But at most meals, we prefer a lively, flavor-rich soup situation. The solution to bland soup is simple: spices, herbs, and seasonings. We caught up with Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston who shared some of the best dietitian-approved spices for chicken soup loaded with anti-inflammatory perks to season (ha!) the day.
3 dietitian-recommended anti-inflammatory spices for chicken soup
According to Manaker, one of the easiest ways to add a beautiful golden hue, anti-inflammatory benefits, and a whole lot of flavor is by adding a pinch (or two) of turmeric to your chicken soup stock. “It contains curcumin, a compound with potent anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the body,” Manaker says. Keep in mind that turmeric goes better together when combined with black pepper—and not just from a flavor perspective. In fact, research shows that pairing turmeric with black pepper can help increase the bioavailability of circumin by a whopping 2,000 percent.
The benefits of ginger are two-fold: it adds delicious flavor to a simple chicken soup recipe, plus it’s a digestion savior. “Ginger is best known for its ability to alleviate gastrointestinal distress and possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that can soothe a sore throat or an upset stomach,” Manaker says. In other words, ginger and chicken soup are essentially a match made in heaven, especially when it comes to making the perfect chicken soup for colds.
Looking to add a bit of earthiness and anti-inflammatory benefits to your chicken soup—or any easy soup recipe for that matter—try a pinch of cinnamon. “Aside from its warming flavor, cinnamon is rich in antioxidants that fight inflammation,” Manaker says.
Pro tip: You can doctor up just about any store-bought soup with these spices too. “Try stirring these spices into store-bought soup—start with a small amount like a quarter teaspoon, taste, and add more as needed. Heating the soup will activate the spices’ flavors and properties, transforming a simple meal into a healthful experience,” Manaker says.
What can I add to my chicken soup to give it flavor?
Aside from turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon that have tons of anti-inflammatory properties, there are three herbs Manaker also recommends to help season bland soup: basil, thyme, and parsley. “Each herb not only contributes its distinct taste profile but also offers health benefits, ranging from antibacterial properties to vitamins and minerals that support overall well-being,” Manaker says.
“Each herb not only contributes its distinct taste profile but also offers health benefits, ranging from antibacterial properties to vitamins and minerals that support overall well-being.”
—Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT
When cooking, the dietitian adds basil for a hint of sweet, peppery flavor (it’s especially good in tomato-based soups). Thyme has earthy tones that compliments chicken and vegetables soups beautifully, Manaker says. And she recommends parsley for just about any type of soup thanks to its bright and fresh flavor. “Start by stirring in a teaspoon of fresh herbs or a smaller amount if using dried, then adjust according to your taste. Remember to add more delicate herbs like basil and parsley towards the end of cooking to preserve their flavors.”
Manaker explains that using spices and herbs as flavorful seasonings for chicken broth, helps folks rely less on added salt that can creep up the sodium levels. “Flavor enhancements don’t have to come from salt alone; try squeezing in lemon juice or a dash of vinegar to add complexity, or any of these delicious herbs and spices,” she says. “When crafting a nutritious soup, it’s important to be mindful of sodium levels, as excess sodium in the diet can lead to health concerns like hypertension,” Manaker explains. “Many store-bought stocks and broths are high in sodium, so opt for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties as a base for your soup whenever possible.”
How to deepen chicken soup flavor
It’s simple: The Maillard reaction, aka the flavorful caramelization of foods. As such, for even more drool-worthy umami, Manaker recommends roasting vegetables before adding them into the soup, which can help deepen the flavor profile without relying on added salt. “Also, don’t forget about the power of garnishes—topping your soup with freshly chopped herbs, yogurt, or avocado can introduce new flavors and textures, enriching the meal without elevating the sodium content,” Manaker says.
Manaker’s ‘cheat sheet’ for making the perfect chicken soup
When building a soup, consider the following Manaker’s “cheat sheet” to ensure balance and nutrition:
- Protein: Aim for at least five grams of protein per serving, by including lean proteins like chicken, turkey, beans, lentils, or tofu. Adding a milk with protein, like dairy milk or oat milk with added protein, can also help boost the protein levels too. Finally, using bone broth as a base can increase the protein content.
- Veggies: Half your soup should consist of a variety of vegetables to maximize nutrients and flavors. Remember: Puréed veggies count, and is a great trick for how to thicken soups.
- Fiber: Including ingredients like beans, lentils, peas, or whole grains can contribute to a fiber-rich meal. Aiming for at least three grams of fiber per serving is the goal. (But more is better!)
- Healthy fats: Incorporate a moderate amount of fats from sources like olive oil or avocado for satiety and nutrient absorption.
- Seasonings: Use herbs, spices, citrus juice, and vinegar to flavor the soup instead of relying on high-sodium options.
- Broth: Choose low-sodium or homemade broths as the base to control salt intake.
- Garnishes: Opt for nutrient-rich toppings such as a dollop of Greek yogurt, seeds, or a handful of fresh herbs to enhance texture and nutritional value.
Help boost your immunity with this smoky carrot soup:
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- Hewlings, Susan J, and Douglas S Kalman. “Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health.” Foods (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 6,10 92. 22 Oct. 2017, doi:10.3390/foods6100092