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canned chicken noodle soup | Taste Kitchen

Even Wolfgang Puck can't get the taste perfect

January 23, 2008

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How many Jewish grandmothers does it take to dismiss canned chicken soup? Probably only one. But we had five, and one grandfather. These mavens tasted seven brands of ready-to-heat chicken noodle soup (no added water) and decided they all left a lot to be desired. It's not that they don't buy soup in cans, it is just that they never buy canned chicken soup. "Who makes better chicken soup than I do?" one asked. Only the others, it turns out.

Many sighs and many choruses of "oy vey" could be heard during the tasting. Before it even started, one announced, "They are all going to taste the same, there is just so much you can do with a chicken once you kill it."

Then came the questions. "Is there MSG in these soups? I can't have any," declared one bubbe. "I can't have any garlic," said another.

In fact, many companies make soup with garlic; five of these brands contained garlic powder.

The women shushed each other and finally got down to business, sipping soup and reminiscing. One octogenarian recalled carrying a live chicken in a brown paper bag to the kosher butcher every Friday before the Sabbath dinner when she was a child. It was also her job to pluck the feathers when she returned home.

As for a winner, "they all stink," said one reluctant taster. Bouquets to Wolfgang Puck. The celebrated Austrian-born TV chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author got three best votes for his brand. Picking a loser was less difficult. Whole Foods Market's 365 organic brand, said the tasters, was lackluster in every way. Campbell's had watery looking broth with a few globules of fat on top.

Besides garlic powder, most of these soups contain cornstarch and chicken fat, (fat gives flavor and the content - mostly 3 percent - was negligible).

"Hey, we do have a winner," one person pointed out, as he was reviewing the labels. "In the salt category." Stop & Shop brand contains a mega dose: a 1-cup serving has 44 percent of the recommended daily allowance of sodium. For comparison, Healthy Choice has 20 percent.

If you don't want salt, MSG, or garlic in your soup, get a chicken and set the pot to boil. - DEBRA SAMUELS

Healthy Choice Old Fashioned
Chicken Noodle Soup
$2 for 15-ounce can

Very few salty comments, but the taste was overwhelming: "Very strong taste, too much seasoning!" "Too much onion. Too much garlic, and the noodles are too large. Definitely not chicken soup. Stinks." (The first ingredient listed is chicken broth and the second chicken breast.) "Not great, passable." Finally: "Slight off taste - medium salty and light color."

Healthy Choice Old Fashioned
Chicken Noodle Soup
$2 for 15-ounce can

Very few salty comments, but the taste was overwhelming: "Very strong taste, too much seasoning!" "Too much onion. Too much garlic, and the noodles are too large. Definitely not chicken soup. Stinks." (The first ingredient listed is chicken broth and the second chicken breast.) "Not great, passable." Finally: "Slight off taste - medium salty and light color."

Progresso Soup
Traditional Chicken Noodle
$2.39 for 19-ounce can

Vying for highest in the salt category (40 percent for the RDA); most comments reflected this: "Too much salt." "Salty, metallic flavor and color." One taster voted it best; here's what she wrote: "Maybe real chicken, awful carrots." One worst vote. Someone spotted green flakes floating in the soup. "What is it? I think it's parsley."

Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup
$2 for 15-ounce container

Campbell's, the granddaddy of canned soups, was immediately identified by two tasters, who also chose it as their favorite. "Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup? Tastes great but not homemade." "Looks good, tastes very good," said another. The yellowish color (from beta carotene) gave some a sense that this was more like the chicken soup they knew. "Starting to look like chicken soup, but doesn't taste like chicken soup. Too thick." However the salt factor loomed large (it contains 36 percent of the RDA). "Much too salty."

Muir Glen Organic
Chicken Noodle Soup
$3.49 for 18.8-ounce can

One person chose this as a favorite: "Less salty, mild chicken flavor, and medium chicken color." (For the record, it contains 39 percent of the RDA, which is more than Campbell’s.) Another said: "Looks good, very little smell, a bit salty but the taste is OK." "Smells great. Very light looking. I prefer this color - looks like Campbell’s soup." One person found it dreadful: "Too thick, too salty, too much cornstarch, and too awful." Finally, "Not enough seasoning."

Stop & Shop Select
Premium Ready to Serve
Soup Chicken Noodle
$2.00 for 18.6-ounce can

First a little praise (very little): "Not bad." No garlic to complain about, but plenty of salt: "Some thickening can be noticed, a little salty." "Too salty." "I don't like the size of the noodles." "Off chicken flavor. Medium color." "Definitely not Jewish chicken soup: noodles too thick, too salty, too awful."

WINNER
Wolfgang Puck Organic
Chicken with Egg Noodles
$2.50 for
14.5-ounce can

Whew. Finally a boy you can bring home to your mother - or grandmother - and he cooks no less. Wolfgang Puck garnered three favorite votes. The aroma did it. "Looks good. Smells good. Tastes good." "Very tasty, strong odor smells good." "Delish!! Excellent!" "Looks very appetizing, smells delicious." But it wasn't all kudos: "Salty, strong chicken flavor. Dark color."