Are Soups and Stews the Same?

Ser Seng Herbs (Turtle) Restaurant Editor

December 21, 2022

Soups are one of the most universal dishes served around the world. Owing much of its popularity to its simplicity, it also has numerous variations depending on the country of origin. But there is something about soups that most people overlook, and that is its counterpart: stews.

At face value, both these dishes look the same and the terms are also used interchangeably. But there are slight differences that you should know, especially if you are a food lover or someone looking to establish a food business. After all, Chinese black chicken soup and Chinese beef stew both originate from the same cuisine yet have key distinguishing features!

Here are the Biggest Differences Between the two:

Differences Between Soups and Stews

An essential aspect of these two dishes is that stews are generally categorised as main dishes, whereas soups are considered side dishes. This is because stews are more filling than soups. You might see this when flipping through a restaurant menu!

Otherwise, in the instance you want to evaluate the cooking in a formal manner, these are the three main distinctions between stews and soups.

1. Consistency

The first and most distinguishable characteristic of these dishes is how thick or thin the liquid is. Typically, soups lie on the thinner side of the consistency spectrum, depending on which kind of soup it is. Since there are quite a few types of soups out there, such as black chicken herbal soup as an example of clear soup or mushroom soups as one for thick soups, it is important to note that stews are always thicker in consistency.

Stews contain a minimal amount of liquid since most of it is thickened to a consistency that is more akin to gravy than to broth. Cooks usually do this through methods such as adding vegetable puree or a mixture of water and flour and letting the stew simmer over long periods of time. This brings us to our next point:

2. Cooking Time

To put it simply, soups are normally quicker to make, while stews need a longer cooking time. After all, it is the slow cooking process that gives the stew its’ defined taste, wherein flavours are gradually extracted from the main ingredient. Beef and pork pack a great punch of flavours that can colour your palate if the stew is cooked right.

Soups, on the other hand, depend on flavouring as well as garnishes or condiments that do not need to be slow-cooked. There are soup recipes that require a lengthy amount of cooking time, such as black chicken herbal soup, however, the end product would still have a thinner consistency in contrast to stews. 

Chinese black chicken soups require a double-boiling process which can take up to two hours or more. As such, though the differences might vary and sometimes overlap, there is a combination of factors that draw the line between soups and stews.

3. Temperature

The last significant difference between these dishes is also the fact that they can be served at different temperatures. Soups can be served either hot or cold, depending on the recipe and the climate in which it is enjoyed. For example, cold soups are enjoyed in the Mediterranean in the summer using ingredients that are at peak season, and hot soups are enjoyed in colder environments. Stews can only be served hot as they are a hearty dish that is served as soon as it is finished cooking.

Can Stews Be Turned into Soup?

There are some dishes out there that can be cooked as either soup or a stew. To name a few, miso soup, wonton soup, and gumbo stew are some of the more well-known dishes that can do that.

However, there are ways to turn soup into a stew, which are mainly the methods that we have mentioned before that cooks use. The method most suited for thickening soups is to add either vegetable puree or a mixture of water and flour.

Are you now able to spot the difference between soups and stews? Though they may be minute, having extra knowledge can never hurt when it comes to food! In fact, there is more out there that you may not know, such as variations of soup that include exotic ingredients such as turtle soup, that can only be found in turtle soup restaurants. Find a food establishment that specialises in soups and stews so you can appreciate its differences best!

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