In our hectic modern urban lives we’ve forgotten so many excellent traditional techniques for making highly nutritious and wonderfully delicious foods and so cheaply too. This knowledge was passed down over many generations and must once have seemed like such obvious common sense to those who held it and yet for the modern urbanite that knowledge has vanished in the mists of time to be replaced with TV dinners, microwavable chips and all the delights of fast food living.
The most fundamental of these traditions is the making of soup. Soup is surely the queen of foods. Wonderfully comforting and nourishing, soup is our balm, it fortifies the body, soothes sore throats, clears clogged airways, fights off colds, builds strong bones, and has even been rumoured to improve your love life! Its reputation as a health giving elixir is so well known that chicken soup is often called Jewish penicillin. The Chinese have been treating illnesses with soups for centuries. In the UK beef tea has an ancient reputation for healing and who could deny the Russians their borscht?
The foundation for all good soups is a good stock. Stock or broth is made by slowly simmering the bones, flesh and skins of animals or fish with vegetables like onions and carrots. Stocks are extremely nutritious; the slow simmering extracts the minerals of bone, marrow and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate.
Gelatine is an important constituent of stock. Gelatine is highly digestible; it contains amino acids like arginine and glycine and can increase the amino acid composition of other protein sources, like meat or eggs. It is beneficial for muscle growth and metabolism, for building and maintaining cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue, as well as promoting healthy skin and hair. Beyond its nutritional value, gelatine acts as a unique digestive aid. When added to a meal, gelatine rapidly absorbs digestive juices promoting even digestion of the stomach content and preventing a build up of too much acid.
Of course stock itself has been used as a broth for the very ill for centuries. It’s nutritious and easy to digest and ensures that the invalid has plenty of fluids and minerals without adding any unnecessary strain on the system that digesting heavier foods might cause. There are many recipes for healing soups around the world but two of my favourites are chicken soup and tomato soup.
Chicken soup is a favourite healing soup all over the world. It has often been called Jewish penicillin and scientists have spent time and money examining the actions of chicken soup on colds and flu. It’s no surprise that they’ve found evidence of the way chicken soup combats the symptoms of a cold. Dr Stephen Rennard, a US pulmonary specialist, tested various chicken soups, from a traditional, home made soup, to a number of commercial varieties, in the laboratory. He found that the soups had anti-inflammatory properties that helped sore throats and helped stop the movement of neutrophils (white blood cells that encourage the flow of mucus that accumulates in the lungs and nose). So grandmother was right all along!
Our family favourite for colds was tomato soup. Of course it helps to come from a tomato growing region – Guernsey tomatos are the best in the world. Made with a base of chicken stock, mother added tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil or oregano, all home grown. The soup was rich, thick and savoury. It’s still one of my favourite soups today. And what a glorious soup it is too. A wonderful sight as it comes to the table with a sprinkling of fresh oregano over the top, looking like chips of emerald against the ruby colour of the tomatoes. Truly, it’s a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth.
Not just a pretty face
Around the world there are so many recipes for healing soups, they may not have been subjected to scientific scrutiny the way chicken soup has but they have long traditions as healing foods. Lentil soups, pea and ham soups, coconut and fish soups, curried soups, onion soup, miso soup, the list is endless. You only have to look at the ingredients in soups to find out why they work. Let’s take tomato soup as an example. We’ve already discussed the health giving properties of the stock so lets look at the other ingredients.
The tomatoes in my mother’s soup are full of lycopene and vitamin C, both are antioxidants. Onions and garlic are very common ingredients in soup and are well known for their anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects. Onions contain quercetin, a formidable antioxidant with wide-ranging activity. Studies show that quercetin is anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial. Garlic is very active against bacteria, so active that the blood of garlic eaters can kill bacteria. It helps lower blood pressure, prevent blood clots, reduce atherosclerotic buildup, is active against yeasts, prevents cancer, removes heavy metals such as lead and mercury from the body, has anti-oxidant properties and is a source of selenium. The primary ingredients in Oregano, thymol and carvacrol (which are also found in thyme), help loosen phlegm in the lungs and relieve spasms in the bronchial passages. Many commercial cough remedies, including cough drops and skin rubs such as Vicks VapoRub, contain thymol.
No wonder it did us good!
Soups are not just delicious. They are comforting and warming in the winter and cooling and refreshing in the summer. They are a thing of beauty to behold and a joy to the taste buds, and they are also good for you. Concentrated nutrition in a bowl, what more could you want?