The cost and benefits of homemade vs. store-bought chicken broth

While writing up yesterday’s post about eating out vs. making meals at home, I realized that I’d been making a lot of soup lately. For some of the recipes, I used store-bought chicken broth; for others, I made homemade chicken broth using chicken backs and necks that I had in the freezer from past chickens I’ve chopped up and chicken breast bones that I’ve de-boned. Which makes me wonder — what’s cheaper? What’s better?

Analysis

Pacific Organic Free-Range Chicken BrothPacific Foods has organic free-range chicken broth, normal or low-sodium, available at our local grocery store or food co-op. Regularly $3.09; on-sale at the Co-op this month for $1.89. Each box has approximately 4 cups (1 quart) of chicken broth.

My homemade chicken broth recipe involves 2-3 lbs. of chicken parts (backs, necks, bones, skin, etc.) that would otherwise be unusable, 1 medium-to-large onion, salt, and two bay leaves. It makes approximately 2 quarts (8 cups) of chicken broth.

The obvious variable in the chicken broth recipe is how much you’re paying for the chicken parts. The local food co-op offers prepackaged chicken backs and necks at $1.39/lb., although I’m not sure if those are free-range chickens or just “natural” chickens. Last month, I bought a $15.07 free-range chicken (approximately 5-6 lb. chicken), which, after deboning the breasts and taking off the legs, thighs, and wings, yielded enough chicken parts for a batch of broth. I’m going to somewhat arbitrarily set the price for the leftover chicken parts at a higher value of $1.50/lb., or $4.50 out of the $15.07 I spent on the whole chicken.

Back to my calculations: $4.50 for free-range chicken parts + $0.50 for a medium-large organic onion + minuscule pennies for salt and bay leaves = $5.00 for 8 cups (2 quarts) of chicken broth, or $2.50/quart. I save $0.39 on homemade broth for normal-price chicken broth, but lose $0.61 when chicken broth is on sale.

Notes:

  • The natural, free-range chicken I used isn’t “certified organic” but comes from a local, sustainably-run farm. Pacific Foods is based in Oregon and is labeled USDA Organic.
  • You can make homemade broth even cheaper with conventional chicken; I used to purchase bone-in chicken breasts or whole chickens on-sale for as little as $0.99-$1.39/lb. and freeze the leftover parts/bones until I had enough for making broth. However, that defeats my purpose of trying to purchase more organic, locally-produced foods.
  • A Cooks’ Illustrated issue ranked Pacific Foods free-range chicken broth as one of the lowest in their taste testing. Swanson’s Organic topped the list, but I don’t know how far the food travels before it arrives at my local store. I haven’t done my own taste-testing (and frankly, I’m not sure if I’m discerning enough to tell with premade broths!). However, I know for sure that homemade broth’s taste and flavor far surpasses ANY pre-made broth that I’ve had so far!

Summary

So, as I don’t care too much about the fact that Pacific Foods free-range chicken broth was ranked low in taste tests, I bought a few boxes of broth on-sale for convenient use in dishes where the chicken broth flavor isn’t the main taste.

However, I’ll probably stick to trying to make my own broth whenever I can for the following reasons:

  • The cost is about the same
  • The flavor is a ton better
  • I’m supporting local farmers by doing so
  • The food is traveling less to get to me
  • The satisfaction level of cooking from scratch is much higher

Comments or questions? Post them below!

6 thoughts on “The cost and benefits of homemade vs. store-bought chicken broth

  1. That’s really interesting that Swanson’s Organic is rated higher because they have more sodium in their broth than Pacific. What I also find interesting is that Broth is never just “broth;” it’s also onions, celery or other veggies sometimes, plus lots of salt. I add salt to my broth, but not a lot of other stuff when I’m making it homemade.

    I am also jealous that Pacific broth goes down that low where you are. The lowest out east I’ve seen is $2.

  2. Actually, your home made broth is much cheaper than you calculated. You didn’t go out and buy the left over parts, they are what otherwise would be waste. Your real cost is the additional electricity for the freezer due to opening the door and letting the cold air out when you stored them.

  3. This is a very old post that I happened upon, but I thought I would mention that if you cover your carcass/bones with water and 1 TBSP of vinegar it help to draw all the calcium/magnesium/potassium out of the bones. Let it sit at room temp for 1 hour, then turn the pot on and start cooking. You will have a chicken stock that is more that 100 times healthier than store bought. Definately worth the extra time and effort.

  4. I also wanted to point out that home-made turns out to be gelatinous. I am not sure why store bought is not., assuming they need it to “pour” from the can or carton. I think the “gel” from homemade means that we have gotten all the wholesome goodness out of the bones. Like one of your commentator’s mentioned, all the minerals and calcium.

    I have used both free range, grass fed, or regular commercial meat bones, and I boil them for about 24 hours, with the same results.

    Bone broth is also reported to be good for joint pain and the colds!

  5. Home made is always better for you, hands down. If you have to buy, Pacific Organic Low-Sodium is what I buy… it isn’t home-made, but it does the job. Amazon has a 24 pack for $23. Two notes: When you make it yourself and you are comparing costs – you need to add in your labor cost if you want to be exact. (Which makes home-made way more expensive – but I think worth it). In store bought, even the organic brands use anolyzed yeast, which is 13-18% glutamic acid (aka MSG), but to be Organic you only need to be I believe 72% Organic, so things like that are technically acceptable by the USDA. Maltodextrin is another ingredient (in other stuff) that has hidden GMO parts… but that is another story…

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