I just found out that bouillon cubes are not dehydrated stock. I am devastated. For years now I imagined Knorr, Liebig and Maggi factories to be packed with boiling stock pots, obviously of industrial size, filled to the rim with meats and bones, carcasses and vegetables, circled by chefs in white aprons, checked by chemist in similar aprons and in charge of safety and uniformity; everything giving off whiffs of our grandmother’s homey, old-fashioned, red gingham curtained kitchen.
In my imagination, childish and simple, these deep, wonderful liquids were then, thanks to advanced hi-technological know how, acumen and sapiens, miraculously transformed into dry cubes.
Bouillon cubes, it seems, are not dried out stock. They are, in fact, nothing more than little blocks of paste, made of already dried ingredients. Fifty per cent of each cube is salt. The rest is stuff. Flavors, flavor enhancers, MSG, stabilizers, spices, fat, starch …
As I said. Stuff.
Chicken bouillon cubes have never seen a chicken, although for legal reasons about 3% needs to come from some sort of chicken ingredient. Chicken fat for instance. Apparently the chicken flavor comes from baked yeast. I don’t know where the beef flavor in beef bouillon cubes comes from. I do know it comes ‘not from a cow’.
Bouillon cubes are safe. Salty but safe. FDA, EMA approved. Still, I feel duped. Tricked. Deceived. Hoodwinked. Misled.
It is not hard work, making broths. It is just time-consuming and, most of all, it leaves a mess. A big mess. But the result is always great, for believe it or not, very little can go wrong, preparing a home-made stock. Make it, freeze it and Bob’s your uncle. Bob. Not von Liebig, Julius Maggi or Knorr.
For years now I have been making my own stocks, broths and bases. Vegetable, chicken, beef, bone and very occasionally, fish. I cook these up in my – Ikea ;) – kitchen. So visualise this: 10 misty square meters of fatty meat and bones and veggies’ fog, steaming away into gooey goodness. Yes, Mr. Lebovitz, I don’t have the surface either and like you, I get on with it.
But not always.
Sometimes life interferes.
Like you, I don’t know in which world those blog writing, organic market dwelling foodies live. Whipping up dinner for eight at a moments notice, their make up flawless, their aprons stainless, their broths at hand. So, like most of us, I grab a cube.
Although safe and convenient and government approved, we seldom know exactly what we eat or what is inside the things we eat. Most of our baking goods for instance are made with egg powder.
Now egg powder is a safe and convenient alternative to the real deal. It has a long shelf life, is easily stored, hygienic (think of where the egg comes from), demands less handling and less energy and is, as a result, cheap. As it comes in different forms and varieties, egg powder has endless possibilities. Whole egg powder for pasta and crackers, egg yolk powder for dressings and croissants, special egg yolk powder, able to withstand high heat, for emulsions such as mayo, and egg albumen (the posh version of egg white) powder for ready-made savoury dishes and pastry products. Egg powder is an indispensable ingredient in the food industry. As is milk powder. Or all those e-additives – E100 or Curcuma. E621 or MSG. E441 or gelatine. But cream powder, cheese powder, juice powder, butter powder…. ? And that’s only the pulverized stuff.
Safe, convenient, cheap. But do I want it? And bear in mind, the alternative is of course somebody at the stove, baking and cooking away. In my case, that somebody is usually, correction, always, me. So, every so often, bring on the cube, I say. That guiltless, salty lump of taste.
As John le Carré once said ‘Your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.’