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Stew vs Soup — What’s the Difference?

Soup, stew, chowder, bisque, they all mean the same thing, right? Well, not quite.

The differences between soup and stew are so small you might not be able to tell them apart. The two are used interchangeably on restaurant menus or within regular conversation, but there are a few subtle differences.

The Difference Between Soup and Stew

Soup and stew use the same base of ingredients, with a seemingly identical process. There are actually two ways to distinguish one from the other.

While a bowl of either dish will contain a warm, satisfying broth at its base, soup generally has a more liquid texture.

Both are made by simmering a combination of meat, vegetables, and liquid, but you’ll typically cover a pot of stew with a lid during the cooking process and leave a pot of soup uncovered (1).

Soup: One of the World’s Oldest Foods?

For the longest time, it was believed that soup was consumed up to 5,000 years ago. But archeologists are challenging this belief. Even in ancient times, humans needed to find a way to boil meat, rendering fat from animal bones to supplement their diet. Consumption without boiling would have led to protein poisoning.

While the world’s oldest pottery dates back to 20,000 years ago in China, it’s possible they could have found another way to consume this liquid food, using another waterproof, heat proof container (2).

What Sets Soup Apart

Imagine a warm, hearty bowl of soup, whether it be grandma’s chicken soup or Italian wedding. What do you see? Within the bowl is a combination of meat or fish, vegetables, and herbs, all submerged in liquid.

When it comes to soup, the liquid (commonly made from a combination of broth and water) is the main event. No matter if the soup is creamy, pureed, or has a clear broth, the liquid makes up a large portion of the mixture.

Soup is made by chopping up a blend of protein, vegetables, and fresh or dried herbs. Depending on the recipe, you may sauté the protein and vegetables in a separate plan before adding to a large pot of broth. To marry the flavors, you’ll bring your soup to a hard boil, then reduce to low heat. Some soups can be prepared in as little as 20 minutes, although you’ll find those allowed to bubble on the stovetop for 45 minutes or longer have a stronger flavor profile.

Delicious Soup Recipes to Try:

What Sets Stew Apart

Now visualize your favorite beef stew from when you were growing up. It probably had larger pieces of chunky meat and root vegetables, where the broth had a consistency of a gravy, rather than a clear liquid. When preparing a large stew, you’ll add just enough stock to cover the main ingredients. Meaty cuts of beef, quarters of potatoes, and halved green beans are covered with a thick, rich broth to truly bring the flavors together. You’ll see this hearty dish served alongside (or poured right over) mashed potatoes and rolls.

There is another element which distinguishes stew from soup. Stew is, well, stewed. Your concoction is simmered in a covered pot. For this reason, stews are commonly made in Dutch ovens or in a slow cooker, keeping the aromas trapped inside.

Healthy Stew Recipes to Try:

What About Bisques and Chowders?

There is one primary ingredient which sets bisques and chowders apart from soup and stew: seafood.

A Little More on Chowder

Name the first chowder that comes to your mind. Did you say clam chowder?

Fish or shellfish is the main component of a true chowder, with clams being the most prevalent ingredient. Chowders originally combined corn, potatoes, and onions with a particular seafood (2).

The word chowder originates from the French word chaudière, or cauldron. The English-style chowder blends milk with the cooking liquid, adding shellfish, salt, onions, and potatoes to the mixture. In the United States, different variations have become common. Manhattan-style chowder replaces milk with tomatoes, while a vegetarian version might eliminate seafood altogether, replacing it with sweet corn (3).

More on Bisques

Like chowder, a classic bisque will have a seafood component. While chowder will usually feature clams, the most famous bisques will include lobster (4).

Bisques are distinguished by their creaminess. A bisque will be incredibly thick and rich, barely falling from the spoon as you sip it.

Original bisque recipes always included shellfish or another protein, but modern versions can be made vegetarian or even vegan. A vegetable bisque will simmer vegetables in heavy cream and broth, then blend the end result before serving. Modern recipes even substitute coconut cream for the heavy cream, making the pureed soup dairy-free and vegan.

Which Will You Make Tonight?

No matter if you’re craving a classic Irish stew or a more simple split pea soup, there’s more than enough recipes on this website to get you through. Just remember: If you’re using less liquid, it’s probably a stew, while a soup typically has a visible, clear broth with small pieces of veggies and protein mixed in.

What will you feature on your menu tonight? If you don’t have time to cook, Kettle & Fire has healthy, ready-to-eat soups available for you.

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