Stock reviews

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05.Stock cubes and powders

Stock cubes and powders

If price is the most important factor when buying stock, cubes and powders are the cheapest options, with some costing less than 10c per 250mL serve (see the table). Be aware, however, that they’re more likely to contain additives — colours and flavour enhancers, in particular — some of which you may be keen to avoid (see Additives).

For a lower-salt stock with flavour unaided by enhancers, Massel’s Chicken Style Stock Powder and Ultracube Chicken Style Salt Reduced are good options. If actual chicken is a key requirement, Maggi Chicken Stock Powder is your best bet.

The cubes and powders category is home to the one product on test that’s perhaps furthest removed from homemade: Star Chicken Bouillon Cubes. Its ingredient list reads like a chemistry experiment, including:

  • iodised salt
  • palm oil
  • flavour enhancer (MSG)
  • hydrolysed vegetable protein
  • dehydrated onion
  • artificial flavours
  • mechanically separated dehydrated chicken meat


Some stocks contain a number of additives, many of which perform important technological functions. Acidity regulators help maintain a constant acid level, which is important for taste and helps retard the growth of micro-organisms, while anti-caking agents help stop particles clumping together. The most common additives are colours and flavour enhancers, some of which have been blamed for causing health problems such as skin irritations, headaches or even cancer.

About a third of the stocks reviewed contain the colour caramel (listed as 150a, b, c and d). There are claims (based on animal studies) that some versions are toxic or carcinogenic. On available evidence, the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) calculated the intake at which there’s no toxicological impact on humans, and levels permitted in food are based on these.

Flavour enhancers are also common. We found them in 10 of the 25 products on test, but only in cubes and powders. Claims that some flavour enhancers lead to health problems are largely unsubstantiated.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG, 621) is an exception. People sensitive to it may have short-term reactions such as headaches, flushing and numbness, and some asthmatics may be susceptible. Knorr, OXO and Star cubes contain MSG. Knorr cubes contain five additives, including three flavour enhancers.


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