When is a soup not a soup?

Some useful food terms to put your mind at ease.

by: Cathy Marston | 26 Apr 2012

Broth, chowder, stock, soup – it’s all the same thing isn’t it?? Nope, not at all and now that winter is setting in and we’re all feeling chilly, this is the perfect time to actually define the differences once and for all and to make sure we have the names as clear as our consommé! Making soup is quite an art and nobody ever forgets a perfect bowl of piping-hot deliciousness, so here is your soup words 101 to help you get sound soup-remely confident this winter!

Every soup starts out life as a stock – either made separately or as part of the soup-making process itself. There are lots of different recipes and flavours, but essentially a stock is a flavoured liquid produced from simmering water with some or all of the following: meat, poultry or fish bones and pieces, vegetables, herbs and spices. Once you have your stock, you can go on and turn it into either a thin soup or a thick soup. Need a recipe? Check out a couple here.

Thin Soups – consommés and broths
Consommé is a clear meat-based soup which has been clarified with egg white to remove all impurities. The egg white is whisked gently into the stock, meat and vegetables until a froth forms on the surface – at this point, the heat should be reduced and the soup simmered for up to one and a half hours. During this time, the impurities bind with the egg protein and leave the resulting liquid clear. After straining a couple of times, your consommé is ready to eat hot or cold with no fat or other particles, only an intensely-flavoured meaty liquid.

Broth is essentially a stock to which pieces of meat and vegetables have been added. Quite often, a broth was made as a by-product of another dish such as a Pot-au-Feu or ‘oven dish’ which is a joint of meat braised in stock with vegetables. The meat was removed after cooking, sliced and served with the vegetables and any leftovers were added back into the resulting stock for the next day. Many Thai soups such as Tom Yum are technically broths, as is that famous health food, chicken noodle soup.

Thick Soups – purées and cream soups
A puréed soup is exactly as the name would suggest – one made by puréeing the vegetables or meat to make a thick, smooth soup. Often soups made in this way, particularly vegetable ones, don’t start with any stock, just the water the vegetables are simmered in. A classic butternut soup would be made in this method. A seafood or clam chowder is part purée and part broth with pieces of fish and potato in it.

Cream soups are thickened by the addition of Bechamel sauce (flour, butter, milk, cream and seasoning), egg yolks or just cream. Care needs to be taken not to add too much of the thickening agent in case the soup curdles or becomes too starchy. A bisque is a cream soup which may also have been thickened by ground up crustacean shells as well to give an even more intense flavour.

Classic soups
Here are a few classic soups, re-defined according to the categories above.

– a tomato-based seafood broth from the southern parts of France, particularly Marseille.
Borscht – is a puréed beetroot and vegetable soup from Russia and the Ukraine
Cock-a-leekie soup - a Scottish broth made with chicken stock and leeks.
Gazpacho – a puréed tomato soup from Spain traditionally served chilled.
Minestrone – a vegetable broth with beans from Italy.
Mulligatawny – a puréed meat and vegetable soup flavoured with curry. Anglo-Indian in origin.
Vichyssoise – a puréed leek and potato cream soup, usually served chilled.


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