A Look at a Label: “Cream of” Soups

SOUPAs the foodie movement explodes we’ve seen a rise in vilifying catch phrases directed at packaged food. Some outspoken foodies have attacked the commercial food industry, pointing accusatory fingers at long ingredient declarations and scientific-sounding ingredients. While these opinionated foodies may not understand the function of an “additive,” “filler,” or “preservative” in a product, they seem to have no qualms propagating their views.

Most food professionals would agree that a rounded diet complete with a variety of fresh foods is best. However, it’s easy to forget that some of the population is simply unable to grow, cultivate, or afford the fresh food that many of us enjoy. (For some, the artisanal, organic, or all-natural products which come with a short ingredient list and a hefty price tag aren’t an option. More on organic and natural food claims later – they’re not always what they seem.)  How do we make food available, safe, stable and affordable for the greater market? This is where some creative food ingredients (and food scientists) enter the equation.

For example. I’ve noticed a product which has recently gotten creamed on Pinterest for containing “nasty ingredients.” Cream of (mushroom/chicken/celery/etc) Soup.  So, foodie friends, here’s some info for your back burner. What exactly are these “nasty” ingredients, and why are they added to your soup?

Listed Ingredient Flavor Appearance Texture Other Notes 
Water X X Drives product viscosity (thickness) of the soup, and contributes to stability.
Mushrooms/Celery/Chicken X X X
Modified Food Starch X You probably have a similar product, corn starch, in your pantry. Modified food starch can serve many purposes in food. In soups, food starch builds viscosity (thickness), helps to suspend soup inclusions/particulates, can improve mouthfeel, and it can help prevent a phenomenon called “syneresis.” (Syneresis is where products weep moisture – like when water comes out of your ketchup bottle.)
Wheat Flour X X X
Vegetable Oil X Contributes to mouthfeel.
Sugar X
Cream X X X Also contributes to mouthfeel.
Salt X Also impacts shelf life and product stability.
Potassium Chloride Sounds scary…but remember, salt is also called “sodium chloride.” Potassium Chloride is often used as a salt replacer for lower sodium products.
Calcium Carbonate Can serve a few purposes. In canned products, calcium carbonate is sometimes used as a firming agent.
Yeast Extract X Often added to enhance flavor. Many yeast extracts boost the meaty or umami flavor.
Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt X Often used in products when a reduction in total sodium is desired.
Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate X Often these ingredients are added as flavor enhancers, also bringing umami flavor to a food product.
Spice X X X
Dehydrated Mushroom/Chicken/Celery X X X

Nasty or not? You decide. Whether you choose to cook with “cream of” soups or you’d rather follow the tid-bite below, you now know why these mysterious ingredients make it into your soup can. Another label, demystified.

It’s my opinion that many packaged foods (like most things) should be consumed in moderation. For information on nutrition, visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

A Food Science Tid-Bite: If desired, “cream of” soups can be replaced by ingredients in your pantry. Saute aromatics (onion/garlic, or mushrooms if you like) in olive oil/butter until caramelized and fragrant. Sprinkle in a little flour (in equal parts to the olive oil/butter you used), and stir/cook the mixture to make a roux. Then whisk in milk (or chicken stock for a lower calorie version) while continuing to cook your sauce until the desired consistency is reached. Add this to casseroles or soups, the same as you would with a can of creamed soup. 

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