Chicken Soup

David Trammel's picture

Who doesn't love a hot bowl of healthy chicken soup on a cold afternoon? There is just something special about it. Ideally you should be able to cook up a pot yourself. Home made allows you to limit the salt and additives in it (all too high in most commercial varieties), as well as customize it with your own favorite vegetables and ingredients.

Hopefully everyone will chime in with some favorite rescipes of their own but when you can't make it, then try to buy the most nutritious you can.

The Healthiest Canned Chicken Soups, Ranked By Nutritionists

A steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup is a go-to meal for a cold day or when you’re feeling under the weather. Research even suggests that chicken soup has healing properties: It may offer anti-inflammatory benefits, which could relieve cold symptoms, according to one study. Another found that hot chicken soup may alleviate sinus congestion. Homemade chicken noodle soup is the healthiest option because you can control the amount of salt and load it up with vegetables, said Danielle Frost, a registered dietitian in central Arkansas. But not everyone has time or access to fresh ingredients to make homemade soup, so checking out the canned variety makes nutritional sense.

“Canned soup is very convenient, relatively inexpensive, and, of course, it’s delicious, which is an important factor,” Frost said.

Since chicken noodle soup is broth-based, most canned products are already low in fat. But Frost urges consumers to check the label for sodium and protein. About 10 grams of protein per can is a good target. Anything higher is a bonus, she said, since protein keeps you fuller longer. As for salt, Frost recommends choosing canned chicken noodle soup with no more than 300 mg of sodium per serving. An ideal sodium limit is 1,500 mg per day ― and definitely follow a daily value of no more than 2,300 mg ― according to the American Heart Association.

Serving size is another factor to consider, said Luis Gonzalez, a Chicago-based registered dietitian. “Nutrition information is based on serving size, and most cans include about two servings,” he said. “If half the can, which equals one serving, is not enough, adding more water will add volume, as well as dilute excess sodium.”


Bottom of the list: Campbell's Condensed Chick Noodle soup. (and probably all condensed varieties)

Top of the List: Health Valley Organic Chicken Noodle Soup. (Has added bone broth for a bonus.)

Lots of sodium in most varieties. Since I tend to eat the entire can, which is two servings, that's almost half my recommended salt intake.

Recipe Slideshow at the end of the article offers some delicious looking bowls of soup too.

David Trammel's picture

About once a month I buy a roast chicken from the grocery store. Yes, I know I should be cooking it myself.

I usually strip off the thighs/wings and the breasts, to be bagged and then tossed into the freezer for later meals. I'm left with the bones and such, and pick off the meat I can. Seems to me those leftovers would make a good soup base.

Question from the clueless bachelor, how do you do that?

1. Get a big pot.
2. Put chicken carcass (EVERYTHING including skins) into pot.
3. Cover with water.
4. Simmer for an hour or two. The carcass should be falling apart.
5. Pour the contents through a sieve into a large bowl, thus removing all the bones, tendons, skins, etc from the broth.
6. Pour strained broth into canning jars and either use at once or freeze (allow 2 inches of head space if you freeze them).
7. Label any jars so you know what they are.
8. You can do this with any poultry carcass. Use a bigger pot with turkeys or break the carcass up.

Teresa from Hershey

Alacrates's picture

I pretty much do all the steps mentioned in Teresa's concise , I'll just add a few more points that are a part of my cooking routine.

(I'll pull out my old culinary textbook for the fine points, the overall sections are blazed onto my memory from studying for various apprentice exams!)

To whatever bones you have saved up, I'll submerge them in cold water, and bring the pot briefly to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, skimming off the fats & scum that collect on the surface. (Not sure if that's entirely necessary, but I do it as a nod to culinary tradition and it's striving for a clear broth) If you use a cooking thermometer, the simmering temperature they recommend is 185F, but I've found it's the same temperature as poaching liquids, basically when you get a bubble rising to the surface every so often.

The textbook, "On Cooking", recommends 3-4 hours simmering time for poultry stock, and adds: "Science has shown that no flavour compounds are extracted from a chicken stock after 2 hours, but reducing occurs."

For several years now, my habit has been to pick up an organic chicken from a health food store I like before the weekend (usually 20$ - 25$, depending on the weight). I cut it up into 9pcs (breasts, thighs, wings, etc) and roast it in a casserole dish with a bit of water poured into it, and often a bay leave, a smashed garlic clove, and half a lemon added to the water.

The water isn't the best for well-browned roasted chicken, but for health reasons I think that meat is probably healthier if it can be cooked at lower temperatures, so the water helps keep the meat closer to the 220F point.

When the chicken is done, I take it out of the pan and let it cool, and use a spatula to scrape out the drippings from the casserole dish into a smaller bowl. Most often I use the drippings in the stock, but if you ever have a sauce or some other dish that you want to make super flavourful, use some of this gelatinous drippings to boost it's flavour, it is pure gold! (I got this idea from the chef David Chang, who saves the liquid from braising pork belly's to add by the spoonful to various sauces and dishes, he calls it "tare" and describes it as pure gold lol"

Once the chicken is cool enough, I take it off the bone (by fork, knife and fingers) and put the roasted bones into a 4L soup pan that I set to simmer. I chop up the meat pulled from the bone into a rough dice, and keep some of it for soup and the rest I freeze in small packets for other dishes, usually to stir fry into rice.

While the bones simmer, I cut up onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and other vegetables depending on the type of soup I'd like to make: things like beets, fennel, ginger, mushrooms, tougher greens like kale and chard, herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, cilantro. (I feel like the soup is a good change to incorporate a lot of vegetables into my diet that otherwise might just wilt in my fridge during the work week)

When the stock is done simmering, I usually set a strainer over the pot of vegetables I've got semi-cooked, then pour the broth into that, add some of the diced chicken, and then let it simmer some more, maybe another 30 mins, to let all the flavours combine. I usually keep some of the diced herbs (like parsely or cilantro, or celery leaves) to add right at the end, to give it some freshness.

I taste at that point and try to balance out the tastes & flavours: first, add enough salt. Then see if it needs more fat (usually some more butter, maybe olive oil, added.) Then acidity (I give it a little apple cider vinegar if I feel like it needs it.) Then spice, usually black pepper, cayenne, or red pepper flakes.

I'll let it simmer a few more minutes to blend, then cool the pot. (Winter is actually great for this, I set the pot out on my balcony, there is unlimited free cooling available in the harsh Manitoba winter.) I then dole it out into 2 - 3 cup portions to fill up my freezer.

I heat these portions up again (I know, not the best use of energy maybe!!) to take to work with me in thermoses... working as a plumber, I almost never know where I'll end up in the day, and I usually don't have means to heat up a meal, some soup and coffee in various thermoses is a godsend, otherwise I end up in fast-food drive thrus.... (!!)

One last point: I remember looking up for "brown sauce" from the French chef Escoffier (who established a lot of the modern French cooking traditions) - the broth he made not only included a lot of caramelized bones, but also a lot of good meat that he added just to draw the flavour from! I always find it interesting how the little details of history never seem to match up to my expectations for them, I would've imagined a lot more frugality for the late 19th C.

mountainmoma's picture

Last I looked, any variety of Amy's Organic canned soup is around $3.50 a can, maybe on sale for 2.50 a can at grocery outlet. That is very expensive for the calorie/nutrient content. Soup is very inexpensive to make.

I looked up that health valley soup on Amazon, and buying a case there puts it a bit over $2.00 a can. There is only 160 calories in the entire can, that is less than 10% of your daily calories for over $2. 4 grams of protein is nothing, again at most 10% of protein you will need for the day, you will get more protein from a baked potato. But, this is a good thing to have a few cans on the shelf for when you get sick as you will not be able to cook for yourself and need it then and we dont eat much calories when sick. But, this is not good for living off of, it is too expensive for what it is.

More gleaned from their ingredient list : there is no definition, so far as I know, as to what "chicken broth " is in canned products, who knows how much water to chicken carcass ratio they use ? ANd, we know it is too much water to chicken, and not like you have got instructions here, as they must also use " organic chicken flavor" this chciken flavor says it includse yeast extract, which realy means MSG. so you are paying them for a teeny bit of carrots, a dab of chicken meat and flavorings. Keep a few cans for if you get the flu and make your own, and better yet, if you are able, freeze or can some of your own broth or soup for real health and use for when you are sick.

Those are all very good tips for chicken stock.

You also should make vegetable stock in between times, or use the vegetable scraps you have saved to add to the chicken stock. You can save up the scraps in the freezer until you have enough and are ready to make stock. Potato peels, ends of onions, ends of carrots, parsley stems, lettuce, the end or core of the head of lettuce, base and tops of celery, ends of beets and other root veg, beet tops, chard ribs, etc.... But not any cruciferous vegetables ( so not cabbage or brocolli or bok choy). If you care going away or somehow are not going to get to using green before they go bad, add to the stock mix ( greens include any salad mix, parsely, chard, spinach, cilantro) . No reason to let these things go bad in the refrigerator as they can be made into soup stock

David Trammel's picture

"You also should make vegetable stock in between times, or use the vegetable scraps you have saved to add to the chicken stock. "


I might have missed it among all the great suggestions. If I was going to prepare a vegetable or chicken stock with these scraps, would I simply put this all into a pot with water and let it simmer for a while? Is this a time based simmer or more a "simmer it all until the veggies are mush or gone"?

Enough water to take a double handful of veggies and chicken bones would seem to be alot. Do you just let it slowly simmer to render it into a thicker broth? How long does this typically take? Considering energy costs in the Future, would this simmering make more sense being done in a haybox, with only occasional reheating?

BTW, I've got this pot with strainer. Think I picked it up at a thrift mall a few years back and never used it. Thought it would be good for cooking noodles or spaghetti. Would it be good for making stock?

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mountainmoma's picture

I usually make a pot of stock at once, so maybe a half gallon or gallon. You can freeze extra stock in a wide mouth mason jar. tTo lower energy usage, since it simmers, yes, use a solar oven in the summer, bring to a boil and move to a hay box cooker, put on top of the wood stove are all great options.

I use alot of vegetable scraps to the amount of water, but you do need to keep it covered with water, of course. maybe the water is an inch overthe top of veggies, or two inches. Use more water to veggies if I dont have very much scraps. This is inexact. I often make soups just with water, and no stock at all, especially if I am putting in a can of home canned tomatoes. SO, any stock is a win. I never cook it down to make it denser.

SO, yes, put it all in water and bring to a boil and let simmer ( or move to the haybox or solar oven) for vegetables stock, until the leektops and carrot ends and what have you are mushy. Some things dont get very mushy, of course, carrots get mushier than leek stems, but you get the idea. You are just harvesting free flavor and vitamins. There is no wrong ratio.

If you are making chicken stock and add veggie scraps, you dont need to put in alot of veggie scraps.

The pot could be interesting, but you will still have alot of small bits to strain out. I dont have such a pot, so never tried it. I tend to first use a slotted spoon to take out large pieces, and I often set them on the upside down lid or in a large metal bowl because I will press them once all are out with the back of the metal slotted spoon to get more of the stock out, and pur this back into the stock pot. Then, let the pot sit, and heavier stuff falls to the bottom ( dirt left on the carrot or small chunks of beet) so then you can slowly pour off the stock after it settles and not pour off what has settled ( or leave it in the stock) With chicken stock, which I dont make often as this is a almost exclusive vegetarian kitchen ( but once a year I make chicken stock, if we have old hens) you can end up with little pieces of grtty stuff, gristel from between the bones, so this is why you dont neccessarily keep any solid meat looking pieces that fall of the bones, YMMV of course. I may cook down the chicken broth more looking to get bone broth and all nutrients out. Anyway, I have found that some of the small stuff isnt liked by people because of gristle but makes good dog food treat. SO, to me a best practice for chicken is to remove as much edible meat before making the broth and this can be added later for chicken soup or other uses. Also, you generally get alot of fat on top, likely more than you would want in your broth, even for using fresh or freezing ( for pressure canning, you must remove the fat ). I may get more fat on top as I put in ALL of the chicken carcass, including neck, head, feet, skin ( I do peel outer layer of feet to make sure it is clean). So, this excess fat is a resource of its own. You can use it in cooking, both for grease on teh stove top, but also in recipes like biscuits or dumplings, to use as shortening instead of butter. You can freeze chicken fat. I give mine away to a friend to use as I dont like eating meat and I'm not that hungry ; ) . I end up canning the meat I take off the chicken carcass, and as this can be a 10 year old hen or a 4 year old rooster, it needs careful cooking to be tender. So, for me easiest to do with it is to pressure can it, which makes it tender and cooked. It is then shelf stable for a few years and I can give it away or pull out to have a meat dish for a guest. It is fully cooked and tender.

alice's picture

I get dried kombu seaweed and throw a bit of that in with the carcass -- after about three hours or more in the stock pot it dissolves and releases loads of flavour. I think it's the natural version of msg.

After I strain the veg and carcass out I take the big bones back out of the pile and crush the ends and put those back in. Bone marrow is high in vitamin K2 so I try to make sure as much of the bone marrow as possible goes into the stock. Also this is why I don't skim the fat off as K2 is a fat soluble vitamin.

I reduce the soup stock after straining most of the veg and carcass out and when it's reduced down to about a pint or two, I put that into a sturdy glass jars, fill each 2/3 full and put it at an angle in the freezer so the stock expands up the jar as it freezes. Then take out of freezer to use for the next gravy or for soups, casseroles etc.