Stew vs. Soup: When Does One Become the Other?

Published

3.18.22

By

Coline R.

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Stew and soup are both warm, soothing, and delicious foods that are perfect for the colder months of the year. While their names are often used interchangeably, soup and stew aren’t the same thing.

What Counts as Soup?

By definition, soup is any cooked food that primarily contains a liquid base—so, no, cereal isn’t a soup. This base can be made from any of the following:


  • Broth. Made by simmering meat, vegetables, herbs, and spices in boiling water, broth is one of the most common base ingredients for soup. It’s highly nutritious, so some people even drink broth on its own, especially when sick.


  • Stock. Stock is made by boiling down bones. Exposing bones to high heat can break down the cartilage and protein in them, which can thicken the water and make it more flavorful. You can make stock with the bones of fish, cows, chickens, or just about any other animal.


  • Purée. Puréed food is made by crushing ingredients and extracting their liquids. A purée is thicker than juice, but not by much! In addition, like juice, purées are typically made from fruit and veggies. While most puréed soup is served hot, some – particularly bisque and gazpacho – can be enjoyed cold.


  • Creamy liquids. Rich, thick, creamy soups are often made by adding liquids to solid foods and mixing them thoroughly. These soups are often the most filling, and they’re typically made with ingredients like cheese, potatoes, and mushrooms.


Is Chili Soup? Is It Stew?

Another often-debated question is whether chili is soup, stew, or something else. Pro-soup contenders will argue that chili counts as soup because of its liquid base. Those in the stew camp will label chili as such because of its thickness and the number of solid foods used to make it.


The majority of pro chefs consider chili to be its own category entirely. This southwestern dish, native to Mexico and parts of Texas, has been enjoyed since long before the turn of the 20th century. Many people native to the area where chili originated consider the dish to be its own food group.


What About Stew?

Stew, in contrast to soup, is normally the thicker of the two dishes. In addition, stew normally takes longer to cook, especially since it traditionally contains more solid ingredients. These ingredients – often meat, vegetables, and grains – are cooked in a liquid such as broth or sauce, resulting in a delicious blend of flavors. 


To get extra thickness, some stew recipes call for added flour or cornstarch. These add-ins further distinguish stew from soup, making it even thicker than its liquidy cousin. 


Key Differences Between Soup and Stew

Based on these descriptions, it’s easy to see why there’s so much debate over what counts as soup and what counts as stew! However, it gets even more complicated. We’re about to cover the biggest differences between stew and soup, as well as what you’ll need to consider when making both!


Thickness

Like we’ve already covered, stew tends to be thicker than soup. While soup is normally made with mostly liquids and some solid foods, stew is essentially the reverse – more solids and less liquid. This is the key distinguishing factor between the two meals. In most cases, you can take a glance at a bowl of steaming food and determine whether it’s soup or stew based on thickness alone!


Context

By context, we mean when and how soup and stew are served. For example, stew is typically accompanied by a grain, which acts as a base for the meal and absorbs the juicy, flavorful goodness from the stew. Common pairings for stew include rice and potatoes, but there are recipes out there that call for just about every grain under the sun.


Soup, on the other hand, is usually served on its own, or accompanied by a piece of bread for dipping. In addition, soup is often served as a side dish or an appetizer before a meal. However, a small serving of stew might come out to the table in advance of an entree, although this isn’t too common.


When Does One Become the Other?

Stew and soup have plenty of similarities, but the main distinctions between the two are how they are served and the ratio of liquid to solid food. Some dishes blur the line between the two categories, but it’s usually fairly easy to spot the difference!


Making Soup at Home

Making soup at home is easier than you might think – especially with help from JOW! We’ve got plenty of soup recipes that you’ll love, including:


  • Italian Soup. Made with meatballs, pasta, veggies, and more, this soup is comforting, aromatic, and packed with tasty ingredients. It’s thicker than your average soup and could almost be classified as a stew. But we decided to leave it in the “soup” category based on how it’s traditionally prepared!


  • Alphabet Soup. A nostalgic classic, this soup contains just a few simple ingredients, highlighted by alphabet-shaped pasta! Thanks to the simplicity of this throwback recipe, you’ll have a tasty dinner ready to go in no time. It’s perfect for kids and adults alike!


  • Mexican Soup: Flavorful, savory, and topped with fresh ingredients, this soup is made with tons of fresh ingredients and garnished with lime for added acidity and zest.


  • Onion Soup: Paired with a big slice of cheesy bread, this soup goes perfectly with just about any meal. It’s ideal as a high-class appetizer or the main event for dinner.


  • Tortellini Soup: This delicious soup is a full-fledged meal! Packed with protein and veggies, the highlight here is the tortellini. Our recipe calls for pasta filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, which tastes absolutely heavenly. Mix in a few other rich, creamy ingredients, and you’ve got a savory, zesty soup that your dinner guests will be talking about for weeks.


We’ve got tons more delicious soup recipes for you in the recipe section of our website!


Making Stew at Home

If you’re looking for a yummy stew recipe to try, JOW has you covered. Our pièce de résistance is a super simple Chicken Stew With Rice. It’s made with fresh carrots, which add some complexity to its rich, creamy flavor profile. 


Our chicken stew with rice is ideal for the cold, dry fall and winter months when you’re craving a hearty meal that will fill you up. You’re likely to have plenty of leftovers afterwards, so feel free to enjoy this savory stew for days.


Serving Soup and Stew

As an at-home chef, you know the importance of presentation when making a meal – that little bit of extra effort goes a long way!


Whether you’re cooking for friends, family, or just for yourself, there are plenty of ways to get creative with how you serve your homemade soup or stew. Sides, garnishes, and more can level up the dining experience, and they’re easy to add to your meal!


Some of the best garnishes for soup and stew are fresh herbs, cheese, and, in some cases, a lime wedge. These little additions can make a big difference in the eating experience, and they show that you like to go the extra mile when you cook! A sprinkling of cheese is the perfect garnish for Italian soup, tortellini soup, Mexican soup, or onion soup, as well as many other recipes. It’s also a perfect pairing for thicker stews!


As for sides, the traditional pairing for soup and stew is a thick, hearty piece of bread. This bread serves as a dipping vessel, soaking up all of the flavors from the soup or stew and enhancing them. 

Ready to Get Cooking?

If all of this soup and stew talk has you inspired to cook, head to our recipe page for ideas! We’ll help you design the perfect menu and then arrange for the easiest method for you to get your groceries, so all you have to worry about is hitting the kitchen.