Winter’s Coming. Who Wants Pork Belly Soup?

Everybody has a favorite soup. Maybe it’s a rich tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich from a local diner. Or your favorite aunt’s chicken soup, which may still be the only cure for the flu. Maybe a chowder, a bisque or a stew hit the spot when you were growing up. After 9,000 years in existence, soup may qualify as the ultimate comfort food.

A Growing Market
Soups, stews and chilies are making a resurgence on restaurant menus, driven largely by soup lovers who constantly crave new flavors and by diners seeking healthier menu choices. The movement has helped free soup from its lunch-only, left-side-of-the-menu status.

The trends in homemade soup mirror what’s happening across the food industry, according to Campbell Kitchen’s Vice President Lucinda Ayers. A study her company conducted identified emerging soup flavors that include watermelon, rhubarb, celery, pork belly, grapefruit and coconut, and trends that include figs, pomegranate, beets, cauliflower, acai and whole grains.

Seafood soup is also growing in popularity, according to the Foodservice Research Institute, with almost 22% of the operators it surveyed offering a seafood soup or chowder, up from almost 18% in 2005.

No Shortage of New Ideas
There’s no way to predict which flavors will catch on next, or when fruit bat soup will finally take its rightful place in the mainstream (see below). Even the age-old practice of breaking crackers or dipping bread into soup has evolved. There are conflicting stories about the origin of Neo Kobe Pizza, but one theory holds that a Japanese student accidentally dropped a slice of pizza into a bowl of soup and ushered in the new taste sensation.

You can even buy soup flavors made by Al Yegahen, the man who inspired the Soup Nazi character on Seinfeld. Marketed under the Original SoupMan label, the soups are available frozen in a wide array of supermarkets.

Ready the Bowls
So, even after 9,000 years, soup still manages to hold a few surprises, while maintaining its place in the lives and memories of almost anyone you talk to. And that’s good news for you, especially now that temperatures are starting to drop and flu season’s just around the corner.

Beyond Chicken Noodle

For the more adventurous, here’s a brief look at some of the more unusual soups you’ll find from around the world. Bon appétit!

This is a popular, traditional Mexican soup often reserved for special occasions. It’s made with tripe (cow stomach), onions, cilantro, oregano, chilies and hominy.

Bird Nest Soup
This Chinese delicacy made from the nests of Swiftlet birds sells for as much as $100 a bowl. Don’t ask what holds the nests together.

Deer Placenta Soup
The Chinese swear this blend of mushrooms, flowers, black chicken and deer tendon helps your skin, kidneys and general vitality.

Kiburu Soup
From the Chagga tribe that lives at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, this soup is made of sweet bananas, beans and dirt.

Fruit Bat Soup
This delicacy comes from the Pacific island of Palau, where you can treat yourself to the title ingredient cooked in coconut milk, ginger and spices, then boiled for several hours. At some restaurants, you can choose your bat before the chef cooks it alive in boiling water.