and sometimes one cook can spoil it by himself
March 8, 2008 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I made a big pan of broth and it's bitter. How do I correct it?

I poked around a bit looking at broth recipes and it seemed they allowed for a bit of improvisation. So I made a pan of broth using all the odds and ends of vegetables I've had in the freezer awhile: onions, garlic, carrots, celery, mushroom stems, parsnip peels & ends, and parsley. Aside from that, all it had in it was water, a bit of salt, and a dozen lentils.

The broth is bitter. There's probably very little need for bitter broth.

I've searched online and failed to find the answer, and Joy of Cooking also didn't mention a solution.

Is there any way to correct the taste?
posted by johnofjack to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It is probably bitter from the celery or the parsnip. Some veg, especially root veg, are strongly flavored.

Dilute some broth in some warm water and taste it--any better?
posted by Riverine at 3:31 PM on March 8, 2008

Response by poster: Well, it dulled the bitterness and also most of the good taste. I don't suppose there's any specific anti-bitter ingredient likely to be lying about, safe to add to a broth?
posted by johnofjack at 3:48 PM on March 8, 2008

If you used stuff from the freezer, it probably didn't cost too much. Throw it out, and chalk it up to a well learned lesson that the stock pot is not a garbage can!*

Try it again, but do this: roughly chop some onion, carrot, and celery. Saute in a bit of olive oil with a couple of (unpeeled) cloves of garlic for about 5 minutes, then add hot water. The mushroom stems were probably a good call, same with dried mushrooms if you have any (porcini or even shiitake). If you feel so inclined, a teaspoon of soy sauce is great.

Vegetable stock is sort of a fun challenge. I'm not a vegetarian, but it's one of my favorite "project" things to make, since it's so simple but there are still so many thing that can go wrong.

*I don't mean this as rudely as it sounds. Really, it sounds like the only thing that did it was the parsnips, and maybe too much parsley.
posted by rossination at 3:51 PM on March 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

A spoonful of sugar maybe?
posted by happyturtle at 3:51 PM on March 8, 2008

Have you tossed it yet? if not, now that you have diluted, try simmering it for an hour or two and possibly reducing it a bit. That might concentrate the flavors some. If it's still unpalateable then, yeah, lesson learned! Next time take amounts into consideration (less of the stronger-tasting veggies, for example).
posted by DrGirlfriend at 4:02 PM on March 8, 2008

I was *just* about to post the same question. I followed the instructions in the Moosewood Cookbook, (suggesting that I do what you've described,) and came away convinced that it's not a recipe but a mean trick. Other people have had the same results.

I've made some yummy broth a la rossination, and will probably do the same next time. Unless you are a constant cook, and the veg don't live in the freezer for more than a week or so, I think you're just going to come out with a horrible, ick-tasting mess.

I know that there was no way to fix my mess. Dump it and try again!
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:31 PM on March 8, 2008

I would blame the parsnip. And then I would throw out the broth. You can dilute salty, and counter sour with sweet, but bitter is very hard to disguise.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:39 PM on March 8, 2008

I would guess the bitterness comes from the celery, as that is a strong part of the celery flavor. If thinking of it as special celery stock doesn't work for you, you could experiment with adding a little vinegar to a small portion and boiling it up. Vinegar neutralizes the alkaloids that make some green vegetables taste bitter. You could try adding sweeter tasting vegetables like parsnips, young carrots, peas and (duh) sweetcorn.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:44 PM on March 8, 2008

I tried that Moosewood recipe for veggie broth once, and...yeah, no. Not tasty.
posted by padraigin at 4:51 PM on March 8, 2008

Best answer: Add salt.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:46 PM on March 8, 2008

I do it the same way that rossination says, but I don't chop the onion: after peeling it, I pincushion it with whole cloves, It really adds to the flavor.
I read somewhere that if a dish is too salty one should add a potato and cook it: supposedly it eliminates the saltiness. It's worth a try to see if it eliminates the bitterness.
Personally I would chuck the broth and start fresh.
posted by francesca too at 5:56 PM on March 8, 2008

I made some pan-scraping steak gravy last night that started out very bitter. Why? I have no idea, but I salvaged it with a little maple syrup (I know, total bachelor move, but it worked!) and then some cream. Sweet and creamy canceled out the bitter.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 6:08 PM on March 8, 2008

Here's a question on Chowhound about fixing bitter turkey stock; two suggestions proposed there that I thought looked promising are to add more carrots (since carrots are so full of sugar), and to brown some mushrooms and toss them into the mix (since ... uhm ... no idea why??). If you've still got the stock, it might be worth giving these a try.

And from my own head: maybe consider adding some lemon juice or red wine vinegar? That might seem odd and quite frankly I've never tried it, but IMO bitter and sour flavors meld quite well together - if you can't neutralize the bitter, maybe you could at least find some other flavor that plays nicely with it?
posted by zeph at 6:12 PM on March 8, 2008

I think I read once that you can use sweet and savoury flavours to mask bitterness. You could boil some sweet potato (the orange-fleshed ones) in your broth - I was amazed at how sweet the soup was once when I did that, and it's the only vegetable I might boil to cook because the leftover water makes such nice stock base. Or maybe you could add some soy sauce or tamari for that salty-unami taste. I think sweet and unami tastes are used in food and medicine production to counteract bitter components.
posted by onoclea at 6:12 PM on March 8, 2008

how coincidental! I just threw out a big pot of bitter vegetable stock. I think parsnip may be the cause of both of our downfalls. Another thing that can turn vegetable stock bitter is too long of a cooking time--if you let it simmer more than an hour or so this could be to blame. I tried diluting mine, which made it watered down but still better. I tried adding more salt, which just made it salty and bitter. I think you're better off tossing it and starting again (although the sweet potato suggestion sounds interesting).
posted by gembackwards at 6:48 PM on March 8, 2008

It's probably worth adding a bit of sugar and reducing it a bit to see if it helps, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's doomed. I share the suspicion that the parsnip might be the cause. They're funny, those partridges. When they're sweet, they're super sweet, but I've also had ones that were woody and bitter and just generally unpleasant, so I can imagine that intensifying the flavor through extraction in water wouldn't be nice. Also, don't overdue the parsley. The stems in particular can be bitter (and add a weird green-gray color) if you have too much.

I also agree with the sentiment that dried mushrooms (shitake are good but porcini are expensive and straight out killer) are key to great vegetable stock. They can add a depth, richness, and general umami-ness that simply rocks. I also tend to throw in a tomato for a bit of acid and additional umami.
posted by mostlymartha at 7:45 PM on March 8, 2008

Have you tried adding a bit of better butter? Because I understand that works for batches of bitter batter.

Seriously, I can back up the "add carrots" suggestion to the extent that I once managed to make inedibly bitter soup at least tolerable that way. I then ate that with a lot of cheese. (I'm not proud.) It was OK, but I guess that's really a last-ditch "beats throwing good food away" solution rather than a successful "end up with a batch of usable broth" one.
posted by No-sword at 9:19 PM on March 8, 2008

The sink.
posted by nanojath at 9:42 PM on March 8, 2008

I quite like food to have a little bitter undercurrent. It adds depth. Obviously, blatantly bitter is not so good (notwithstanding some French onion soup I've had that certainly flirted with the idea), so you're going to have to do something about this.

Personally, I'd see if it can be salvaged, but I wouldn't feel too bad about pouring it out either. I mean, it's mostly water, plus some veg you weren't really going to eat. But first I'd try making the brightest-tasting stock I could, not even browning everything necessarily, and then take portions of that and mix with your bitter stock in various ratios. Bright plus bitter might equal balanced. I suspect the mushroom suggestion is related: The darker flavors and the umami could sort of make a bridge between the bitterness and the rest of the flavor.

This could be a really interesting experiment, actually—try another fix with a cup or two of broth every day, and see what works. Then you'd be the missing authority and you could tell us all.

Oh, and if you were really nuts, and didn't mind getting investigated as a possible drug cook and/or possibly blowing yourself up with spontaneous combustion of diethyl ether vapor, you could theoretically try to remove the bitterness with an acid/base extraction. Not recommended, but still, one wonders.
posted by eritain at 11:08 PM on March 8, 2008

Response by poster: I still have the broth and am going to experiment with it today to see what works. I'm intrigued by the soy sauce and vinegar suggestions but will give them all a shot (in small samples, as with the water dilution). (Well, almost all--I like spontaneous combustion in theory but in practice find it problematic.)
posted by johnofjack at 3:49 AM on March 9, 2008

If you have some activated carbon hanging around, you could try running it through that. In desperation, I tried it with some coffee made from beans that had been sitting in the fridge for more than a year; the result was horrible, but remarkably smooth.
posted by jamjam at 8:33 AM on March 9, 2008

Response by poster: Salt works. I'm currently reheating it and gradually adding more salt, testing it along the way to make sure it's not too much.

The small sample was actually a good broth once the bitterness was gone.
posted by johnofjack at 9:02 AM on March 9, 2008

Response by poster: Salt was the first of the suggestions I tried, and it worked for me so I stopped there and didn't try the rest.

Sorry it didn't work for you, gembackwards--it was a careful addition, and I could see there'd be a very narrow window where it was no longer bitter but wasn't yet too salty.

A consequence of stopping at the first workable solution is that it left the rest of these suggestions untried. Thanks to all the contributors for taking the time.

In future I think I'll use a recipe, though not the Moosewood one since it's gotten such negative reviews here.
posted by johnofjack at 3:06 PM on March 9, 2008

Next time be careful of garlic in stock, particularly if it's sprouted.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:03 PM on March 9, 2008

The bitter probably comes from the peels and ends. Ends especially, are best composted. As a general rule, If you wouldn't eat it, don't put it in your stock.
posted by Caviar at 7:21 AM on March 10, 2008

If you wouldn't eat it, don't put it in your stock.

Just a note: this does not apply to animal things. Excellent meat or fish broths can be made from carcasses, bones, heads, tails, feet, skin, etc. of the you would normally throw away.

Also, I've heard that other parts you don't eat, such as the tops from carrots, are excellent additions to soup. I doubt the parsnip made the soup bitter...I add parsnips to soups all the make them sweet! I'm guessing that part of it was using items that had been sitting around the freezer...many things keep well in the freezer once cooked or parboiled, but I think some vegetables turn bitter if they're frozen uncooked. I'm guessing the onions were responsible...always use fresh onions and brown them very well before making a broth out of them. The other potential culprit is celery, which when fresh and softened in oil with carrots and onions is an excellent broth addition, but when just thrown in (especially if it's old or one of the outer stalks) can be very bitter indeed.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:47 PM on July 30, 2008

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