Soup is one of the most beloved types of food all across the world. While the soup itself may not be the most complex recipe that you have ever encountered, soup’s simple nature allows it to be an easy meal for people who may not be hungry, or it can become a canvas for you to add your own flair to it through seasonings.
With as much of a blank slate as soup is, it’s no wonder why people all around the world love soup as much as they do.
When it comes to getting around to making the kinds of soup that you love, you will find that there are some situations where it is going to be harder to get the texture that you are looking for in your soup.
Take tomato soup as an example. Tomatoes are going to have varying amounts of water content between each separate tomato, which means that sometimes you might not have to worry about your tomato soup, but other times you will end up with a watery mess.
If you find yourself battling your tomato soup to try and maintain a smooth and creamy consistency, but you are only left with a watery and chunky soup in return, you may not know the best way to go about fixing the soup.
In some cases, you might feel as if you want to give up on the soup entirely. While this will end up in a waste of food, there are actually ways that you can thicken your own tomato soup to bring it back to a texture that you want.
The good news about tomato soup is that even if it may be hard to get the texture and consistency right at first, there are plenty of ways that you can improve on it and get to the texture that you are looking for.
In some cases, you might need to rely on a dairy-free alternative to thickening your soup, while in other cases, you may need to rely on a wheat-free method of getting the right consistency.
No matter what dietary restrictions you may have, you can rest assured knowing that you will be able to thicken your soup without an issue.
1 – Thickening Agents, Both Standard and Exotic
One of the first steps that you should try to thicken your soup is going to be to rely on your standard thickening agents.
Thickening agents are ingredients that give body and volume to foods, allowing them to thicken up for whatever purposes that you may need them for. Most standard thickening agents will include flours, cornstarch, and other forms of starch.
Most types of flour can be used as a thickening agent, but the best flours that will help will be the ones with some form of gluten in them, as gluten is a very powerful thickening agent. You can also use a variety of starches ranging from your typical cornstarch to arrowroot powder, tapioca, and so on.
There are also vegetarian and vegan-friendly options for thickening agents, including carrageenan and agar-agar, meaning that just about anyone can find a thickening agent that works for them.
In terms of soup, cornstarch and wheat flour are going to be your best bets. They are the most widely available and the easiest to work with, and they also add minimal texture and flavoring aside from the increase in thickness of your soup.
Other thickening agents may add more of a taste or they may be harder to properly separate so that the texture of the soup remains smooth.
Most of the standard thickening agents that you will come across work in the same way. You will take a bit of the thickening agent in question and you will usually mix it into some water.
Sometimes you skip the water entirely and mix a bit of the thickening agent into a small amount of soup (in a separate bowl) directly.
From here, you will typically whisk it all together so there are no clumps of the thickening agent and the texture of the soup remains smooth, and then you will add the thickened portion of the soup back into the main pot, stirring it all together again so that the texture remains consistent.
Some of the more exotic kinds of thickening agents, such as carrageenan, will have more extensive preparation requirements. Additionally, you will need different amounts of different thickening agents to achieve the desired amount of thickness.
Because of this, when you are working with more exotic or uncommon thickening agents, you will need to do your research on how much you will need and how much preparation it will take.
2 – Dairy-Based Thickeners (and Dairy-Free Alternatives)
One of the reasons why many people don’t use thickening agents for their tomato soup is that when tomato soup is too watery, the taste is often off as well. More often than not, the excess water will come from excessively watery tomatoes, which will have a big impact on the flavor.
In this kind of situation, you are going to need to find a way to mask that watery taste of your tomato soup, and there is no better way to get the job done than with dairy-based alternatives.
There are more than a few different kinds of dairy-based thickeners that you can use for tomato soup, depending on the flavor profile you are going for and what you have in stock around you. The most common ingredient that people use to thicken their soups is going to be cream, as not only is it good at thickening soups, but it can also obscure watery soup with a creamy taste.
In place of creams, people can use yogurts (plain, unflavored yogurt), and people say that a good yogurt can have the same effect as cream, but with a lighter result and a tangier taste.
With both yogurt and cream, you will usually want to add a small amount of it to your soup at a time to make sure that you are not going overboard on the thickening process.
As you stir the cream or yogurt into the soup, you will want to take occasional tastes of it to ensure that the flavor is exactly where you want it to be. If it isn’t, then you have enough time to add the ingredients to adjust the flavor so that your soup can still turn out tasting as good as you need it to.
If you don’t have cream or yogurt, you can still use milk as an alternative. Milk will work much the same as cream or yogurt, but the creamy undertones that it will add will not be nearly as prominent. The lower of a percent your milk is, the more absent that creamy flavor will be.
For soups that already have a strong flavor to them, this will not matter as much, but if you are working with a soup that has a particularly high water content that you can taste, this may not be sufficient to solve that problem.
If you have problems with dairy and adding a dairy-based thickener to your soup is not going to be an option for you, you should not try to add a dairy-free milk to the soup because this will not have the intended result that you want.
Instead, you will want to opt for coconut milk, which will have much creamier properties than any lactose-free milk alternative that you can purchase at the store. Coconut milk is commonly used in curries to provide that creamy flavor that people love, so adding it to your soup is the perfect solution for your dairy-free needs.
Last, but not least, is an addition that you can make to the soup that may sound exceedingly fancy at first, but it is actually quite simple. You can add beurre manié to your soup to give it a delightful buttery undertone while preserving that classic tomato taste and ensuring that it is as smooth as you need it to be.
What you are going to need to do is mix about two teaspoons of flour with about two teaspoons of softened butter together in a pan while the soup simmers. Once this has successfully stirred into a paste, you are going to want to stir this into your soup as it simmers on the stovetop.
The butter that was added to the flour will help disperse the mixture throughout the soup much more easily, allowing for a smoother texture throughout than simply adding the flour to the soup in the first place, and with the addition of butter allowing you to retain the flavor that you have always wanted in your tomato-based soup.
3 – Adding Nuts, Lentils, or Rice to the Soup
There are also some thickeners that you can use to give the soup more of a physical body to help combat the amount of water content that is in the soup.
From all different forms of ground nuts to using lentils to using blended rice, these alternatives can work for you if you want to add some different undertones of taste to the soup and if you want to make use of an ingredient that is readily available.
Keep in mind that because these ingredients, save for rice, tend to have fairly noticeable flavors of their own, you should be prepared for the fact that this may make a noticeable impact on the flavor of your tomato soup.
Because there are so many different kinds of lentils that you can add, you will want to make sure that you are potentially adding the right ones to your dish. Typically, for tomato soups, you will want to stick with red lentils as this will not only match with the color of the soup, but the flavor of these lentils will complement the flavors of most tomato soups well.
This will be the best kind of lentil to use, as most rice is used to thicken soups with cauliflower and other lentils are used in soups that have different base ingredients in them.
While you can certainly use other lentils to thicken your soup, they may leave more of an impact on the appearance and taste of the soup than you may be comfortable with. You should always test a little bit of lentils at a time if you aren’t sure how it will affect the taste or appearance of your soup.
With that being said, to prepare the lentils to be added to your tomato soup, you are going to want to first cook them until they are tender in texture.
From here, you will want to blend them into your soup slowly and steadily. It is important for you to go relatively slow so that if you notice that it is impacting your soup too much, you can stop before the whole bowl of soup cannot be salvaged.
More often than not, some high-quality red lentils will do your tomato soup well, giving it body and hearty undertones to the taste, leaving you with a filling and delicious soup that you can enjoy.
Historically, ground nuts were one of the first thickeners that people used in soups and sauces around the world. Chances are that if they worked well centuries ago, they will do just as good a job at thickening your soup while also complementing the taste of it now.
Usually, you will want to make sure that you choose a type of nut that will go along with the flavor of your soup. For example, in tomato soup, you wouldn’t want to use hazelnuts.
If you aren’t sure what kind of nuts you should use to thicken your soup with, you should stick with something that has more of a neutral flavor profile to it, such as almonds or cashews, with cashews being one of the safest default choices that you can stick with for this kind of recipe.
When it comes time to begin thickening up the soup, you will want to start with about one handful of nuts so that you do not overwhelm the texture or flavor of the soup.
You will want to grind down that handful of nuts until they are barely away from becoming a paste. You do not necessarily want them to become a paste, but you want to grind them down as finely as you can so that you will not be able to detect the nuts when you take a spoonful of the soup.
Once the nuts are the desired consistency, you will want to whisk them together with a portion of the soup broth, and once that is sufficiently mixed, you will want to add that into the main portion of your soup.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.