Soup Through the Ages (The History Of Soup)

Soup is said to be as old as the history of cooking. The earliest soup dates back to 20,000 BC in Xianrendong Cave China where the ancient pottery showed signs of scorch marks which suggests that the pot must have been making hot soup.

It is thought that ancient soup makers simply dug a hole in the ground, lined it with animal skin, and used it to boil water using hot stones. This practice dates back to the Neanderthals who used to boil bones and render fats that would prevent protein poisoning. This cooking method resulted in a drinkable broth.

Why was Soup Cooked?

Cooking was the best thing that ever happened to the early man after the discovery of fire. The advancements in pottery allowed man to boil meat, grains, roots, and vegetables, instead of eating them using the roasting method.

Submerging the food in water held more importance. It allowed the food to cook faster and thoroughly. It also provided for better flavours in the soup since the food would release its juices and make the soup tastier. Starches made the soup thicker allowing the meal to be more satiating.

Cooking also opened possibilities of including ingredients that would otherwise be inconsumable owing to the bitterness or possibility of poisoning.

Soup in the Early Ages- 10th- 13th Century

In the early middle ages, soup continued to play an integral role in society.

When food was scarce, soup was made by dumping all sorts of ingredients in the pot and boiling the contents. The soup was filling and cheap, making it a convenient food item for both the rich and the poor. Since it was made from simple ingredients, it was easy to digest by both the sick and healthy.

Earliest Version of Soup

After the invention of waterproof containers, soup became much easier to make. It was not anything more than a watery gruel. It involved cereals that would be roasted and ground to form a paste. The paste would be boiled with additional water which was known as pottage, broth or porridge.

In other cultures, more vegetables and starchy foods like legumes, peas, beans, or pasta-like products would be added to the pot. This made the soup more filling and hospitable. You can still find this kind of soups in different cultures around the world.

Soups also progressed to involve meat and fish. The quality of the soup also improved with the advancement in agricultural practices, availability of durable cooking containers, quality of vegetables, and availability of seasoning herbs.

Fruits (fresh or dried) were also adapted in soups as they were seen to improve the flavour of the soup.

During these times, soup was primarily left to the poor partly because of fuel. Roasting was for the noble during the Renaissance as the classes were hugely divided. But because of the careful preparation of soup, it was not going anywhere as many of the old recipes have been passed on through generations to our dinner tables today.

After a few decades, soup evolved as the cookery became more diversified and artistic. This is as cooks realized that soup would become more extravagant. It was now prepared artfully and seasoned with a nice touch like we continue to see it today.

What Dictated the Contents of the Soup?

The middle ages was a period of discovery since more ingredients were added to the pot while others were removed to gain different flavours of the soup. Changing of the various ingredients depended on the importance of that particular food item. If a specific ingredient dictated the flavour of the soup, it would not be substituted or left out as it would alter the overall flavour of that soup.

Seasons also dictated what was in the soup. Meats, for example, would be dried, roasted, salted, smoked, and preserved for the winter. But it would be monotonous to eat soup with one main ingredient day after day. That’s why in summer, all that would change with the coming of cultivated grains and vegetables, wild plants in wide varieties, and fruits of all kinds were harvested in the summer.

Soup and the Evolution of Restaurants

The modern restaurant is based on soup. In the 16th century, the French began using the word restaurant to refer to the soup that was sold by vendors in the streets. This soup was advertised as “restoratif” meaning to restore. It was a typical dish sold to help restore energy or heal fatigue.

A Parisian Entrepreneur known as Boulanger invested in a shop that used to serve soup, restoratifs, and eggs. As such, the word restaurant became attached to a place where you could go to buy and eat ready food.

The first luxury restaurant was also opened in France in 1786. It paved the way for Gastronomic cooking styles. This went ahead to define soup from its region. Clear soups were referred to as consommes or bouillons while thick soups were classified as purees, veloutès, and bisques.

Bisques, in particular, were mainly made from shellfish or other seafood.

Soup in the 18th -19th Century

Every culture had its version of soup. From the French Onion to the Russian Borscht, Spanish Gazpacho, New England Chowder, Chinese Won Ton, Campbell’s tomato, Japanese miso, and Italian Minestrone, every soup had its unique flavour regarding its place of origin.

These soups reflected the pride of a specific region while some represented national heritage. They also speak about the foods available in a particular region, and that every nation has a soup they can call their own.

In the same period, specifically 1897, a chemist, Dr. John T. Dorrance invented Campbell’s Condensed soup when working at the same company. This discovery led to what we now call canned soup that is ready-to-eat. The volume of the soup is simply doubled by adding a can full of water or milk. This kind of soup comes at a lower price. It does not require any more cooking other than heating it in a pan.

Canned soup also makes an excellent base for most soups as you can recook it with additional ingredients like meat and vegetables.

Soup in the 20th Century

The invention of canned soup made it more portable. It was referred to as pocket soup which was popular with travelers. These soups also fed soldiers and cowboys while out in combat territory where transporting food was nearly impossible.

Dried Soup

With the technological advancements of the 20th century, soup with an array of variations was invented. Bouillon cubes were the first dried soups. They did not require any refrigeration but the soup resulted in a viscous liquid.

In 1958, Japan’s Nissin Foods developed dried ramen noodle soup. They used a nest of dried noodles and dried soup stock. These ingredients come together nicely where you just add boiling water and becomes standard delectable soup.

Dried noodle soups also include ramen which is marketed as convenient instant meals which also require hot soup.

In Europe, dried soups are in a variety including chicken base, vegetables, pasta, potato, and cheese flavours.

By the 1990s the canned soup industry had ballooned to include soups that did not need any more cooking or adding water as they came in non-condensed versions.

The invention of microwaves and microwaveable bowls has made soup eating convenient more so in workplaces.

As consumers complain about the added salt and lack of fibre, manufacturers are now making reduced-salt versions and high fibre soups to meet dietary restrictions.

Some of the most popular soups are Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Cream of Mushroom, and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup introduced in 1934.

Restorative Power of Soup

Soup is considered the ideal comfort food for common ailments. Chicken soup is popular for the common cold. It has been used during cold weather since the 13th century. The hot steam from chicken soup is believed to help clear sinuses, while the soup itself keeps you hydrated. Broth soups, on the other hand, are taken for upset tummies.


Here’s a short table on different types of soup and their Origin

Soup Origin Main Ingredients
Bouillabaisse France Fish, clams, and lobster
Brown Windsor Soup England Beef or lamb steak, bouquet garni, parsnips, carrots, leeks, and Madeira wine
Corn Chowder United States Corn, potatoes, bacon, and all-purpose flour, white cheddar, and heavy cream
French Onion Soup France Onion and beef broth topped with gruyere cheese and croutons
Cullen Skink Scotland Smoked haddock, onions, potatoes, and cream
Ezogelin Soup Turkey Red lentils, onion, bulgur, garlic, onion, salt, black and white pepper, and peppermint
Vichyssoise United States Creamy leek and potato soup served with chives
Tortilla Soup Mexico Fried corn tortilla pieces cooked in a broth of tomato
Tomato Bisque France Tomato soup and heavy cream
Seafood Chowder Ireland Mussels, salmon, scallops, and shrimp, cooked in a cream base



The soup industry has thrived from humble beginnings to become a billion-pound industry. All the way from being a bone broth in the Neanderthal age to the finest restaurant, homemade soups, and canned soups that grace modern cuisine.

Soup is probably the best warming food on the planet. Now you know how it was created.









Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *