When you substitute another liquid for chicken bouillon, you may or may not change the taste of your dish or reduce its depths of flavor. Chicken bouillon typically has intense chicken and vegetable flavors as well as lots of salt. Depending on the specific dish you're making and the liquid with which you substitute, you'll need to include additional ingredients to bring an equal level of tastiness to your food.
If water is the only available substitute for chicken bouillon that you have on hand, boost the flavor of your dish with herbs and spices to make up for its lack of flavor. Add dried herbs and spices during cooking and sprinkle on fresh herbs after cooking.
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The Best Alternatives
Canned or homemade chicken stock gives any dish depths of flavor and less salt than typical kinds of chicken bouillon, making them even better than the bouillon itself. Vegetable bouillon or stock comes in as a close second. Either stock needs to simmer for at least 2 hours to substitute for bouillon. Use the same amount of stock as the water called for in your recipe.
A quick stock won't be as flavorful as one you cook for at least 2 hours, but it will provide an acceptable alternative. Use this method inspired by the Cooking Light website:
- Chop up vegetables, chicken or both into small pieces, allowing them to release their flavor quickly.
- Add a crushed bay leaf, dried thyme and ground pepper.
- Add just enough cold water to cover your ingredients and let the mixture simmer for at least 30 minutes.
- Strain the stock and use the same amount as the water called for in your recipe.
Designate a "stock bag" using a freezer-strength plastic bag in your freezer to toss in leftover chicken bones, scraps of leftover vegetables, celery tops and parsley stems. Whenever the bag fills, make a batch of stock to leave in your freezer for your next soup or stew.
Some substitutes for chicken bouillon won't add chicken flavor, but will provide either subtle or strong background flavor to give your dish a boost. Experiment with these ideas:
- White wine adds a tang and rich, woodsy flavors to sauces, soups and stews. Choose a medium-body wine, such as sauvignon blanc or chardonnay, that you would be happy to drink, and substitute it for half of the water called for in sauces and stews, and one-quarter of the water for soups.
- One tablespoon of cooked brown sugar adds sweetness to sauces or stews, and gives those dishes the same color as a bouillon-colored sauce. Commercial coloring agents to darken meat work in the same way.
- Beef bouillon or stock changes the flavor profile of sauces, soups and stews, but adds a similar intensity to that of chicken bouillon. If you don't mind a beefy flavor, substitute one-quarter or one-half of a beef bouillon cube for a whole chicken bouillon cube in any dish.
- Dashi, a Japanese stock used to present savory umami flavor to Japanese dishes, adds meaty flavors like chicken bouillon does, but with a deep flavor all its own, reminiscent of mushrooms. Chichi Wang, a columnist writing on the Serious Eats website, says you can get an acceptable dashi by boiling water and kelp together for 30 minutes.