Soup For The Soul
There’s something comforting about a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter’s day, or the invigorating punch after downing a gutsy, raw, cold soup. Although soup comes in many forms, every culture around the world partakes in its gratifying consumption, writes Tatyana Leonov.
The aroma of soup wafts through every culture and its history spans centuries. In fact, food historians speculate that the history of soup is as old as the history of cooking. The formula is simple – various ingredients cooked together in a large pot. Whether it’s Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone, French onion, Japanese miso or Chinese bone broth, they are all one and the same – a pot of nourishment, just deviations on the same theme.
Some sources say the term ‘soup’ stems from the Germanic Frankish word suppa. Others claim that it originated in France from Latin’s sope or soupe while another speculation is that the word derives from the classical Latin verb suppare, which translates into bread soaked in broth. Whatever the true origin, it was an easy-to-make and generally cheap meal.
“Looking back when food was scarce, using what was on hand and tossing it into a pot was the cheapest way to feed a family,” says Michele Chevalley Hedge, nutritionist, author and founder of A Healthy View. “I think that soup being a nourishing meal happened by default,” Hedge says. “Accessibility and low cost was the reason for soup creation. Today, soup can still be inexpensive, and it’s still an easy-to-digest, nourishing meal for both healthy and ill people.”
Interestingly, the modern restaurant industry is said to be based on soup (soups were first served to the public in restoratifs, where the word ‘restaurant’ comes from 18th century Paris. In the 19th century, thanks to science advancements, packet soups became popular with travellers – it was this nifty creation that kept soldiers fed.
Today, soup is eaten in all sorts of variations by people all around the world. And it’s a safe bet to say that the aroma of home-cooked soup still conjures up those same feelings of nourishment.
Is soup healthy?
Most people assume yes, and in most cases that’s true. Unlike what happens when you fry or stew food, vegetables, grains and meats cooked as part of a soup conserve more of their natural vitamins and minerals, and less oils and additives are generally used. “The health benefits of soup have long been valued. Cooking foods slowly at low temperatures extracts the energetic and therapeutic properties of a food, and the watery medium allows for the assimilation of nutrients,” explains Dr Shura Ford, a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, and founder of Ford Wellness Group. “Since soup is easy to digest, and is warming and nourishing, it is often what we instinctively feed someone who is unwell – just think of the classic chicken soup – it is an elixir. In traditional Chinese medicine, soups were, and still are, prescribed as a healing remedy, with the addition of key herbs.”
Of course, homemade soups are usually much better than packet varieties. Store- bought soup is often full of additives and sodium, however, “Packet soup manufacturers are getting on the healthy food wagon,” Hedge says. “Look for soups in tetra packs that are relatively fresh, and also choose soups with no preservatives, additives or MSG.”
Hot versus cold soups
Sarah Leung, an accredited practising dietitian, accredited nutritionist and founder of Healthy Energy, discourages eating cold soups regularly. “I come from a Chinese family and in Chinese medicine it’s believed cold foods are not beneficial to the health of the spleen. There is a theory that the spleen helps with digestion and cold foods affect the spleen, which also affects digestion and the qi,” she explains. “That said, cold soups can be very refreshing and are great options for spring and summer. Soups that are made with raw vegetables, such as tomato gazpacho, are packed with antioxidants, fibre and heat-sensitive vitamins such as vitamin B and C as, often, gazpacho is made with the addition of capsicum, tomato, garlic, cucumber, and fresh herbs such as chives and parsley. Other cold soups, such as pureed carrot soup and vichyssoise, which is a cold version of potato and leek soup, can also be great options.”
Ford agrees, and states that cold soups can be advantageous at times, just not all the time. “Cold and
raw soups such as cucumber soup can be beneficial in hot climates to cool, refresh and hydrate the body, but caution is always exercised in Chinese medicine to not weaken the digestive fire with too much cold.”
The advantage of soup is that most variations are good for you. Whether it’s a thick, grainy, vegetable-based soup or an Asian-style bone broth concoction, most homemade mixtures come with a surplus of health benefits. Vegetable-based soups can provide a range of nutrients including magnesium, potassium and dietary fibre, and using seasonal produce reaps the most rewards. “Take the cue from nature and the seasons. In autumn use pumpkin and garlic; in spring, peas and leafy greens; in winter, root vegetables, and in summer, light, leafy herbs,” Ford recommends. “The best vegetables for soup are those that are organic and in season. They will be the freshest, cheapest and will align most appropriately with the energies of your body for that particular season.”
Grain-based soups, such as minestrone and lentil soups, are often made with low-GI carbohydrates such as pearl barley, legumes and lentils, and these provide protein and slow-release carbohydrates as well as other minerals and vitamins. While soups that are centred on meat, such as oxtail soups and bone broths, offer nutrients such as zinc, iron, protein, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Bone broths also contain amino acids that may be beneficial for gut health. “As Chinese people don’t traditionally consume dairy, bone broth is one of the ways for Chinese people to obtain calcium and magnesium. Gelatin from bones is also believed to contribute to healing the gut lining, therefore improving nutrient absorption, immunity and digestion,” Leung explains. She also cites the addition of several other components in Chinese soup cooking as beneficial to health. “Ingredients like dried longan, goji berries, dates, ginger, coriander, red peony root, aduki bean, pearl barley, winter melon, almond seed and seaweed are very commonly used in Chinese soups depending on what therapeutic benefits you want to achieve.”
Like with any healthy eating plan, the key is variety and balance. If you only eat pumpkin soup, although you will get the benefits that come from eating pumpkin, you won’t get the array of other nutritional benefits obtainable by eating other soup selections. The same goes for eating only bone broth soup, or any one soup for that matter. “We all are all individuals and what works for some of us may not work for others,” says Hedge. “I am not particularly a fan of cold, raw soup on a rainy, cool day. Intuitively it doesn’t serve the body at that time. The best soup is the soup that is full of vegetables, and perhaps a bit of protein, but most importantly makes you feel good, nourished and energised.”