One of the many businesses I ran while I worked in Big Food was Progresso Soup. At the time we positioned the brand as a more adult choice with bigger and better ingredients. Turning Campbell’s iconic, condensed soup can into a symbol for watery, kiddie soup was the strategy, and we closed the ads with the sell line with “It’s time to go Progresso”. While this marketing campaign was very successful, I think if we take a step back and look at the broader canned soup category, many of us may conclude it’s time to “kick the can” altogether and make the switch to homemade.
The reasons to ditch canned soup probably aren’t a big surprise to many of you, but here are several of my concerns:
- Cheap Ingredients —Big Food has a profits first mentality. What that means for most canned soups is you’re getting cheaper, lower grade ingredients. This is especially true when it comes to added proteins like chicken, beef, or turkey — they’re often lower quality cuts sourced from industrialized CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). To make them more palatable these proteins are injected, tenderized and/or processed by other means. Nope, this isn’t grandma’s homemade soup!
- The shelf-stable challenge — Your typical can of soup is subjected to a tremendous amount of processing. After all, it has to last on your store shelf for at least two years. With high-temperature processing times of around 30 minutes, the amalgamation of broth, noodles, and other cheap ingredients yields a relatively tasteless soup…at least until the various salts are added.
- Sodium — Yep, canned soup is teeming with it, and despite the efforts of all major manufacturers, no-one has found the silver bullet to overcome this challenge (although they’re working very hard on some highly processed, scary substitutes).
- MSG and other chemically produced glutamic acids — MSG has been another of the industry’s go-to, cheap weapons to add taste to it’s canned soup. What exactly is MSG? It’s the sodium salt of glutamic acid. However, as consumers have become more reluctant to buy products with MSG, Big Food has developed some sneaky ways to hide MSG substitutes in its soup—typically highly processed ingredients that are high in glutamic acid. While food companies and the FDA believe MSG and these high-glutamic acid alternatives are all safe, many people claim to still have adverse reactions to them. So, if you’re looking to avoid MSG and its look-a-likes, what can you do? Look for foods that are labeled “No MSG” or “No added MSG.” Also, to avoid chemically produced, high glutamic acid / MSG look-a-likes, look on your ingredient label for HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable proteins), Wheat Protein (Hydrolyzed), Corn Protein (Hydrolyzed), Soy Protein (Hydrolyzed), Yeast Extracts, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Autolyzed Yeast, Soy Extracts, and Protein Isolates.
- Seasonings: You see one of the biggest problems most processed foods face is that the delicate seasonings that you might use in your homemade recipe simply can’t handle the processing that’s required to make products that can sit on a grocery shelf for years. So the delicate flavor parsley might add to round out a Chicken Noodle Soup is all lost in this highly processed environment. The answer? They add more salt.
- BPA: Bisphenol A (BPA), is a hormone-disrupting chemical that in very small amounts could lead to behavioral problems, obesity, heart attacks, early puberty in girls, infertility, type 2 diabetes, and even breast and prostate cancers. While Campbell’s and most major soup manufacturers have pledged to phase out BPA, they haven’t been very forthcoming on the details. As of the writing of this post the Campbell’s statement regarding BPA is: “The current can packaging used for our products is one of the safest packaging options in the world. We also recognize that there is a debate on this topic and some consumers want us to use other materials in our packaging. The trust of our consumers, which we have earned for over 140 years, is paramount and we intend to keep it. For these reasons, we’ve already started using alternatives to BPA in some of our soup packaging, and we’re working to phase out the use of BPA in the linings in all our canned products.” Campbell’s pledged to remove BPA from its cans in March 2012, and almost two years later they appear to still be dragging their feet.
So what’s my answer? Well, I’ve chosen to “kick the can” and make homemade instead. Now I’m not going to lie to you. Homemade soup does require a little more work. But once you’ve made it several times you realize, it really isn’t that difficult. Also, most of the time I make my homemade Chicken Noodle Soup using homemade stock. Again, this isn’t a requirement, but I hope you’ll give it a try. It really is pretty simple once you develop a routine, and I love how it lets you make use of the whole chicken. Nothing goes to waste, and I find that’s become another important food value I’ve developed on my REAL food journey. Finally, at the very bottom of the post, I’ve listed some tools that help me make these recipes. Check them out if you’re curious, have any doubts, or feel free to ask a question in the comments!
So please, give these recipes a try and let me know what you think. Hopefully you’ll agree with me that Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup is a worthwhile upgrade for your family. And if you have a chance, please share these recipes with your friends and family. After all, together we can help each other find simple, easy ways to live happier, healthier lives!
- A programmable, 6-quart slow cooker like this one from Crock-Pot or this one from Cuisinart.
- This 100% cotton cheesecloth is the absolute best. It’s unbleached, has a fine mesh, and it’s even washable!
- A great, multipurpose colander is another kitchen necessity for making stock and many other recipes! I bought this colander as a replacement for a really old plastic one that I bought at a dollar store back in the 90’s. Who knows what kind of weird plastics and hormone-disrupting chemicals were in that old one. Yikes!