By Sean Moon
In my experience, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like soup. For many of us, it brings back comforting memories of sitting at our kitchen table as a kid with a steaming bowl of homemade chicken noodle on a cold winter day. For others, it represents our family tradition or cultural background. Still others are soup fans simply because it allows their culinary creativity to flourish while saving a few bucks along the way.
For restaurant operators and chefs, soup is almost always a winning proposition. From incorporating the latest global inspirations or health trends to giving the bean-counters a reason to smile by saving money on ingredients and repurposing leftovers, it seems you just can’t beat a good bowl of soup.
Among some of the biggest trends in the world of soup are an increasing number of healthy soup options, the use of bold international flavours and higher demand for vegetarian options.
“These developments will be significant because they are forecast to be lasting trends in the industry,” says Jordana Rebner, culinary specialist at Aliments ED Foods Inc., supplier of Luda soup mixes and bases. “There has been a clear shift towards healthy eating in recent years which is set to be in place for the foreseeable future.
“In addition, the incorporation of global flavours into our food culture will also continue to remain front and centre. The Canadian population is continuously expanding and with new people comes the introduction and need for new flavours and ingredients. This phenomenon will subsequently have an impact on the food service industry.
“The final main trend is vegetarian dining. The population is beginning to limit the amount of beef and poultry they consume for two main reasons: Maintaining a healthier lifestyle and the increasing cost of meat. Switching to a vegetarian lifestyle a few days a week is more and more popular and soups are a great filling way to eat a vegetable-centric diet.”
Good for you and your business
While soup might offer healthy variety, it is also a great money-maker for restaurant operators. Soup can be simple to prepare and is generally less expensive to produce when compared to more complicated main course dishes.
“Soups are a great way to use up leftover ingredients, or vegetable scraps,” explains Rebner. “Why not turn something that, although still edible, would otherwise be discarded into a delicious menu option? Using a soup base as a starting point could be a delicious, efficient and economical option. These new trends for soups, if adopted, will give consumers even more incentive to buy a bowl with their next meal.”
Rebner says soup is often a good fit for the ongoing consumer desire for comfort foods and that chefs can do many things to put interesting spins on traditional comfort-food recipes.
“There’s nothing quite like a satisfying bowl of hot soup on a cold winter day, and in Canada we are no stranger to this type of weather. Soups are a staple comfort food, and as such consumers are generally open to trying soups with new flavours. Incorporating global flavours into soups is simple, delicious and on trend.”
Getting a head start
While many restaurants insist on making their soups and stocks from scratch, there are some advantages for using pre-made soups or soup bases. The biggest plus of using soup-bases, says Rebner, is that chefs and operators can save both time and money.
“Using a soup base will allow the operator to customize their soups, add fresh ingredients and seasonings without having to make a broth or base. Preparing a soup base from scratch is a lengthy process, eliminating this from the equation while still being able to offer a delicious end product is a win-win situation.”
While soups can be a delicious and economical addition to any menu, chefs also have numerous opportunities to flex their creative muscles and expand their soup menu into non-traditional meals or dayparts such as dessert soups, cold soups, and amuse-bouche or tasting portions. Soups are easily modifiable and can be worked into any course.
“We are currently seeing both hot and cold soups being served as a canapé in a small vessel or shot glasses,” says Rebner. “Seasonal vegetables always make for great soups, no better way to start a meal than with an amuse bouche that is fresh, delicious and in season.
“Smoothie bowls are also a unique soup-like breakfast option — blending fresh fruit and vegetables then pouring the mix into a bowl only to top it off with more fruit or crunchy seeds, cereal and nuts. A smoothie bowl is a very untraditional soup but a terrific way to start the day.”
Finally, soup offers chefs a chance to explore the vast world of ethnic culinary influences by incorporating seasonings, vegetables and other flavours from around the world into their soup recipes.
“Asian and Middle Eastern flavours are being sought out in today’s market. Spices such as sumac, zaatar, and togarashi are appearing on menus. In addition, fresh vegetables that got little attention in the past are now making an impact. Parsnips, beets, celery root are just a few examples of humble vegetables that can be worked into a rich and flavourful soup.”
So the next time you’re looking to go outside of the box when expanding your menu, think about all of the possibilities soup has to offer. From meeting the consumer desire for more good-for-you options to cost savings and recipe innovation, who knows where your next great “souper” idea will come from.
About the author:
Sean Moon is the managing editor of Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice News.