Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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broth a term which usually means the liquid in which meat has been cooked or a simple soup based thereon. It is a close equivalent to the French bouillon and the Italian brodo, but differences between the evolution of cookery in English-speaking countries and those of the cuisines which use other languages have given it, so to speak, a flavour of its own.

The word comes from a root which means simply to brew, without specifying the presence of meat, and there are early examples of broths made with just vegetables; indeed, the term ‘vegetable broth’ (and to a lesser extent ‘fish broth’) would not seem surprising. However, for several centuries, broth has usually implied meat. It has also been prominent in invalid cookery. Thus Garrett (c.1895) gives recipes for pectoral broth and nutritive broth as well as for quick broths and cheap broths and (less usually) a rich broth. The same thoughtful author points to a paradox of terminology: if one does something interesting to a broth, then it will probably change its name and become a soup or consommé or whatever. The one broth which stands out as an exception to this paradoxical rule, because so good and so famous and yet remaining a broth, is scotch broth, also known as Scotch barley broth. Sheep’s head broth (see heads), another Scottish speciality, enjoys equal prestige but less currency.