A wonderful article written by Kyle Martin, eHow Contributor
Soup is considered to be as old as the history of cooking. In times when food was scarce, dumping various ingredients into a pot to boil was not only cheap, it was filling. Its simple constitution made it accessible to rich and poor alike, and simple ingredients made it easy to digest for the both the healthy and sick. Each culture adopted its own variation with the ingredients on hand—Spanish gazpacho, Russian borscht, Italian minestrone—but the basics remain the same.
Beginnings of Soup
Watery gruel is the likeliest origin of soup. Cereals would be roasted and ground into a paste, which would later be cooked. The word “soup” probably derives from the bread over which this gruel was poured, called a “sop” or “sup.” Before this word came along, the concoction was called broth or pottage. Gruel remains a staple in some cultures, but is sometimes made of other starchy foods, such as legumes, chestnuts or root vegetables.
Cooking soup held certain appeals and advantages to our culinary ancestors. Unlike the hot air rising from a roasting fire, boiling water comes into full contact of submerged foods. This allows for a quicker cooking time and more complete cooking. It also opens up foods to new flavors. For instance, cereal grains release starch into the liquid and cause it to thicken. Combing several ingredients and allowing them to mix together creates a new flavor. Soup allowed certain animal parts, particularly bones, not to go to waste because boiling them extracts a natural flavor. Some inedible plants, such as acorns, become consumable after boiling away poisons or undesirable flavors.
Effects of Soup on Society
Historians believe soup served as the foundation for the first public restaurants in 18th century Paris. Soups such as broth, bouillion and consommé made their debut in these “restoratifs,” the word from which we derive “restaurant.”
While soup’s defining characteristic is its liquid, etiquette experts say we eat soup–as opposed to drinking it–because it is part of the meal, according to Foodtimeline.org. Consistency, preparation and ingredients do not make usually make difference in how it is consumed.
Soup became portable as science advanced. “Pocket soup” was popular with colonial travelers because it could easily be mixed up with a little water. Canned and dehydrated soups came along in the 19th century and kept cowboys and soldiers fed on the trail. Later, soups could be tailored to meet diet restrictions, such as low salt and high fiber.