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Canned Chicken Noodle Soup
Our winners had two things in common: plenty of salt and MSG.
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What You Need To Know
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.
Everything We Tested
Organic chicken, broth, vegetables, and noodles do make a difference-especially with a lot of salt (this soup had the third most sodium per serving in our lineup). Tasters liked its “fresh” taste and “spicy” kick: it contains onion powder, onion, black pepper, chives, garlic powder, turmeric, rosemary, and thyme.
Tasters appreciated the meaty quality of this soup, which contained the most chicken (a full 9% of total weight). They were split, however, on the broth texture, which some praised as pleasantly “thick,” and others called “slimy.”
Recommended with reservations
This soup had the most sodium (940 mg per serving) of any in our lineup, and tasters liked its “clean,” “chicken-y” flavor. It contains almost no chicken meat (just 2% of its total weight). “Like microwaveable cup o’noodles.”
Another polarizing sample: some tasters loved the “complex,” “hearty” flavor, others complained about the “vegetal” and “gamey” flavor of this organic brand. The broth has a strange green tint, and much of the chicken appeared to be dark meat—a turn-off for most.
This soup, which contains a generous 7% chicken by total weight, scored better for texture than for flavor. It’s not generously salted, and some tasters deemed it “bland.”
Like the Campbell’s Condensed Homestyle, this sample was light on the chicken (a mere 1%) and very heavy on the salt. Several tasters correctly identified this as their childhood staple, but they didn’t think it has stood the test of time. “Standard hospital food,” said one.
Tasters were not pleased with the “tinny,” “metallic,” and “canned” flavors. While a few “loved the noodles,” most agreed it was “sour and sad.”
Scored last across the board. “Tastes metallic with no chicken flavor.” “Broth needs seasoning, veggies are mushy.” “Off flavor, neon yellow, slimy.”
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