Cooler months are the top time for hearty broths, chowders and gumbos. After all, who doesn’t love a delicious bowl of soup with some bread on the side on a brisk fall or winter day?

Savvy operators are turning classic comfort food dishes into soup format

Comfort in a bowl 

Savvy operators are turning classic comfort food dishes into soup format. Think lasagna soup, mac ‘n cheese soup. “It’s all about familiar with a twist,” says Juriaan Snellen, executive corporate chef at McCormick Canada. “This is an innovative way to encourage less adventurous customers to try something different beyond the trusted chicken noodle soup. It’s also a fantastic way to introduce new upscale ingredients as well as trendy flavour profiles that bring the classic comfort food dishes into the 21st century.”

Look east for on-trend inspiration 

Ethnic and world-inspired flavours are driving innovation and sales of soups. “The flavour lifecycle suggests growth for Asian ingredients such as curry, ginger, coconut and lemongrass,” Technomic reports in its 2018 Canadian Soup & Salad Consumer Trend Report. 

Asian soups are popular at both Asian specialty operations as well as those with more Canadian menus. Consider Thai-inspired noodle soups layered with curry, chilies and coconut milk and Japanese ramen – powerful broths garnished with a variety of toppings that provide protein, flavour and texture.

Soups as the main event

By rotating daily soups, operators can increase variety and make best use of seasonal ingredients. “Soup as a meal is becoming more mainstream and allows you to infuse specific regional flavours into a dish,” Snellen says. 

Hot pot sessions are a perfect example of combining the communal dining trend with the popularity of flavoured broths, he says. This East-Asian inspired phenomenon allows communal diners to cook a variety of veggies and thinly sliced proteins in a steamy pot of deeply flavoured broth. A classic favourite can be easily changed up to go Mexican or Caribbean just by altering the broth.

Soup that eats like a meal

To take chowder to the next level, High Liner Foods Chef Philman George puts a cod filet on top, sprinkles it with cheese and bakes it in the oven. “Oh my!” he says. “Simple, craveable and pure comfort. I would position this hearty creation as a soup that eats like a meal.” 

Chef’s tip: To go from freezer to plate in less than 7 minutes, deep fry the cod from frozen and then finish it off in the oven.  

Soup as snack

The popularity of snacking soups consumed in the afternoon that are meant to power you through your day is starting to take off, according to McCormick’s Flavour Report. Drinkable soups made from a variety of mushrooms, avocado, thyme and sage create the ultimate natural pick-me-up.

Besides being nutritious, great soups are low-fat (or fat forward with good fats) and – above all! – they taste great.

Time savers

Curries from North Africa, the Middle East and India are a hot trend in soups, but making your base can be time-consuming, notes Richard Calladonato, director, Campbell’s Culinary and Baking Institute. “Fortunately, there are easy ways to reduce the time involved. Take a can of tomato, add curry paste, some great vegetables, and have a quick and easy flavourful soup. 

Here are some other easy-to-create examples:

  • Start with cream of onion to craft a magnificent mulligatawny with apples and curry – warm, comforting, and on-trend. 
  • Begin with cream of mushroom and add a full reduction of onions, top with Gruyere cheese for a tempting, aromatic heartier variation. 
  • Add bold flavours and texture to your soups with stock, coconut milk and some great vegetables.

Variety in proteins

Thinking of turning your soup offerings into mains? Alternative proteins like bison, duck and wild game are well suited for soups, Calladonato says. “Bison has lower fat, a health-halo perception, and it isn’t that expensive. Canadian chefs have been leading the way with using some of these meats, and expanding the choices.”

Get creative! 

  • Tempt your guests with soup shooters and soup flights that provide them with the opportunity to sample smaller portions of different soups.
  • Arrange appropriate garnishes in the centre of a soup bowl and serve the soup on the side so your guests can control the amount of soup they want by pouring the desired quantity into the centre bowl.

Soup takeaways 

  • Soup and salad remain among the most menued items and are especially common at FSRs.
  • Flavour lifecycles suggest room for growth for ethnic flavours for both soup
    and salad.
  • Asian soups are particularly common at LSRs, while rotating “soup of the day” options lead
    at FSRs.