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January/February 2015

Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth

Finding a low-sodium vegetable broth worth using is more difficult than it sounds.

How We Tested

Many home cooks opt for low-sodium broth for health reasons. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines low-sodium foods as containing no more than 140 milligrams of sodium per 1-cup serving. We selected nine vegetable broths that qualified, with sodium levels ranging from 65 milligrams to 140 milligrams per cup. While some were specifically labeled low sodium, others were called “no salt added” or “unsalted”; both terms mean that no salt was added during processing. (Some of these products can contain quite a bit of naturally occurring sodium, so it’s always a good idea to double-check the nutrition label.) After several initial testing rounds where we chose a single contestant from each brand that makes more than one low-sodium offering, we had five finalists, including two products sold as “vegetarian no-chicken” broths (meatless broths intended to mimic chicken broth). We tasted each broth plain, in vegetable soup, and in Parmesan risotto, rating each on flavor, saltiness, any off-flavors, and overall appeal.

Most of the broths were very unpopular with tasters, earning comparisons to “rotting compost,” “bitter onion tea,” and “sour, boiled tennis shoes.” Salt is a flavor enhancer and can help mask naturally bitter flavors that can be prominent when concentrated in vegetable broths, but these low-sodium broths lacked that advantage. In fact, we could recommend only one—and our favorite was actually one of the broths that mimic chicken broth. Wary tasters found it “surprisingly good” in soup and risotto. With 130 milligrams of sodium per cup, it hovered near the high end of the allowable range for a low-sodium product.

Notably, both our winner and the only other low-sodium broth we can recommend (albeit with reservations) were the only broths that contain yeast extract. Derived from the cells of fresh yeast, this substance is full of glutamates and nucleotides, which boost savory umami flavor. It’s also a particularly important ingredient for manufacturers of low-sodium products: It enhances the perception of saltiness without any increase in actual salt. Besides yeast extract, our winner also contained ingredients that lent complexity and balance: mace, as well as garlic, chicory, and cane juice. We found that this broth also had a more unctuous body, similar to what you’d associate with a rich chicken or beef stock, which comes from the addition of palm oil and cornstarch.

Convenient, compact, and shelf-stable, our winner is worth keeping in the pantry for the times you need a low-sodium option.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.