Taste Test: Pre-Made Chicken Noodle Soup

After sampling 18 versions, we found a true favorite

What comes to mind when you hear the words "chicken noodle soup"? How about "mom's"? But getting mothers to make soup doesn't always come so easily. That's where the can or cup-o-noodles comes in.

We purchased 18 different chicken noodles soups-both canned and dried-in major supermarkets. The soups included those marketed as traditional/old-fashioned, low-fat, and lower-sodium. Our goal: to discover for once and for all if any packaged chicken noodle soups can pass for homemade.

Methodology: In a blind taste test, six judges compared the flavor, consistency (of the chicken, noodles, and veggies), and appearance of the chicken noodle soups one at a time (all soups were heated according to directions on packaging). We then ranked them according to the standard Epicurious four-fork rating system. One Epi Top Pick emerged from the group, getting a three-fork rating (meaning, it qualified as "delicious.") Four others merited distinction in their specific subcategories.

Best Overall Chicken Noodle Soup

Epi Top Pick: Progresso Traditional 99% Fat Free Chicken Noodle Soup ($3.39 per 19 oz. can)

Pros: This was the unanimous winner, beating several full-fat, organic, and higher-priced varieties. Aside from being marketed as a 99-percent fat-free option (it has 90 calories and 2 grams of fat per serving), this soup was "the most familiar and homey-like mom's soup made from scratch," according to one taster. We enjoyed the big, firm pieces of carrots and celery, toothsome curly noodles, and large chicken chunks. "Tastes like real veggies and chicken!" said another tester.

Cons: Consistency of broth is somewhat viscous.

Best Traditional Chicken Noodle Soup

Seven of the soups adhered to our definition of "traditional." That means they were liquid (not dry powder) and not specifically marketed as healthy.

Winner: Progresso Traditional Chicken Noodle Soup ($3.39 per 19 oz. can)

Pros: "Chicken cubes are consistent in size and color, and not dark and reddish like some of the others," observed one judge. Another noticed, and liked, the inviting chicken noodle soup aroma and rich herb-filled broth.

Cons: Lacked the number of veggies found in Progresso's healthier option.

Best Healthy Chicken Noodle Soup (Runner Up)

Seven of the soups that we tried were marketed as low-fat/low-sodium, or 99-percent fat-free. Obviously, Progresso Traditional 99 % Fat Free Chicken Noodle Soup was the winner of this category, but our runner up was pretty darn yummy.

Runner-up: Healthy Choice Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup (Made with Only White Meat) ($3.19 per 15 oz. can)

Pros:"Broth tastes creamy and is not overly salty like some of the others," stated one taster. "The noodles have a nice firm texture, and the soup has a pleasant aftertaste," said another.

Cons: Not much chicken. More of a veggie noodle soup.

Best Powder-Based (Dry) Chicken Noodle Soup

Four of the soups that we sampled came dried and required the addition of boiling water. While none was outstanding, our editors found two worth making in a pinch.

Winner #1: Nissin Cup Noodles Chicken Flavor (59 cents per 2.25 oz. cup)

Pros: This was the least expensive soup of the bunch. All six judges swooned at the sight of corn kernels floating in the broth among the noodles. "I like it because it's slightly sweet and full of veggie seasoning," commented a taster.

Cons: Demands a fork to deal with the long, unwieldy noodles. Ingredient list gives chicken powder and chicken fat, but no actual chicken pieces.

Winner #2: Lipton Soup Secrets Chicken Noodle ($2.19 for box with 2 pouches)

Pros: "The buttery noodles and foamy broth really distinguish this soup from its competitors," commented one taster. Another insisted that it doesn't have the fake smell found in other dried soups.

Cons: The thin, watery broth and sparse portion of veggies make this more of a warm afternoon snack than a meal.

By Carolina Santos-Neves


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