As the weather gets cooler, it’s time to put soup on the front burner. From traditional recipes with a twist, to extra-special toppings and on-trend grain bowls, there are plenty of ways to turn up the heat on soup ideas. Together, Erik Erscher, founder, and Dan Carberry, VP of culinary innovation and guest experience, at the Zoup fast-casual chain, have decades of soup experience and plenty of insights to share.
Progressive Grocer: What are the must-haves for creating a delicious soup?
Dan Carberry: It’s all about building on the foundation of a really good broth. Next, you layer in fresh onion and celery, cooked low and slow. Then use the freshest ingredients available and finish with pepper and salt to taste. Soup is simple cooking, and we let the nuances of simple, pure ingredients talk.
PG: I see that you sell Zoup brand broth in supermarkets. What made the company decide to go into retail?
Eric Erscher: The inspiration for Good, Really Good Premium Broths came from our staff and customers. They wanted to find good, fresh-tasting broth at grocery stores. Our standard was: Is it good enough to drink? We weren’t necessarily intending to make broth for drinking; rather, we wanted an exceptional product for cooking and soup-making. But people around our office tend to get hungry around 3 p.m., and they were drinking it. The fact that bone broth became popular at the same time is a coincidence, but it fits well with so many eating styles right now. It’s a delicious, easy, low-calorie snack for anyone.
PG: How has the soup category been influenced by global culinary styles? I’m thinking ramen, pho and other Asian noodle preparations. How can cooks of different skill levels take advantage of these influences?
DC: People have so much access to foods from all over the world right now, and it’s interesting to see how people are taking these influences and using them in ad hoc ways. For example, curry soup can have some Thai influences, without being a classic version of a Thai curry. Our lentil soup has a lot of North Indian flavors, but isn’t necessarily a traditional Indian soup. But it is hearty, healthy and satisfying. Getting to know different ingredients and flavor profiles allows for some playfulness in culinary standards, and cross-pollinating flavors and influences.
PG: What about the classic soups? What are some favorite recipes, and what are some innovations you are seeing?
DC: Again, we see playfulness and disruption happening around classic dishes like chowders and pot pies. We do a chicken pot pie soup — creamy chicken soup with mixed vegetables and garnished with crumbled pie crust — that has all the flavors and ingredients of a pot pie, but in a soup that’s topped with crumbled pie crust. The same with our mac and cheese — we offer different toppings: crispy pie crust, bacon crumbles, pico de gallo, mashed avocado and lobster bisque. These are examples of how we are pulling soup into the entrée category, and seeing the lines blur between soup, salad, and our Sustain-a-Bowls with ingredients like riced cauliflower, full-husk brown rice, ancient grains, roasted vegetables, proteins and broth. A lot of the time, the toppings and extras can turn a soup into an entrée. We create our garnishes with form and function in mind, so that a crouton becomes a nutritious superfood chia-cheese crouton for our tomato bisque.
PG: How can traditionally creamier or cream-based soups be updated for health-minded eaters?
DC: The great thing about soup is there’s something for everyone — vegetarian, keto, Paleo — it’s all covered by our menu, so we don’t have to focus on being the diet police. That said, we always have new recipes under review. We are working on vegetable purées for replacing cream and dairy in cream soups. Cauliflower and chickpeas have become popular ways to replace carbs and dairy, even in pasta. These ingredients are great for soups, especially for people who are eating with better health in mind.
PG: What other aspects of soup are trending?
EE: Convenience continues to be a priority, so we are interested in more drinkable soups and the way vegetable purées can be both a garnish and an ingredient. Packaging has also become increasingly important. The more that third-party carry-out and delivery has entered the picture, the more we have to think about how the packaging has to serve the product — how it stores and reheats. We are also really excited by the opportunities in the shelf-stable soup category. And after 21 years of serving soup, we have a unique perspective on what the retail shelves need.
Kathy Hayden is a contributor to Progressive Grocer. She has been a writer, editor, media specialist and communications consultant for more than 25 years. Most of Kathy's work has been in the retail and foodservice food industry. She lives in Southern Maine.