Fresh soup is an acceptable middle class quick fix, right? But how do the big brand names compare to a budget alternative? Laura Rowe finds out.
You know it’s autumn when the salad spinner gets pushed to the back of the cupboard and the battle for the office microwave begins. But how do you choose which fresh soup to buy? Do you grab brand or budget? This time, I’ve looked at:
• essential Waitrose Tomato Soup (£1.60/600g)
• New Covent Garden Soup Co Plum Tomato and Basil Soup (£2.20/600g)
• Glorious Skinny Rustic Italian Tomato and Balsamic Soup (£1.99/600g)
How are they made?
Tomato soup in all its guises is a classic crowd pleaser; a food that can make us feel better when we’re poorly. And while 20 years ago we might have stuck with a processed can, nowadays there is a vast range of ‘fresh’ tomato soups available in the chiller section of all the top supermarkets that can rival even the best homemade broths.
Waitrose, unlike many of the major supermarkets, offers a budget essential Waitrose fresh soup, alongside its extensive premium range. Using a mix of chopped tomatoes (20%), tomato purée (for a “better depth of colour”), water, double cream, sugar, cornflour, rapeseed oil, salt and white pepper, the soup is made in large 1,000kg batches. All of the ingredients (except for the cream and flour) are added to the kettle and are heated and stirred until combined and the tomatoes begin to break down. The soup is then blended until smooth and then the double cream and cornflour are stirred in.
New Covent Garden Soup Co makes numerous tomato-based soups but I concentrated on the plum tomato and basil. It contains 43% whole plum tomatoes and 8% tomatoes as well as tomato paste “for extra flavour”, onions, olive oil, sugar, basil, salt, garlic, black pepper, oregano and rosemary. The firm’s aim is to “recreate a homemade soup feel” and it uses “the same methods as you would to make a soup at home but on a much larger scale using large vessels”.
Glorious, which is owned by parent company TSC Foods which also claims to offer “supermarket customers a wide and varied range of soups”, produces a Rustic Italian Tomato and Balsamic as part of its skinny range. This soup contains vegetable stock, whole roast tomatoes (11%), tomato paste (8%) and tomato (8%), potato, onion, single cream, sugar, carrot, celery, balsamic vinegar of Modena, parsley, salt, sundried tomato paste, basil, cornflour, garlic purée, rosemary, concentrated lemon juice, nutmeg and fennel. It says the soup is made like it would be in a restaurant – “in stages”, as “this delivers more depth of flavour”.
Yorkshire Provender changes its soups with the season, and has a tomato and red pepper soup with Wensleydale cheese and rosemary for the winter. It contains 21% whole fresh tomatoes and 21% crushed tomatoes (tomatoes, tomato juice and citric acid), Wensleydale cheese, tomato purée, olive pomace oil, vegetable stock, garlic, oregano, rosemary, paprika and chilli. This soup is made in small batches and the vegetables are hand-peeled, which Yorkshire Provender says “helps preserve the colour, flavour and texture of the ingredients”.
Interestingly, none of the soups contain any artificial additives or preservatives. Each of the soups, even the budget variety, creates its fresh product by pouring the soup hot into its pot or carton, then chilling quickly. They will then be on our supermarket shelves in as little as 24 hours after being made.
What else should we know?
Well, all four soups are also made and packed here in the UK (interestingly all in the North). The cheapest soup by Waitrose and the premium offering from Glorious are packed in a recyclable and microwavable polypropylene pot. Yorkshire Provender describes its current packaging as a plastic pot and paper label, which is microwavable, but says that it is currently “developing new packaging options for increased recyclability”. The New Covent Garden Soup Co bases all of its packaging on old-fashioned milk cartons, which it says “enhances our brand attributes of freshness. All of our packaging is cardboard to ensure it is easy to handle and is widely recycled”.
How do they taste?
But most importantly, how do they taste? Waitrose and New Covent Garden Soup Co are both sweet. The former, a bright orange, smooth and uncomplicated cream-of-tomato-style soup with a good, pure tomato-y flavour and 4.6g sugar per 100g; the latter a broth, with whole chunks of tomato and onion and a backnote of sweet, aniseedy basil, and 5.9g sugar per 100g.
The Glorious soup has a deep, dark tomato colour and a strong herby aroma and has added depth from the base of carrot, celery and onions. The vinegar, albeit subtle, gives a tang and balances the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Its sugar content is 4g per 100g.
The Yorkshire Provender soup was deliciously rich in both scent and flavour. Perfectly seasoned, a good mix of herbs, sweet and savoury, and it also had little chunks of the cheese, although I found them a little rubbery and not necessary. It’s sugar content was the lowest in the test at only 3.6g per 100g; however, its sodium content was double
New Covent Garden Soup Co (which has 0.14g/100g) at 0.29g per 100g. Waitrose had 0.19g/100g salt, while Glorious had 0.2g/100g.
So does the budget match up to the brands? Well, the Waitrose alternative certainly stands up as a good, simple cream of tomato soup but if you are after variety, you’ll have to stick with the brands. Which brand or supermarket alternative do you turn to for your lunchtime soup? Let us know in the comments box below.
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