By Donna Bottrell
What’s in a bowl of soup? Everything! Who doesn’t love a wonderful bowl of steaming soup on a cold or rainy day? Soup can be made with any combination of ingredients that are readily available to everyone. It can be complicated or simple fare, adding comfort in a bowl to any well-engineered menu.
Refrigerated soups are increasingly popular in supermarkets, as are restaurants with a core focus on a variety of soups, clearly indicating the consumer’s desire for well-made soup. As a culinary dietitian and food consultant, I believe the addition of a great soup offers nutrition, value and comfort.
What’s your soup story?
Soups almost always tell a story — about the ingredients, the season, the chef, or the establishment. In fact, soup is a great story, and here’s why: When it’s done well, it demonstrates care and culinary finesse. For example, contract foodservice provider, Dana Hospitality LP, serves made-from-scratch soup in their cafes as a demonstration of their brand behavior. Soup is a favorite menu item as their guests have come to appreciate and rely on the consistent delivery of a variety of quality scratch-made soups. When speaking to the culinary team, it is clear they think it’s nothing to make scratch soup every day – this is just the way it’s done.
How many food trends can you add to the pot?
Soup is a great vehicle to deliver the latest food trends to your customers. Adding the latest super-food, trendy or seasonal ingredient is a quick and easy way to enhance any basic recipe. Don’t forget to highlight these important facts in your soup story. Here are six wellness-focused trends that can be applied to soup:
- House made: Feature a house-made soup, stock or broth and finish a prepared dish with house-made garnishes such as croutons, condiments or pickled vegetables.
- Clean ingredients/whole foods: Many soups can be described this way without changing a thing, especially when scratch-made soups are the standard.
- Plant focus: Plant based diets are on the rise. Try adding shredded Brussels sprouts, cauliflower rice, pulses (beans, peas or lentils), onsite grown herbs, seaweed or kelp.
- Global flavours: Try a Filipino-inspired soup or add a popular spice such as turmeric. Flavour is always trendy.
- Reduced food waste: Soups are the solution! Make a featured soup using what’s on hand. Plan to preserve or repurpose ingredients before composting (ie. carrot tops, broccoli stems, or everything bagel chips).
- Sustainable seafood: Choose sustainable seafood most often. Try an all-sustainable seafood chowder.
All the above can be considered wellness-focused trends — for our individual, community and environmental health. And yes, wellness should taste great!
Take soup to the next level
What are your customers looking for? Here are approaches to consider:
- Souping instead of juicing. Soup may be used as a replacement for juice, elixir or a smoothie. It can be nutrient dense with the same perceived health benefits with greater satiety and lower cost. Those made with dairy, broth, vegetables pack nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and fibre.
- As an appetizer. A hot mug of drinkable soup, vegetable or bone broth as an appetizer can stimulate the appetite and increase the overall pleasure of a meal. But it can also reduce the total amount of food eaten at a meal. Try traditional bone broth with a pinch of turmeric; it is sure to be a star.
- Showcase local ingredients and global flavours. Try adding ginger and turmeric to a classic chicken soup for a delicious twist of flavours.
- As a main meal, components can be assembled to order at service for best quality and customization. Soups like Chicken Tortilla Soup, Chicken and Dumplings, Ramen or Minestrone serve well as entrée-sized meals.
- For breakfast or snack. Soup for breakfast is the norm in Southeast Asia. Vietnamese pho is a great example of a traditional breakfast soup. It is packed with fresh ingredients and is a simple and nutritionally balanced option with noodles, healthy proteins and fresh greens.
Why do customers choose soup?
- Hot and comforting or cold and refreshing
- Portable, convenient and quick
- Perceived as light, easy to digest
- Lower in calories or healthy when eaten as small meal or snack
- Can be free of ingredients they are trying to avoid
- Changes seasonally
- Quality and value
- Prefer it over other items on the menu
Why do customers avoid soup?
- Don’t know what is in it or how it was made
- Concerns regarding sodium content
- Not house-made or does not feature local ingredients
- Varieties offered may be too exotic or too boring
- Perceive it to be low quality
Soup’s salty bad wrap
Salt is an inexpensive way to add and enhance flavour. It is still common to find soups that are too salty; often these dishes are made with poor quality bases or broths, over seasoned too early and/or simmered too long before and during service.
The demand from health-conscious consumers has guided culinary teams to make creative adjustments that enhance the flavour of ingredients. Starting with good quality stock, roasting and caramelizing vegetables, adding herbs and spices is the foundation for great soups customers will love. My suggestion is to always go easy on the salt; customers can add more to suit their personal taste.
Respect your vegetables and grains. Do not cook them too long so they still have texture when the dish is held for service. Don’t forget to finish your soup with thoughtful garnishes to increase perceived quality and value that contributes to increased customer satisfaction. Try something new such as crisp red algae in place of crumbled bacon for a trendy savoury garnish. Here are a few of my favourite garnishes:
- Charred vegetables
- Pickled vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fresh green onion or herbs
- Fried onion
- House prepared tortilla or bagel chips
- Drizzled hot sauces
- Fresh ground pepper
And lastly don’t forget to share your soup story with your customers so they can feel good about what’s in their bowl.
About the author:
Donna Bottrell, RD RSE, is a consulting dietitian and Red Seal cook. She shares her passion for driving innovation through the concept of culinary wellness with her business clients, colleagues and Humber College students. She continually explores new and effective approaches to encourage the preparation and consumption of great tasting food that happens to be nutritious. With over 20 years of experience advocating for positive changes in the food industry, she has created and managed numerous corporate wellness and sustainability strategies, programs and promotions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @donnabottrellRD; website: donnabottrell.ca.