The Secret to Making Canned Soup Taste Delicious

Campbell's Condensed Soup Can

Campbell’s soup can | iStock.com/VelhoJunior

I’ve had the same can of Progresso tomato soup sitting in my pantry for months now. I picked it up when the weather started to get cool, knowing that everyone needs a good can of soup on hand for those days when only a grilled cheese and soup will do. The thing is, I can’t bring myself to make it.

I grew up on Campbell’s and Progresso like everyone else, but often the last thing I want to eat is something canned — even if it’s the only thing I have the time or energy to make. Still, those cans can be lifesavers (or at least meal savers) in many situations. Adding a few fresh ingredients is all you need to make it a complete, delicious meal. Plus, those cans are relatively cheap, meaning you’re saving yourself time and money. All you need is a little creativity, and some basic pantry staples.

1. Add some protein

barbecued chicken with vegetables

Rotisserie chicken | iStock.com/tab1962

Canned chicken or beef is never ideal, but it’s passable in soup. All you need to do to bulk it up a bit is toss in any leftover meat in your refrigerator. Adding your own bacon will amp up the flavor way more than those bacon bits already in it. This is also an ideal way to use up your leftovers. It’ll work whether you’re adding protein to a vegetable soup or one that already has a few bites of meat in it.

Perhaps the simplest, most flavorful addition is cubed or shredded rotisserie chicken, which Today suggests adding to a vegetable or bean soup. All you need to do is add it as the soup warms, then let it heat through.

If you’d prefer your protein come in another form, consider adding a fried egg on top of canned tomato soup. Bon Appétit says this option, along with some sautéed peppers and onions with Sriracha, is a great way to completely transform a previously ho-hum bowl.

2. Stir in cream or milk

pouring milk splash

Pouring cream I iStock.com/pavlinec

You might want to start with adding cream to soups that are already thick, like tomato ones or chowders. Some of those already have a creamy texture, but Spoon University promises the fresh addition will liven up the flavors of the shelf-stable version.

Is cream your diet enemy? Perhaps in every other case, but not when it comes to soups, the blogger at nosh and tell contends. “I know cream is a scary word. It means calories and fat and obesity and high cholesterol and diabetes. Stop thinking all that! The truth is that you will probably add about a tenth of the amount of cream that most restaurants do,” the blogger writes. She suggests adding 1 tablespoon of cream to any can of soup as it cooks, transforming the flavors into something totally delcious.

3. Throw in some extra vegetables

Salad Greens

Leafy greens | iStock.com/KAdams66

By nature, the vegetables in those cans of soup are all the same texture and start to take on the same flavors, too. Add some much-needed texture (and nutrients!) by throwing in fresh produce. Peas, carrots, celery, and broccoli make great additions. Plus, Spoon University notes even frozen vegetables can do the trick in a pinch.

This is another prime opportunity to use up any leftovers lingering in your refrigerator. Today suggests tossing some leftover corn into chicken soup, then ladling it over tortilla chips and adding avocado on top. Add a dash of hot sauce or some pickled jalapeño slices, and you’ve got a soup that’s full of southwestern flavor.

Hands down, the easiest way to add nutrients to literally any soup is by tossing in a handful or two of leafy greens. Throw in some spinach a minute or two before the soup is finished, and it will wilt just enough. Kale is a bit heartier, and can be added for during the last 5 to 10 minutes without losing all of its crunch.

4. Grate some cheese

Various types of cheese

Various types of cheese | iStock.com/Azure-Dragon

Cheese makes everything better, including that bowl of soup. Almost any stew or broth gets better with a sprinkling of Parmesan over top, but your efforts don’t have to stop there. Spoon University suggests adding pepper jack to chicken noodle soup for some creaminess and a punch of flavor.

Feta, with its creamy texture and tanginess is a perfect addition to tomato soup. Sharp cheddar works in almost any instance, and melted Gruyère works great with French onion variations.

5. Toss in extra seasonings

lemon on steel lemon juicer

Lemon juice will brighten any bowl of soup | iStock.com/gzorgz

It’s safe to say your can of soup likely has plenty of sodium, but you can change the flavors with some added herbs, spices, and other flavorings. During a prolonged period of battling a cold, one blogger found adding extra oregano, thyme, basil, and pepper did wonders for the flavor of chicken noodle soup. The same goes for adding sautéed shallots or garlic.

Prepared condiments are also an excellent addition. Pesto mixed with vegetable soup adds depth of flavor, as can a bit of curry paste mixed with tomato soup and shrimp.

Perhaps the best anecdote to bland soup, however, is adding a touch of acidity. The Nest suggests adding a spoonful or two of lemon juice to any soup, or a dash of vinegar if you don’t have citrus on hand. Balsamic vinegar is a particularly nice touch.

6. Add toppings

Soup made of baked cherry tomatoes

Soup with sour cream and croutons | iStock.com/kawizen

A drizzle of specialty olive oil or sprinkle of cheese and seasonings will not only add flavor, but also a touch of elegance to an otherwise ordinary can of soup. Chopping up scallions or bacon will also immediately elevate the meal.

If you’re looking to add additional freshness, try topping the soup with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, The Nest recommends. This will simultaneously add creaminess and brightness to each spoonful.

Alternatively, add a crispy element like tortilla chips, Parmesan crisps, or croutons. If you don’t have a bag of croutons on hand already, all you have to do is rub some bread cubes with raw garlic, top with cheese if desired, and broil until crispy. You’ll have delicious soup on the table in no time.