves instead of parsley root, and celery (including leaves) instead of celeriac. Those two roots will be the primary sources of bitterness.

Incidentally, I very much approve of you not salting your original stock, and instead salting whatever you use it in. Unsalted stock is more flexible, and is more forgiving if you decide you need to concentrate it.

  • Would blanching the veggies help in any way, or does it have no impact on a broth? – Jeffrey supports Monica Sep 27 at 14:50
  • 2
    @Jeffrey Blanching can reduce bitterness in some vegetables by denaturing bitter compounds they contain. But since a broth is simmered anyway, it's not necessary there. (Blanching does not "rinse out" bitter flavors.) – Sneftel Sep 27 at 15:24
  • That sounds right. I used my stock (the one that made me ask the question) for tomato soup and beef stew later on. I couldn't taste bitterness in any of those. My theory is that my vegetable stock is in general not flavorful, so if there's some bitterness in it, it really stands out. – krp Sep 27 at 19:22
  • 1
    If vegetable stock is not flavorful, why bother? – John Gordon Sep 28 at 18:58
9

I make veg stock overnight in a slow cooker on high with similar ingredients to you: onion, garlic, carrot, bay, peppercorns. But: celery instead of celeriac (I grow celery and often have some old tough stems and leaves which are perfect for stock), rarely parsnip or leek, and often some other herbs or veg I've got to hand. I don't add salt, and my quantities are a bit random, but I don't have problems with bitterness. The slow cooker maintains a very gentle simmer.

I also don't brown the ingredients first, but the bits that stick out start to caramelise by the end. I've never had trouble with bitterness, and wonder if your garlic, onion or leek may be catching a little, if you fry them first or if they end up stuck to the bottom of the pan.

  • Parsley root seem very problematic too. I've never had them or seen any call for them, so there's probably a taste reason for that, and bitterness would be way up there. – user57361 Sep 27 at 17:30
5

It's unclear which vegetables, herbs and spices are being used and how they are being prepared; eg. onion can easily turn bitter when hacking them (which is squeezing them), instead of cutting them with a sharp blade. Sorrel, lovage, bay leaves, chervil, marjoram, rosemary, tarragon and fenugreek as well as cardamom, ginger, pepper, paprika, agrimony and thyme tend to introduce a bitter taste. And it could also be a timing issue, when adding certain herbs too soon. If unsure about it, just leave out an individual ingredient on each attempt.

I'd first try to leave the bay leaves out - or add them only towards the half-time or even later. The point is, that bay leaves harmonize nicely with meat, eg. when cooking Jus I cook them for 5-6 hours - but without that meat taste (umami), their taste is simply too dominant over the other ingredients.

If eaten whole, bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste.

Source: Wikipedia.

  • 2
    I've used bay leaves in stocks and stews for decades without ever having a problem with bitterness – user57361 Sep 27 at 17:32
  • 1
    I would also not agree with the quote about bay leaves. They're not eaten because they're incredibly tough -- I've tried one out to see, and it wasn't bitter. – Matthew Read Sep 27 at 18:39
  • @MatthewRead you've probably have chewed dried ones, fresh leaves taste more bitter... all the herbs and spices listed above contain bitter compounds. As stated, experimenting by leaving a single ingredient out on each attempt should provide absolute certainty. – Martin Zeitler Sep 27 at 19:27
  • @GeorgeM were the vegetable stocks and stews? with darker meat the taste is by far not that dominant as it is with lighter meat - or even without any meat. and as I see it, one unsuitable or spoiled ingredient can spoil the whole pot (no matter which one it is). – Martin Zeitler Sep 27 at 19:30
  • 1
    Bay leaves are even one default ingredient in a "bouquet garni", still not to be overused... and the OP does not disclose how many per how many liters, so one can only speculate - and suggest to experiment. chicken stew in general has way more protein and fat than vegetable stew ...which rather affects the taste composition, than the salt claimed above. – Martin Zeitler Sep 27 at 19:43

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