Trader Joe’s chicken or vegetable stock: never again

As long as I have been cooking for myself, I have always insisted on making stock from scratch. I usually keep freezer-safe gallon-sized ziplock bags in the freezer and keep filling them with meat bones/vegetable scraps until the bag is full, and then I throw them all into my Instant Pot for the best easy homemade stock. The problem with this, though, is when you don’t have many bones. I really haven’t made any whole chickens at home this year. A lot of the meat I’ve purchased has been boneless. So I haven’t made much homemade stock at all this year, sadly. And well, food just never tastes as good when you use a canned stock or broth. There are certainly ways to doctor up a canned stock where it isn’t obvious you are using something from a can or carton. I grew up knowing that my mom usually used Swanson’s brand when she didn’t have the time to make stock from scratch. But there are certain things that you would always, always use from-scratch stock for: jook/congee, any type of soup tonic meant for healing/rejuvenation/sickness, and Chinese sticky rice. You just cannot substitute canned/cartoned for these dishes. A trained palette will always know.

I didn’t have enough bones/vegetable scraps to make stock this time around for my planned soup. So I begrudgingly considered my options. Ages ago, I had sworn off Trader Joe’s chicken stock. I have no idea what they put in theirs, but it always tasted… artificial, as though their “natural flavor” additive really was quite fake, and so fake that I just couldn’t stand it. The mere smell of it grossed me out. But when I saw that they had a low-sodium vegetable stock that was quite inexpensive, I thought I’d at least give it a shot. It was a $1.99 investment for a full quart, so what could really go wrong?

Well, everything, apparently. I opened the carton, and similar to the bad memory I have of the TJs chicken stock in the carton, this smell was… not great. It smelled almost like tomatoes. And who the hell uses tomatoes in their vegetable stock? Vegetable stock should smell like… onions, carrots, and celery. NO TOMATOES. IS THERE ACTUALLY TOMATO IN THIS?

I ended up using this horrible stuff to make my second butternut squash soup of the season. And it did not taste as good as I hoped. Part of it was maybe due to the recipe. But the main reason it was not good… I strongly believe it’s because of this stock. And what’s worse is that when Chris took a first taste of the soup after I told him I wasn’t happy with it… He confirmed my annoyance and fear all along. He simply said, “It tastes… very tomato-y.”

Yep. This stock sucks, and I am never, ever buying it ever, ever again. And the next time I make butternut squash soup, it will not be “not good” like these last two times, and I am definitely going to use homemade stock.

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