Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

10 Soup Upgrades Even timeless soups can benefit from forward-thinking upgrades

This “Magical” Cheese Soup from Hearthstone Bistro Bar & Grill in Muskegon, Mich., is garnished with cheese popcorn.

Generic tomato soup and clam chowder will probably never go away, but creative innovation can help elevate soups to signature. Here are 10 upgrades, from creative garnishes to edgy, global mash-ups, that could give chicken noodle a run for your profits.

1. The Global Edge

The ascendance of sophisticated global mash-up restaurants has helped fuel the development of inventive interpretations of soup, pulling in global ingredients and traditions in eclectic, delicious presentations.

  • Start with an iconic global ingredient, like garam masala or chorizo, then build a soup around it.
  • Consider building a soup-of-the-day program or other rotation around different world cuisines.

SriraCha-Cha Carrot Soup
—Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes, multiple locations

Local Rice Congee with duck confit, preserved cherries and arugula
—Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen, Santa Monica, Calif.

2. Thick & Luscious

Go ahead: Soup is classic comfort food, so go all out with creamy, luxurious texture in a puréed soup, velouté or bisque.

  • Use on-trend Greek yogurt to bring creamy texture and a slight tang to thick soups.
  • Almost any vegetable soup can be partially puréed to create a more luxurious experience that still has varied texture.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup: Imagine the perfect grilled cheese sandwich next to a bowl of classic tomato soup, puréed together for the ultimate comfort soup.
—Kamasouptra, Portland, Maine

Butternut Shrimp Bisque
—Brigtsen’s, New Orleans

3. Cauliflower Flourishes

With cauliflower enjoying the spotlight recently held by kale and Brussels sprouts, it makes sense to upgrade the cauliflower soup experience.

  • Though cauliflower makes an excellent base for vegan and vegetarian soups, you can always add bacon, cheese or frizzled prosciutto for extra oomph.
  • Combine roasted cauliflower with such complementary vegetables as carrots, parsnips or broccoli florets for more interest.

Cauliflower Soup with Espelette and herbs
—Oola, San Francisco

Cauliflower Soup with Madras curry pumpkin seeds, roasted cauliflower
—Bistro 222, Salt Lake City

4. Forecast Calls for Drizzles

Liquid garnishes added at the time of service lend delicious depth of flavor and can be swirled in by the customer or just dabbed in, spoonful by spoonful.

  • Drizzle a squiggle of pesto, aïoli, puréed herbs or vegetables, or another colorful liquid across the top of a soup for visual effect.
  • Present a soup with a cruet or shaker of flavored oil, or sherry or brandy for customers to add to their taste.

Summer Squash Soup with Yukon gold potatoes, strawberries, 16-year-old balsamic
—Hearthstone Restaurant, Breckenridge, Colo.

French Roasted Beet Leek Soup with tarragon crème fraîche
—Lemon Mediterranean Restaurant, Freehold, N.J.

5. Bring on the Char

Charring brings deep, nutty flavor and back-story interest to ingredients, especially fruits and vegetables; use that fact to punch up the appeal of veg-centric soups.

  • The same charred vegetables used for a side dish (such as charred broccoli or green beans) can be incorporated into soup.
  • Create a signature minestrone by charring all the vegetables, before or after cutting them, including zucchini, carrots, eggplant, tomatoes and more.

Charred Red Onion Soup
—Rue Dumaine, Dayton, Ohio

Charred Tomato Soup with grilled cheese crouton
—King + Duke, Atlanta

6. Soup as Snack

Who’s to say soup can’t be a snack? Unique plating, shareable concepts and other small-format presentations turn soup into a fun bar bite.

  • Offer a pairing of mini soups and breads as an extension of a charcuterie plate.
  • Serve soup in a teacup or shot glass to make it easier to eat as a snack.

Trio of Soups: Demitasse tasting of three soups (smoked chicken and andouille sausage gumbo; roasted sweet corn and blue crab soup; classic turtle soup)
—Acadiana, Washington, D.C.

Cauliflower Soup Shooters, truffled pimenta’ grilled cheese
—Willi’s Wine Bar, Santa Rosa, Calif.

7. Viva la Sopa

Mexican-style soups are trending now, thanks to the growing appeal of regional Mexican menu concepts—and the proven success of tortilla soup. Plus, you can’t beat the layered, rich flavors.

  • Translate the meatball trend through albondigas soup, a traditional Mexican rice-filled meatball soup that’s also chock full of vegetables, cilantro, cumin and oregano.
  • Experiment with gazpacho variations, including tomatillo, roasted red pepper, and even green grape and cucumber.

Pozole Verde: Chicken and hominy soup, Sinaloa style, with jalapeño chile, tomatillo and spices, topped with radish, lettuce, onion and oregano
—Colibri Mexican Bistro, San Francisco

Chile Atole Soup: Mexico City-style corn soup, roasted poblano, epazote, crispy corn masa croutons, chile piquin, lime
—Maya, New York

8. Check Your Pulses

Nutrient-rich beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils are trending, and perfect for hearty soups, especially meatless ones.

  • Bean- and pulse-based soups are popular the world over, from all-American Senate bean soup (made with navy beans) to Indian red lentil soup.
  • Showcase heirloom beans such as Jacob’s Ladder and Mayocoba beans in signature soup recipes.

Green Chickpea Fagioli, cannellini bean, tomato broth, ditalini
—Crossroads, Los Angeles

Mulligatawny: Shredded chicken, mulligatawny, peppercorn and red chile
—Coriander, Larchmont and White Plains, N.Y.

9. Alt-Milk Soups

Not just for the dairy-free set, soups made creamy with ingredients like coconut milk, nut milks like almond or cashew, or other alternate milk bases like soy or rice, also confer flavor and trend cues.

  • Substitute soy milk in traditional recipes like cream of tomato or mushroom soup.
  • Experiment with traditional Thai soups that showcase coconut milk, such as tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup).

Sweet Potato Curry Soup: Roasted sweet potatoes, lemongrass coconut cream, pickled Fresno, cilantro
—Telegraph, Denver

Potato and Almond Milk Soup with raisins and pumpkin seeds
—Noe Restaurant and Bar, Houston and San Francisco

10. What’s On Top Counts

Interesting garnishes, swirls, toppings and other soup finishes add flavor, texture and value, and can set even the most traditional soup apart.

  • Flavored croutons of all sorts add texture and eye appeal.
  • Serve specialty soups with a tray of different complementary garnishes (fresh herbs, chopped tomatoes, grated cheese, toasted nuts/seeds, etc.) so that guests can customize.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup: Creamy chicken soup with mixed vegetables, garnished with crumbled pie crust
—Zoup!, multiple locations

Roasted Corn Bisque with spicy popcorn, bacon lardon, sweet red pepper emulsion
—American Bounty Restaurant, Hyde Park, N.Y.


About The Author

Joan Lang

A freelance writer and editor living in the Portland, Maine, area, Joan Lang has been writing about food for more than 30 years, beginning her career in the financial and B2B press. She formed her own food and editorial consulting firm, Full Plate Communications, in 1989. She is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and holds degrees in architecture and journalism.