Condensed soup, it's a staple in so many American households.
There are all kinds of soup options to choose from, from classic chicken noodle to split pea with ham and bacon. Some soups are great as is, just add some water or milk per the instructions and viola, you've got a good bowl of soup. Other varieties are better suited for recipes, such as cream of mushroom for a Thanksgiving green bean casserole.
Without question, Campbell's is the King of the Condensed Soup Hill with the largest selection of soups available. But when it comes to the pantry basics of condensed soups, is Campbell's really any better than a store or discount brand?
I pondered that question when making a green bean casserole for Thanksgiving. Regular readers know I usually don't get hung up on name brands. But there are folks out there and you know who you are, that swear by Campbell's because it's "higher quality and tastes better."
So a debate turned into a challenge. I went out and shopped for some condensed soup basics. Some soups I ate in a side-by-side comparison, like chicken noodle and tomato (grilled cheese & tomato soup - comfort food YUM!). Other soups, I used in a side dish preparation to see if there's any noticeable difference in the dish.
In purchasing soups for the Bachelor on the Cheap Condensed Soup Battle, I ran into this inconsistency: The mainstream grocery store, Dillon's (Kroger) on Harry & Edgemoor, was having a sale on Campbell's soups, 4 for $5. I mistakenly grabbed the wrong variety of Campbell's tomato soup, so in running errands I stopped at another Dillon's store, Harry & Webb, same day... they weren't running the same Campbell's soup sale, they were doing 3 cans for $5. I found that a bit inconsistent, store Manager's discretion I guess.
Here's a snapshot of the price differences...
Cream of Mushroom
- Campbell's: $1.25 for a 10.75 ounce can
- Kroger: $1 for a 10.5 ounce can
- Chef's Cupboard (Aldi): $0.49 for a 10.5 ounce can
Cream of Chicken
- Campbell's: $1.25
- Kroger: $1
- Chef's Cupboard: 0.49
- Campbell's: $1.67
- Kroger: $1
- Chef's Cupboard: $0.68
- Campbell's: $1.29
- Kroger: $0.89
- Chef's Cupboard: $0.68
With Campbell's being a negligible 0.25 ounces heavier, look at how much cheaper the store brand (Kroger) and discount brand (Aldi) soups are than Campbell's. So aren't you curious? Is Campbell's really any better than Kroger or Chef's Cupboard? Or are you paying more than you should for a name?
Are the mushroom pieces in Campbell's bigger, chunkier? Does Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup have more noodles? Which tomato soup is the more robust? Does one Cream of Chicken Soup have more meat than another?
In a review of the ingredient lists for all soups, they were for the most part essentially the same. Using the mushroom soup as an example, all soups contained the obvious base ingredients of water, mushrooms, some kind of vegetable oil, corn starch, flour, salt, cream, whey, yeast extract, garlic, and nuances down the list making each recipe unique. So on paper, three very similar recipes. Next up, a visual and taste review.
- Cream of Chicken: Variations of yellow color, with Campbell's being the brightest. Nothing to distinguish one soup over another when it comes to the chicken meat.
- Tomato: Not much of a visual competition here, it's tomato soup. Slight variations of red tomato color.
- Chicken Noodle: Campbell's and Chef's Cupboard look pretty much the same. Kroger color is lighter, pale in comparison. The bits of chicken meat were essentially the same in all three soups. On the noodle front, I don't know if you're familiar with the Campbell's claim that each can of their soup is made with over 32 feet of fresh egg noodles. And no, I didn't take the time to lay all the noodles out to measure... But all soups weighed out about the same in noodles. Campbell's did have the longer noodles, Kroger, the shortest on average.
- Cream of Mushroom: I couldn't distinguish any difference between the Campbell's and Chef's Cupboard brands, both were equally good. The Kroger brand however was a bit 'off' in the flavor department. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, but it had kind of an oily feel to it which was a bit off putting. Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation: Chef's Cupboard. It tastes as good as Campbell's at less than half the price! And when it comes time again to make another green bean casserole, I will NOT be buying the Kroger brand of mushroom soup, 'jus say'n.
- Cream of Chicken: I have to give the nod to Campbell's here. It has a more robust flavor, with notes of celery, garlic and onion in the finish, ingredients not found in the other brands. Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation: Campbell's. It's the best tasting and will add a more robust flavor to whatever recipe that calls for Cream of Chicken soup.
- Tomato: I like to heat up my tomato soup with milk, sometimes heavy cream for an even richer flavor. I also like to add onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and red pepper flake, but I didn't do the normal doctoring with this review in mind. Keeping it simple, I added the canful of milk and nothing else. I enjoyed all soups served with a grilled cheese sandwich and of course, I dipped. All soups delivered on the comfort food factor, with Campbell's having and ever-so-slight edge in taste over the store and discount brands. Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation: Chef's Cupboard based on price. While Campbell's did edge out Chef's Cupboard in flavor by a thin margin, the flavor factor isn't enough to overlook the price difference.
- Chicken Noodle: For me, canned chicken noodle soup doesn't really need any doctoring, short of a few dashes of black pepper. I like the broth flavor of canned chicken noodle soup and all three of these were tasty, with no soup being any tastier than the other. The chunks of chicken were about the same as well. The noodles were all similar in taste and texture. It would be fun to do a blind taste test, I don't think there would be a clear winner here. Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation: Chef's Cupboard, based on price.
Campbell's makes a reliably good product and there are so many tasty varieties to choose from, but overall, you are paying extra for a name. Chef's Cupboard soups are also good, they just don't have the variety. Stacking up well vs. Campbell's in a soup basics flavor and price comparison, I'll go with Chef's Cupboard every time with exception to Cream of Chicken, where Campbell's stands out. Campbell's is also the way to go if you're looking for something a little different or a new flavor to try given the choices they provide. As for the Kroger brand, I rate it a Plan B purchase. And as for the Name Brand proponent claim that Campbell's uses higher quality ingredients?... Nothing was found to be inferior in the store or discount brands during the review. When it comes to the "Campbell's Tastes Better" claim, that holds true with a better recipe when it comes to the Cream of Chicken Soup, it's a negligible factor with the Tomato Soup but doesn't pan out with Chicken Noodle soup and only beats out Kroger with Cream of Mushroom.
This post wouldn't be complete without adding a few easy meal/side dish recipes.
Green Bean Casserole - You can't have Thanksgiving without green bean casserole, you just can't. That's like getting a new pair of gloves but they're both 'lefts,' which on the one hand is great, but on the other hand, it's just not right.
- 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
- 2 cans of French cut style green beans, drained (French cut makes for a nicer presentation and hangs on to the mushroom soup better)
- 1 can water chestnuts, drained and halved
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 1/3 cups French Fried Onions (amount divided in directions below)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 350°F. Stir all ingredients and 2/3 cup of the French Fried onions in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or until hot. Give the casserole a quick stir and sprinkle with the remaining 2/3 cup onions. Bake for another 5 minutes or until the onions are golden, brown and delicious.
This dish is also quite popular at Christmas time. Costing about $6, it only takes about 10 minutes to prep for the oven and feeds a bunch.
Stove Top Chicken & Rice w/broccoli - I like this recipe because it makes use of leftover rice and it's a dinner that can be put together in about 15 minutes without messing up too many dishes.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 can of cream of chicken soup
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- Healthy pinch of Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 - 2 cups of leftover rice
- 1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli florets
Directions: Heat up a large skillet over medium heat. Dress the chicken with the salt and pepper and once the pan is hot, add the olive oil to the pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, brown the chicken on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add the water, milk, cream of chicken soup and the remaining seasonings, stir to combine. Add the rice and broccoli, stir to incorporate. Re-introduce the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the chicken is done and the broccoli is tender-crisp.
Crock Pot Crack Chicken Sliders - This is SO easy and SO delicious!
- 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of boneless/skinless chicken breasts or thighs (I prefer thighs, they have more flavor)
- 1 packet of dry Ranch seasoning
- 1 can of Campbell's Cheddar soup
- 8 ounces of cream cheese
- 3 slices of cooked and crumbled bacon (leftover from breakfast)
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional garnish)
- Chopped green onion for garnish
- One bag of King's Hawaiian rolls (or something similar)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Place the chicken in a crock pot, sprinkle on the Ranch seasoning, top with the cheddar cheese soup and cream cheese. Cover. Set on low this delicious no fuss meal will be ready in 6 - 8 hours, set on high about 4 hours. Shred the chicken in the crock pot using two forks. Serve topped with the crumbled bacon, optional shredded cheddar cheese and chopped green onion on the slider buns. Don't have slider buns? No worries! This recipe is also great served on a bed of noodles or rice.
Rice: Traditional rice is typically made using a 2-1 ratio, 1 part rice to 2 parts liquid. Water is good. A chicken, beef or fish stock is even better. But if you want a creamier rice, use 1 part water and 1 part cream of something soup. Cream of Chicken is excellent. Cream of Mushroom is a good option. Make a Spanish rice with tomato soup. There are really quite a few good options here, Cream of Broccoli, Golden Mushroom, Asparagus, Cheddar and more. And don't stop at kicking a rice side dish up a notch, see below!
Potatoes: Potatoes just about any style are complimented by a cream soup. Top a baked potato with Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken and yes, there is a Cream of Bacon soup! Top fried potatoes with Cream of Onion soup. Hit those hash browns with Cheddar soup instead of ketchup. Have mashed potatoes but no gravy? Break out a can of condensed soup.
Gravy Replacement: When you don't feel like whipping up a scratch made gravy... or what you made is lumpy and not all that good... Break out a can of Cream of Chicken or Cream of Mushroom soup, add a can of water and boom! You've got gravy.
Noodles: You've seen those flavored pasta packages made by the likes of Knorr, but why pay $1.50 for a little 4 ounce package of broccoli & cheddar noodles when you can make a whole mess of pasta for WAY cheaper at home? Use your imagination, pairing your favorite pasta shapes with your favorite cream soup flavors.
Vegetables: Pair up a veggie side with Cheddar soup, kids that don't typically like veggies will like this! Other change of pace options to consider are pairing up veggies with their cream soup cousin, Cream of Broccoli, Cream of Asparagus and there's always the 'Jack of all Trades' soup that always adds flavor, Cream of Celery.
Other: Tomato soup is a great base for an impromptu red enchilada sauce. TEASER ALERT! This soup hack section has motivated me to write a Soup Hack Recipe Post. Stay tuned...
$pend Wisely My Friends...
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