Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why You Should Eat Soup!

There's just something supremely comforting about a big bowl of hot soup on a cold day. All the wonderful aromas that fill the house as it is simmering on the back of the stove make preparing soup from scratch worth the effort. Soup is really not that much effort. It is one of the easiest meals to prepare. What I like about it is that it is extremely adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand, it can be very economical, and it can easily frozen for future meals.

"Good broth will resurrect the dead." ~South American proverb

Soup seems like such a humble, simple food but it actually has significant health benefits. The key ingredient for these health benefits come from stock. Stock is made by simmering bones and meat in water, along with various other ingredients. Due to modern meat processing techniques that offer boneless chicken breasts and individual fillets of fish, there has been a decline in using bones to make stock. Many people use canned broths or bouillion cubes, which are high in sodium and MSG (monosodium glutamate), a flavor-enhancing chemical that is toxic to the body. Studies have shown that MSG is a neurotoxin that can cause a wide range of reactions, from headaches to permanent brain damage.

Meat and fish stocks are used almost universally in other traditional cuisines, but have almost completely disappeared from the American kitchen. This is a shame because as every chef knows, it is stock that makes soup taste so good. Rich stocks and broths form the base of delicious soups and sauces. Most chefs use stock as their magic ingredient in making wonderful tasting dishes.

When stock is homemade, it is extremely nutritious because it contains the minerals from the bone and cartilage in a form that is easy to assimilate. But the most important health benefits come from the gelatin the stock contains. Gelatin is very unique because it supplies hydrophilic, or water-loving, colloids to the diet. These water-loving colloids attract liquids. This means that they attract digestive juices for rapid and efficient digestion. Raw foods, or foods that are unheated, also contain hydrophilic colloids, which makes them easy to digest. When foods are heated in cooking, they become hydrophobic, or water-repelling. This means that cooked foods repel digestive juices. This is why cooked foods can be harder to digest. However, because gelatin attracts liquids even after it has been cooked, it aids in digestion by attracting digestive juices to the surface of cooked foods, making them digest easily. That is why gelatin-rich soups are so soothing to the digestive system and are so nourishing. That is another reason why your grandmother was right when she told you to eat her homemade chicken soup when you got sick. Just a small amount of gelatin-rich stock added to your cooked meals, whether as a soup, sauce, or used to cook grains, will help facilitate easy and efficient digestion.

Gelatin-rich stocks have been used therapeutically in the treatment of digestive and intestinal disorders, such as hyper-acidity, indigestion, colitis, and Crohn's disease. Gelatin has been used for anemia, ulcers, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, and even cancer. Modern research has confirmed that stock helps prevent infectious diseases. The soluble components of cartilage and collagen in stock are beneficial to those with rheumatoid arthritis and other joint problems. Rather than buying expensive glucosamine or chondroitin for our joints, it would be better to eat soups make with stock regularly and get the mineral and cartilage elements we need from our diet.

I recently had a client who had gone through gallbladder surgery a few weeks prior to seeing me. Due to the side effects of modern medicine, she could not keep down any food or water without vomiting. The doctors didn't know what else to do for her situation at this point, and she was getting desperate! On the verge of dehydration, I recommended a strict diet of only chicken broth along with some supplements. Starting with only a sip at a time, she sipped the broth and her body was able to keep this liquid down when nothing else worked. She was able to gradually drink more stock and finally eat soup as the broth rapidly restored her health. If it wasn't for this therapeutic use of the chicken stock, she could have gotten dangerously dehydrated and malnourished.

For much more technical information on the health benefits of stock, see the article, Traditional Bone Broth in Modern Health and Disease from the Feb/March 2005 Townsend Letter.

A wise cook will use gelatin-rich stock on a frequent basis to provide protection from many health problems. While stock is usually used to make soups, it can also be used in sauces or used instead of water to cook grains or beans.

"Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine your food." ~Hippocrates

~How to make Chicken Stock~

I like to slow roast a chicken in a crock-pot or in a covered pot in a 225 degree oven for 8-10 hours with lots of garlic, half a lemon, and a handful of parsley inside the cavity. Our family will enjoy the meat for a few meals and then I will use the carcass to make the stock. You can also use raw chicken to make stock.

  • 6-8 lbs. chicken parts (bones and some meat attached)
  • 2 medium onions, halved
  • 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 1 leek, cut into large pieces and rinsed well (optional)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 8-10 peppercorns (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Place all ingredients in a large pot or stockpot and add enough cold filtered water to cover everything in the pot by about 1-2 inches. Place it over medium high heat and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer, skimming off any foamy scum that appears on top of the broth with a slotted spoon or strainer. Let the broth simmer for 4-12 hours.

Remove from heat and strain the stock. Let cool a bit and pour into storage containers. If stored in the refrigerator, it will keep 4-5 days. It can then be stored another 4-5 days if it is brought to a boil for 10 minutes and then refrigerated. After it has chilled, the fat will congeal on the top of the stock. This should be scooped off and discarded before using the stock. Properly made stock should congeal like Jello after it has chilled.

Stock can also be frozen. Put it into containers but leave plenty of room at the top of the container because the stock expands as it freezes. Label and date the containers and freeze. When frozen, it will keep for many months.

Note: This basic recipe can also be used to make turkey, beef, venison, or fish stock.

Here are some of my favorite cookbooks on soups:

What is your favorite soup recipe or soup cookbook? Please feel free to comment below.

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