Who makes the best store-bought chicken soup? Come on, you know you've been there — in a jam, in a rush to make the kids something for lunch between errands on a Sunday afternoon. There's a time and a place for doing things from scratch, and saving money by taking that leftover rotisserie chicken and turning it into tomorrow's soup. But it's just not always possible, right? Sometimes, especially during the winter, it's a good idea to have few cans of good ol' chicken noodle soup on hand in the cupboard. From time immemorial, it's been the cure-all for what ails ye. Sick? Chicken soup. Financial issues? Chicken soup. Nuclear fallout? Bomb shelter chicken soup. Broken heart? Well, you'll probably need something a little stronger, but chicken soup will probably help fix that, too.
But when you need to reach into the cupboard for the quick comfort of a store-bought chicken noodle soup, which ones should you have pulled down off the store shelves? Campbell's? Progresso? Lipton? Muir Glen? Healthy Choice? Which brand of chicken soup, available nationwide is your best bet?
That's the question The Daily Meal's panel of soup tasters took on recently when it tested 10 different renditions. Eight panel members sat down to a veritable slurpy feast of broth, noodles, carrots, and celery. The blind tasting was meticulously prepared — coordinated with precision timing so that the soups were warmed per the labels' instructions and served with expedience to the panelists. There were glasses of water and plates of Carr's Table Water Crackers served as palate cleansers to ensure panelists could give each soup a fair shot. The mid-afternoon timing of 3 p.m. ensured that the panelists, who had eaten lunch, were not starving, but were at the point in the day when they were a bit peckish. So the soups had everything going in their favor.
Panelists were asked to evaluate and comment on several components: broth, noodles, vegetables, chicken, flavor, and texture. And it wasn't pretty. Soups were scored on a scale of 100, with 60 as the lowest possible score. Three of the 10 soups sampled completely failed, one of them a classic icon of the American grocery store: Campbell's Chicken Noodle Condensed Soup. “SALTY!" exclaimed one panelist. "Damn. Mushy spaghetti noodles." Other panelists sounded similar refrains, one summing up the panel's thoughts on the soup very well: “It’s like chicken-flavored pasta water. I guess it’s the opposite of hospital food. Just fix the salt and it would be ‘D.’” It was a blow to nostalgia and a surprise only mitigated by the fact that another Campbell's soup scored much higher.
Store-bought chicken soups as ranked by the panel.
There were other surprises, like that the most expensive soup finished at the very bottom of the proverbial stockpot. And that a few store-bought soups that weren't even canned, but prepackaged to be mixed with water outscored several of the classics."There were other surprises, like that the most expensive soup finished at the very bottom of the proverbial stockpot. And that a few store-bought soups that weren't even canned, but prepackaged to be mixed with water outscored several of the classics."
Cup Noodles Chicken Flavor had more calories, sodium, and fat than any other soup on the list, doubling and almost tripling amounts of several soups, making it odd that the broth was unanimously described as watery and bland. Also interesting, the fact that the top two soups, very different from each other, were tied for second-highest in all categories.
Truth be told, no soup really did well with the panel, even considering them as stopgap options for the kids, or something to eat in a pinch. They just weren't very good. Take for instance some of the adjectives and descriptions ascribed to the third-best soup on the list: slimy, tangy, a bitter finish, rubbery chicken, and extra mushy noodles. Think it can't get worse? It did.
But there was a definite hierarchy. The top three was punctuated by a soup known to any college freshman who knows a thing or two about making his beer money last, and you'd be well-served to check out the rankings and the panel's observations in the accompanying slideshow. Of course, if you have some time, making your own soup isn't as hard as it sounds. If you're in the mood, give it a go with this this easy chicken broth recipe or this country-style chicken noodle soup recipe