Have you ever wondered how many Knorr’s flavors there are, or Maggi, or Herb-Ox, or any other bouillon brands out there, and why you find them in every grocery store of every country you visit – no matter where you are? No? …lucky you, I must be the only one afflicted with this questioning nature (looking back, I must have driven my parents crazy). I harbor strong suspicions that I was one of those kids that responded to every answer with “but ,why?” , “OK…, but, why?” , “OK…but, why?” I see images of my 3 year old niece’s earnest face. But, possibly, I’ve piqued your curiosity…
I’m thinking the number is a heck of a lot. I remember this topic arose in an international marketing class I took a few years back, and a number somewhere in the triple digits was brandied about. Knorr goes to considerable lengths to modify the flavor profiles of the cubes to account for taste preferences of the country they are targeting. I am confident that a triple digit number is correct, based upon my very non-scientific sampling of what I’ve found in the various international markets around the Bay Area. (I may not remember the name of the person you introduced me to 30 seconds ago, but bits of usually useless trivial, especially food related, get burned in my brain and can resurrect themselves at any time.) I continue my quest for the answer, and when I have my final tally, I will update this post. Barring that, I am tracking the flavors I find in the grocery stores and markets. I am up to 22 different varieties in the Bay Area, with chicken combinations leading the way.
I tried, without success, to find the answer via a relatively extensive web search, and contacted Knorr and Unilever directly through all their potential sources. Apparently, they do not know either, or its considered an industrial secret:
Please understand that you have contacted the Unilever Retail Products Consumer Service Center in North America. As a result, we are only able to provide information to assist consumers in using our products. We are sorry that we do not have the information requested as it may be considered proprietary.
To view information about Unilever, our parent company, you may visit our website at: http://www.unilever.com
Not surprisingly, common ingredients are salt and MSG. Many foodie sites have ongoing conversations about bouillon cubes, and the consensus seems to be that those bouillons seasoned for US tastes are too salty, so these cooks went to their local international market and acquired flavors tailored to other countries.
A brief history of Knorr
They are part of the Unilever stable of companies, and according to the Unilever website have been around for over 165 years. They originated in Europe. They first introduced the cubes to the Kenyan market in 1971 and claim to have pioneered the cubes market category.
A brief history of MAGGI
In Switzerland in 1863, Julius Maggi developed a formula adding flavoring to meals, and as a replacement for meat extract which began the MAGGI product lines. In 1882, the Swiss Government commissioned MAGGI to create food products that were quick to prepare and nutritious. Apparently, it was felt that taste and nutrition were suffering because more women worked outside the home. The results — two instant pea soups and an instant bean soup – were a huge success. In 1947 Nestlé acquired the MAGGI brand, and expanded the products globally.
A brief history of OXO
Concentrated meat extract was invented by Justus Liebig around 1840 and commercialized by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company starting in 1866. The original product was not a cube, but a viscous liquid containing only meat extract and 4% salt.
In 1908, Oxo sponsored the London Olympic Games (although Coca Cola claims to being the ‘first’ commercial sponsor of the Games) and supplied athletes with Oxo drinks to fortify them. The first Oxo cubes were produced in 1910 and increased Oxo’s popularity, as they were cheaper than the liquid version. During the first half of the 20th century, Oxo was promoted through issues of recipes, gifts and sponsorships before fading as a brand.
By 1913, ten brands competed in this market, with salt content, incredibly high at between 59-72%, including Hormel (which now owns Herb-Ox) and Oxo.
Bouillon cubes collecting aside, if you have time, real stock is a significant improvement over bouillon. The layers of tastes you get compared to the flat, salty tastes prove hands down the winner of this little competition. However, if you are patient, and knowing it takes time to make – you will be rewarded. I like making stock on a weekend morning, when I have other things I can work on in between the stirring and skimming.
I always use recipes like this as a suggestion and not a mandate. Sometimes, if I’ve made a meal during the week that required me to peel carrots, for example, I’d save the peelings and add them to this broth. The same goes for bits and pieces of other veggies such as potatoes.
Basic Chicken Stock ( adapted from Alton Brown’s recipe)
- 4# chicken carcasses with all parts (including necks and backs)
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 4 carrots, cut in 1/2 ( he says peeled, I say use everything – more nutritious)
- 4 ribs celery, cut in half
- 1 leek, white part only, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 10 sprigs fresh parsley with stems
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 to 10 peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 gallons cold water
Place chicken, vegetables, herbs and spices in 12 quart stockpot. Set open steamer basket directly on ingredients and pour water over everything. Cook on high heat until bubbles break the surface of the liquid. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer stock on a low, gentle simmer. Skim scum from stock with a spoon every 15 minutes for the first hour, then every 1/2 hour for the next two hours. Add hot water as needed to make sure all the ingredients stay submerged. Simmer uncovered for 6-8 hours.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer into another large pot. (Alton says to discard the solids, I throw them in a stew. Cool immediately. (If you live in Minnesota, and its winter, set outside your door.) Refridgerate overnight. Remove solidified fat. Can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.