Our winners had two things in common: plenty of salt and MSG.
Published Oct. 1, 2009. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 3: Chicken Two Ways
Even “gourmet” canned chicken noodle soups can’t match the long-cooked goodness of what Mom or Grandma could make with fresh chicken, plenty of vegetables, and half a day. But when the need for soup hits quickly, today’s busy cooks often reach for the canned stuff. We wanted to determine which canned soups, if any, were worth buying. We heated eight nationally available canned soups (including expensive “gourmet” and healthier choices) and called in our tasters—24 cooks and editors from America’s Test Kitchen.
The keys to decent canned soup, we learned, are no off-flavors and good texture of all elements (chicken, noodles, vegetables, and broth). Our winners also had plenty of salt. But salt alone isn’t the answer; when we added enough salt to a low-sodium entry to match the level of the winner, tasters still disliked it.
Leaving no stone unturned, we strained out the solids in three cans of each soup to calculate the average relative weights of the chicken, noodles, and vegetables inside. We learned that, in general, it’s the quality—not the quantity—of chicken that can make or break a soup. Similarly, the amounts of vegetables and noodles were less important than their texture; bloated veggies and mushy pasta torpedoed several brands. Only one brand is recommended, and none received our top rating (“highly recommended”). For that, we suggest Mom.
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.