February 17, 2012

11 Min Read
Specialty Soups

By Cindy Hazen, Contributing Editor

Some days, I crave canned tomato soup mixed with milk and topped with crushed saltine crackers. Just as tasty as I remember from my childhood, its still my go-to comfort food.

But, while nostalgia has its placeCampbell's tomato soup was introduced in 1897, after allcondensed soup is more basic than my typical fare. Like many other consumers, Im looking for soup with more nutrients in the form of extra vegetables and whole grains, along with less fat and sodium. I want it to be filling, but at a reasonable calorie cost. I might not even want soup in a can.

Begin with a base

Most soups begin with a stock or broth base. These terms are often used interchangeably, but generally a stock is made with chicken or meat bones. The gelatin released from these bones imparts a fuller mouthfeel and richer flavor. Broths are typically made from meat. Vegetarian bases are the exception to this generality. More often the term vegetarian stock is used rather than vegetarian broth.

A chef or home cook might create stocks or broths by simmering vegetables, meat or fish and other seasonings in water for hours at a time. For those without the luxury of scratch-cooking techniques, using prepared bases in powdered, paste or liquid forms either refrigerated or frozen, circumvents this step.

When choosing the base, consider the clarity of the broth. Will the finished product be clear like a French onion soup or thick and dark like a beef stew?

The base most commonly used is a chicken or turkey broth or stock, notes Xingqiu Lou, director of technical development, Proliant Meat Ingredients, Ankeny, IA. Even the majority of cream soups contain some kind of stock, usually a chicken or turkey, unless the soup is specifically a different genus/species. These stocks are mainly lighter in flavor and go well with the majority of all other flavors within that particular soup."

Bases cover a wide spectrum of flavor profiles because the raw materials and the production process used in their manufacture impact them. Additional flavor enhancers, such as MSG or yeast extract, can boost and smooth out savory flavor.

If the goal is to formulate without MSG or I&G (inosinate and guanylate), flavor-enhanced stock and broths can be utilized to replace artificial flavors and/or chemical type additives," says Lou. These are reacted flavors from meat broth and stocks through a Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction causes an enhanced meaty flavor and umami taste. The flavors have a natural meaty flavor from both proteins and/or their amino acids but, in addition, they have an aroma from the Maillard reaction."

Using an emulsified stock can reduce or eliminate dairy products that pose an allergen risk in creamy-type soups. For example, Lou explains, emulsified chicken broth is chicken fat that is emulsified with chicken broth. The label is still chicken broth because chicken fat is not an added ingredient; it is the natural chicken fat in high-fat chicken broth."

When formulating reduced-sodium products, bases can help restore flavor. When salt or sodium is reduced in meat or savory applications, the product will not be tasted with the regular fullness and richness," Lou continues. Adding bases helps restore the taste, mouthfeel and richness "to certain levels," he says.

The stock's format can offer advantages and disadvantages. Powdered stocks are easy to store and have a longer shelf life. However, an additional manufacturing step is required to dissolve the stock. They also have a potential for foaming. Powdered stocks do not generally have the full mouthfeel associated with liquid products. Powder product tends to have some burning notes or increased bitterness from the drying process," says Lou. Liquid products maintain more of the original flavor profile."

These can be found as frozen liquid stocks, containing 30% to 35% total solids. The storage and transportation requirements of frozen or refrigerated stocks may create a disadvantage for some manufacturers.

Shelf-stable pastes are easier to use than frozen liquids because they are easier to store and dont need a thawing step. However, Lou cautions that they have a shorter shelf life and often higher sodium. Normally these products contain 35% to 60% solids without salt. In this range of solids, without the addition of salt, the broth will not be shelf stable," he says. If refrigerated, you can extend the shelf life to a few weeks or months, depending on the products total solids or water activity."

Cooler varieties

Besides the potential for an upscale package, refrigerated and frozen formats can give the opportunity to create higher quality taste, texture and nutrition than dried or canned soups.  Formulations vary little across these two lines.

There are only two ingredients that we change when moving from one format to the other," says Levon Kurkjian, vice president of marketing, Kettle Cuisine, Chelsea, MA. With our line of refrigerated soups we use freshly peeled and cut potatoes, and in the frozen format we use IQF potatoes because the fresh potatoes dont hold up in the slack out (defrosting) and rethermalization process.  We also often use a wheat flour for making roux in our refrigerated line, but find that rice flour performs better in the frozen format. The only other difference is that some vegetables dont spend as much time in the kettle in the frozen format so that they will maintain the same level of crispness, despite slightly longer rethermalization with frozen soups."

Beyond flavor, the choice of vegetables impacts texture and appearance. Vegetables that have high concentrations of water, like zucchini, do cut well but take a lot of care in the cooking to ensure that they dont breakdown too prematurely in the soup," Kurkjian says. "Vegetables that are odd-shaped, like broccoli and cauliflower, are difficult to cut uniformly and often result in highly variable floret sizes, and these vegetables also tend to further breakdown as soup are stirred."

He recommends using root vegetables because they are very easy to cut and they hold up very well in many different types of soups. Besides carrots and potatoes, consider adding leeks, parsnips or turnips.

Building texture

Traditional stocks and broths are not utilized for texture improvement unless used at extremely high levels (10% or above)," says Lou. To build texture in soup formulations, thickening agents like starch work well with stock and broths.

Adding hydrocolloids to the formulation will help provide a consistent product. The correct texturizer depends on formulation and process. Suzanne Mutz-Darwell, senior market development manager, texture, National Starch Food Innovation, part of Corn Products International, Bridgewater, NJ, cautions, pH, fat and process type impact the choice of texturizer. A range of texturizers exist to meet common formulations and processes, from instant starches to traditional modified starches to functional native starches and flours."

Further, many different factors affect stability, such as the type of starch, ingredient interactions, storage temperature and duration, number of freeze/thaw cycles, ice crystal formation and excess shear," Mutz-Darwell continues.

Functional native starches and functional flours can deliver the texture attributes and simple labeling desired by consumers with the processing stability required of processed foods," says Mutz-Darwell. "These ingredients function similar to traditional texturizers but can be labeled simply according to their base descriptioncorn starch, tapioca starch or wheat flour."

For dairy-based soups, developers can use a creaminess-enhancing, starch-based texture system to reduce cream, oils or milkfat in a formulation. Besides reducing fat content, these ingredients may allow product designers to use a more process-stable ingredient versus cream or whey-based products, as it doesnt change the color or separate under high heat processes, and potentially delivers a cost savings on the formulation with the replacement of fats," says Mutz-Darwell.

Where appropriate, such as in a beef or vegetable stew, whole grains can not only boost the nutritional profile but can build body. However, in looser broth-based soups, they present a visual that is not widely accepted among consumers," says Kurkjian. In our experience, whole grains work best in highly viscous, thick soups.  When the grains are able to attach themselves to other ingredients, as is the case with thicker soups, the texture is much more pleasing than when they are more isolated with broth-based soups."

Meeting new trends

Overall, soup is a big trend for 2012, because of its healthy implications and its budget-friendly appeal," says Barbara Zatto, director of culinary, sales manager West, Mizkan Americas Food Ingredients, Mt. Prospect, IL. World cuisine is a focus for all food manufacturers and is also a spotlight with soups. Consumers are looking for full flavors with soups, so major manufacturers are responding with more line extensions around world cuisine flavors, healthy/all-natural flavors and reduced sodium options. Soups with Hispanic and Asian influences seem to be growing the fastest."

In terms of ingredients, Zatto sees tomatillos gaining ground, both as a soup base and as an ingredient,. "Tomatillos are all-natural and no-sodium ingredients that offer a fruity and acidic soup base," she says. "Manufacturers creating Mexican cuisine can add heat on top of a tomatillo base for a sweet and spicy flavor combination." Also in the Hispanic category, she says, Green chiles, combined with chicken, pork and veggies, are increasing in popularity. Chipotle peppers and purées are finding a foothold in soup formulations because they are also an all-natural and sodium-free ingredient that builds flavor with soups, casseroles and entrées."

Kurkjian says ethnic and regional cuisines serve as inspiration for many new recipes.  We also have a trend of recipes that are twists on classics," he says. "Many new recipes start with a platform of recognizable soup varieties and then add a unique, on-trend ingredient. Throughout all of these trends, there tends to be more of a focus on indulgent and rich soups rather than more health-conscious soups both trends are moving in parallel, but the indulgent soups have a slight edge."

 Artisan and exotic soups are also gaining ground. Manufacturers are responding with soups that have handcrafted" texture and consistency," says Zatto. Restaurants are featuring soup bars with dozens of choices, from the classic chicken noodle to artisan to world cuisine soups with ingredients like coconut milk, chipotle peppers, and other ethnic ingredients and spices that give soups a new and exciting flavor profile. In New York, restaurants are featuring soup cocktails lobster bisque with a shot of brandy on topon the bar menu. Others are serving creamy bisques in heavy mugs with a flourish of sherry, bitters or brandy on top."

Mutz-Darwell notices a growing trend of restaurants and celebrity chefs moving their products to the supermarket shelf." Product designers can help re-tool these specialty soups from restaurant preparation to large-scale food processing without sacrificing flavor, texture or natural claims.

On the horizon, Zatto projects manufacturers will most likely experiment with functional ingredients in soups, such as vitamins, nutraceuticals and probiotics.

For now, sodium reduction is at the top of many developers goals. Umami ingredients, such as MSG,  5' nucleotides and yeast extracts, or more "natural" sources of free glutamic acid and glutamates, such as mushrooms or soy sauce, are popular ingredients to replace lost flavor impact caused by salt removal. Raising the spice level can also make up for lower salt content.

Formulators can try other flavor enhancement options, too. For example, anytime a manufacturer adds a wine reduction or a vinegar to the formulation, they can reduce sodium and build flavor using all-natural ingredients," Zatto advises. "With soups, manufacturers build the flavor over low heat and use wine reductions at the end of the cooking process to keep the top notes of the wine." A good example of a vinegar-based soup is Chinese hot and sour soup. In most Asian soups the acid will be vinegar. 

In classic soup flavors, such as tomato soup, manufacturers can use vinegar to reduce sodium and add flavor," Zatto says. For example, in a tomato balsamic soup, manufacturers can finish the formulation with the vinegar. In a butternut squash or lentil soup, vinegar can enhance or brighten the flavor of the vegetable."

Soups are good vehicles for delivering a healthy serving of vegetables. Because they are inexpensive compared to many other entrées, they provide a good entry point to experiment with different cuisines. But perhaps their greatest benefit is the comfort they provide and, occasionally, a bit of nostalgia with a very familiar product such as that found in the classic red and white cans.

Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected].

Putting the Umm in Umami

The flavor-enhancing, umami effects of  monosodium glutamate (MSG) and 5' nucleotides are widely known. According to Food Reviews International (1998; 14(2-3):139-176), this effect is perceived as an increase of continuity, mouth fullness, mildness and thickness of food."

However, it may take several tries to perfect the levels needed in a particular flavor of soup. One Polish study (Food Quality & Preference, 2007; 18(5):751-758) found that the optimal dose of umami substance for one product is not necessarily the best for another one." The research showed that MSG generally had a stronger influence on palatability than I+G, but that the result and synergies varied, depending on the matrix. For example, the flavor enhancers worked well in tandem in mushroom soup and improved chicken broth, but most combinations of MSG with I+G decreased green-pea soup palatability.

 -The Editors

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