Do you really know what's in your shop-bought soup?
Of all the processed foods available, chilled soups are quite a good way to get some nutrition when you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own
Nothing beats a bowl of fresh soup
“Is there anything more wholesome and comforting than a bowl of fresh soup?” So reads the wording on the side of a 400g plastic box of Avonmore’s Slow Cooked Chicken and Vegetable Soup.
Let’s ignore the missing hyphen in the title, and ask who, outside of a marketer, would describe soup that was made in a factory and has a shelf life of weeks as “fresh”? It’s not that it isn’t fresh, it just isn’t a word the average person might use in this context.
The wooing continues on the lid with: “A premium smooth and satisfying soup with slow cooked chicken and hearty vegetables.” It’s all very enticing. On the front, you will notice the words “Slow Cooked Chicken” in big letters followed by “& vegetable soup” in much smaller writing, which is odd when you look at the ingredients.
The list reads: water, carrot (19 per cent), onion, potato (6 per cent), leek, chicken (5 per cent) (chicken breast (89 per cent), water, salt), fresh Irish cream (milk), Irish creamery butter (milk), celery, chicken stock (flavouring, maltodextrin, yeast extract, chicken meat, vegetable extracts (onion, carrot and leek), spices), vegetable stock (rice flour, sunflower oil, celery, turmeric, parsley), black pepper.
So the main ingredient is water. Vegetables add up to at least 36 per cent. We can work that out because ingredients are listed in descending order by weight pre-cooking. So, for example, carrots make up 19 per cent and potato 6 per cent, so the percentage of onion must be somewhere between those two figures. Who knows why they gave the exact percentage of potato, rather than onion or leek. Is it because we like our spuds?
When it comes to chicken, the word is mentioned four times on the label, but don’t let that confuse you into thinking that means there is extra chicken there. The first mention – chicken 5 per cent – is the amount of uncooked chicken used in the recipe. The figure in brackets – chicken breast 89 per cent – is there to indicate how much of that meat is chicken breast, and that the rest is water and salt.
The next mention is when it lists chicken stock, with the words “chicken meat” in brackets afterwards. That simply tells you that the recipe uses chicken stock that was made using chicken meat, though it could be in any quantity. How rich or how watery that stock was is anyone’s guess.
What is not clear either is where the chicken is from, though the soup is “Made in Ireland”.
What is good about this soup, and many others on the market such as those from Cully and Sully, and the Happy Pear, is that they often use the same ingredients as you would at home.
That’s not the case for Avonmore’s Wholesome Chicken & Veg soup in a carton. It has about the same amount of vegetables but less chicken at 3.5 per cent, which helps to explain the lower price. It also contains “modified maize starch”, which is not something you would find in the average Irish kitchen.
Modified does not mean “genetically modified”, but it does mean it has been altered to make it more useful to food manufacturers as a thickener or texturiser, for example. This can be done using bleach, enzymes or acid. Modified starch is not harmful in itself, but it is generally a cheap filler. So choosing a cheaper soup may be a false economy.
The marketing is slick on this packet too, which is hardly surprising given it is owned by Glanbia, which describes itself as a global nutrition group and has revenue in the billions.
Of all the processed foods available, however, chilled soups are quite a good way to get some nutrition when you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own.
Cast an eye over the serving sizes though.
Many of the tubs are about 400g and say they contain two servings. They also say they have “1 of your 5 a day”.
But is that per tub? Or per serving?
And does it matter, given how processed those poor vegetables are?
Nothing beats a bowl of fresh soup.