Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Taste-Testing Storebought Soups

My family hasn't bought canned soup in about a decade. When we transitioned to a nutrient-dense diet, storebought soups and frozen dinners were removed from our diets and replaced with homemade foods for their superior taste and nutrition. Until recently, I've had no intention of re-introducing canned foods into our diets, but then...

My whole family had the flu. And we all had it bad. And it lasted well over a week. We did manage to make-do with leftovers and lots of simple foods while we were sick; thankfully, I had roasted a bunch of chicken and cooked a large batch of potatoes the day before I came down ill. But this experience did lead me to the realization that there is a place for some easy, off-the-shelf foods in our pantry. While I don't intend for them to become a significant part of our diets, I now plan to keep our pantry stocked with at least a small amount of canned foods for those times when cooking just isn't possible.

Thus, my family has embarked on a taste-testing experiment with organic canned soups. I'm focusing on brands and flavors that are locally available. So far, we've tried 9 different flavors, from 3 different companies. Some of the soups have been unbelievably horrendous; others have been decent and will have a place in our pantry.

None of the soups we've tried have been anywhere near as good as my homemade soups, but I didn't expect that they would anyway. Our goal has been to find some decent canned soups to have around for extra-busy times and extenuating circumstances. So while none of these soups rival our usual homemade fare, there are at least a few soups that I can keep on-the-shelf.

Our Soup Taste-Testing Methodology 

To give each soup a fair taste-test, we've done the following:
  • We try a few different soups side-by-side, so we can compare them.
  • In-between trying different soups, we make sure to clear our palates with a neutral drink or food such as milk, lemon water, crackers, etc.
  • Salt can be added to taste.
  • Soups that contain a large-proportion of ingredients that certain family members (ahem, my husband) dislike are not tried by those family members.  

So far, we have not found any particular type of canned soup that is well-liked by all four members of our family. That is pretty standard, though, as even a fair amount of my home-cooked food is loved by three and tolerated by one (and that one who doesn't love it is not always the same person). So, no big surprise there. Let's start with the worst.

The Worst

The Worst Soups are those that were hated by a majority of our family.

Pacific Organic Chicken Noodle Soup
This soup was the only one hated by all four of us.  It was an unappetizing gray color, it smelled unpleasant, and it tasted awful. Everyone tasted it once, and then the rest was thrown into the chicken-scraps pail. 0 out of 4 liked it. 

Amy's Organic Soups Hearty Minestrone with Vegetables
This soup combines beans, lentils, and vegetables.  Although that sounds like a promising start, there was a flavor that we didn't like, seeming to come from the spices.  Only one of us finished our small portion of this soup, and that one portion was not enjoyed much. 1/2 out of 4 liked it.

Amy's Organic Soups Chunky Vegetable
This soup should have been good. It's ingredients were just vegetables, salt, and pepper, with no spices. Yet, inexplicably, it tasted rather bad. 3 of us hated it, and 1 disliked it. No one finished their portions. 0 out of 4 liked it.

Pacific Organic Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
This soup combined chicken, wild rice, and vegetables. It didn't look or smell very good. Two of us hated it, one of use disliked it, and one of us thought it was tolerable but not good. 1/2 out of 4 liked it.

Simply Balanced Organic Tomato Basil Soup
This soup actually tasted okay for the first couple bites. 3 out of 4 of us thought it started out okay. But then, we all noticed that the flavor seemed to deteriorate and an off-flavor developed. To me, the off-flavor had a sweet-ish metallic flavor (which is surprising since this soup was in a paper carton, not a can).  None of us finished our small portions. 0 out of 4 liked it.

Pretty Good Soups

Pretty Good Soups are those that were liked by greater than half of our family.

Amy's Organic Soups Lentil Vegetable Soup (Light in Sodium)
This thick soup was a nice combination of lentils with vegetables and potatoes. Since my husband doesn't like lentils, he didn't participate in this taste-test. This soup did need extra salt. 2 out of 3 liked this soup quite a lot. And it was even tastier with some freshly-grated Parmesan cheese on top. 

Simply Balanced Organic Chicken Noodle Soup
The flavor of this soup was reminiscent of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, which my husband and I both loved in childhood. This soup did need added salt. All four of us actually liked the flavor, but one lamented that the chicken was "too dry" (and it was, because the chunks of chicken were somewhat large and overcooked as most canned soup meats are). This soup did have one ingredient I generally try to avoid (canola oil), but only a small amount.  3&1/2 out of 4 liked it.

Amy's Organic Soups Chunky Tomato Bisque (Light in Sodium)
This soup had a beautiful red color and nice aroma. It was the only "Low Sodium" soup that did not need added salt. The chunky tomatoes gave it a better consistency than the usual pureed tomato soups. 3 out of 4 liked it. 

Amy's Organic Soups Minestrone (Light in Sodium)
This soup had a nice combination of beans and vegetables.  Straight from the can, it did need a lot of added salt. But once salt was added, this soup was okay. 3 out of 4 liked it.

The Best

None. A Best Soup would be one that was well-liked by all four members of our family. So far, we haven't found any Best Soups, but I'm still hoping to. We'll keep trying.

Do you stock any canned soups in your pantry? Which ones are your favorites?


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Hope T. said...

Unfortunately, our favorite soup has been discontinued. It was Muir Glen's tomato soup and although they still make all of their other tomato products, they don't make soup at all anymore. But we substitute the Amy's brand because that's the best we've found. Did you try the Amy's Cream of Tomato? I think it's even better than the Amy's Chunky Tomato. I've given up trying to find chicken soup and I just make my own. I should try freezing it in case I run into a situation like you did with an extended period of illness in the house.

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for sharing your recommendations, Hope! We haven't tried the Cream of Tomato yet, but we will thanks to your suggestion! When I was recovering from my illness but everyone else was still rather ill, I made a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup with the already-cooked chicken in the fridge plus homemade broth (from the carcasses that had been cooking for days) and onion/celery/carrots. It was so good; nothing we've tried from the store even comes close.

Mary Leonard said...

We don't eat too many pre-made soups here either. It's just so easy to whip some up most of the time and since our kids are homeschooled, we rarely have illnesses running rampant through the house. I think in 17 years of marriage and 10 of being a om we only had once where we were all sick. Now I've probably jinxed us and we'll get sick.

Hope T. for a replacement for the Muir Glen soup, may I suggest just using their diced or stewed tomatoes and making it into soup? My tomatoes are far from producing right now and I was craving tomato soup to accompany my sourdough grilled cheese. I pulled out a couple cans of Muir Glen, some chicken broth, random herbs, carrots,celery and onion and I had a delicious soup in about 15 minutes. It did help that the carrots were leftovers that had been cooked with a roast.

When I use canned soups, I most often use them as a base and add other fresh ingredients to it.

Amy@ServingPinkLemonade said...

My family's favorite store bought soup is Trader Joes tomato soup. It's the only store bought soup I will buy. It is quite delicious.

Wendy W. said...

How about canning your own? I can great tomato, beef vegetable, and ham vegetable soups. Sometimes even can taco soup, even tho that is easy to make. None of us want to rely on the canned soups, but they are quite valuable in the emergencies that come.

Shan said...

No canned soups in my pantry. It is simply too easy to make your own. Especially if you own a crock pot. Here is an easy tomato soup.

Tomato Bisque Soup
1 quartered onion
4 cloves garlic (no need to press)
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon oregano
1 tsp Italian seasoning
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
3 cans (14 ½ oz. each WITH JUICE) diced Fire Roasted canned tomatoes. (You can also use plain diced canned tomatoes). Fresh tomatoes work too. About 8 – 9 medium-sized fresh tomatoes that have been boiled for 1 minute and then peeled… they need to be roughly chopped before using)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 cup (or more) milk

In a 4-quart saucepan sauté onion and garlic with Italian seasoning and other spices in olive oil until onions and garlic are soft (do not brown). Add diced tomatoes and simmer 30 minutes. Puree in several batches using blender until smooth. Return to the stove and add the brown sugar and milk. Add any additional milk if needed and salt and pepper to your liking.
Yield: 7 cups

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, and grilled cheese sticks.
Shan always adds cooked quinoa when serving if she has some on hand.

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for sharing the recipe, Shan! I agree that homemade soups are so easy to make. The point of the canned soup is just in case we are caught off-guard, like we were last spring, with whole-family influenza. We couldn't hardly get out of bed, much less cook, at that time.