Think forward a few months. It's 90 degrees for the umpteenth day in a row, your customers are cursing global warming, and the very thought of turning on the stove—or even the grill—is making them swelter. How are you supposed to sell anything besides salad in that kind of climate? Well, you could turn them on to the pleasures of soup. No, not by using that tired line that hot soup will make them sweat and, in turn, cool them off. We're talking about cold soup here: gazpacho, vichyssoise and many, many more imaginative creations.
From soup to nuts
In addition to solving a hot weather meal-prep problem, cold soups, from Greek avgolemono (which may be served hot or cold) to gardeners' zucchini broths, make delightful use of the bounty of the season. While most hot soups are meat- or vegetable-based, cold soups also incorporate fruits and even nuts.
"Cold soups are much more well- positioned to take advantage of local growing. [During hot weather] is when yields are the best, things are the freshest," says David Ansel, president and principal soup maker at the Soup Peddler, an Austin, Texas-based soup delivery service that began in 2002 when, out of financial frustration, Ansel began making soup and delivering it by bicycle to his now-devoted subscribers, the Soupies.
"There are definitely summer soups that are hot soups, like crab soup," Ansel says. That soup developed because when crabs are in season, "you have a crab feast and you have leftover crabs."
But, while crab soup, for instance, may make the most of regional specialties, it does nothing to keep the sweat from one's brow. "Everyone makes some version of refrigerator soup," Ansel says, and it's true. There's French sorrel soup, Hungarian sour cherry soup, Mexican avocado soup, Russian borscht (beet soup), Thai coconut-tapioca soup, Turkish cacik (cucumber and yogurt soup) or even Spanish almond soup. Some soups, like cantaloupe and rhubarb, seem to cross cultures, each adapting it to whatever herbs and other flavorings are available.
Not only do cold soups reflect the diversity of worldwide cuisines, they're also a good way to take in a lot of nutrients. Because of the ingredients used, cold soups tend to be high in antioxidants and vitamins such as A and C, says Jennifer Workman, a Boulder, Colo.-based Ayurvedic nutritionist. Tomato-based soups, like gazpacho, also deliver a strong dose of lycopene. Eating cold soups leads to "some intake of fiber, if the soups are not entirely pureed—if you're eating chunks of blueberries or tomatoes," Workman says. In addition, unless cream is added, cold soups are often low-fat and low-calorie. "They tend to be somewhat satiating," she says.
"Depending on your constitutional type," Workman adds, cold soups can also energetically balance the heat of summer. "They're easy and cooling. Summer would be pitta season Ayurvedically, when it makes sense to do things that would keep the body cool. For a pitta—a flaming, fiery person—[eating cold soups] would definitely work. Pitta people are always working hard to stay cool in the summer."
Vata and kapha people, on the other hand, might want to limit their intake of cold foods. Vatas are thin, wiry types and kaphas tend to be overweight or sturdily built. "Their digestive fires are not really strong enough—eating only cold foods would not be enough for someone who is overweight or has a sluggish metabolism. They could work it in a couple times a week or if the temperature is just really hot—or to start a meal, it could be really nice," Workman says.
Therein lies the beauty of cold soups. Because they can be either savory or sweet, they can be served as an appetizer, an entrée or a dessert. And better yet, they can be prepared ahead, frozen and then thawed just before serving.
When making cold soups, however, the seasonings should be amped up a little, since cold temperatures tend to dampen our taste receptors. For a stylish presentation, home cooks can chill bowls or mugs in the refrigerator or in a dish of ice cubes, and dress the soups with edible flowers or perhaps a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.
Cold soup started in the United States as recently as 1917, when Louis Diat, the chef at New York's Ritz-Carlton hotel, invented a cold leek-and-potato soup and gave it the fancy French name, vichyssoise.
But cold soups have been a staple of the European diet for centuries. That's probably why packaged cold soups remain a mostly international phenomenon. Alvalle, the Murcia, Spain-based division of Tropicana, markets gazpacho in a 250-milliliter cup and a 1-liter carton. Don Simon, another Spanish company, sells half-liter and liter-size cartons of gazpacho. Tropicana Alvalle also manufactures a 1-liter almond-based cold soup, which is "even tastier if accompanied by raisins, grapes or apple," according to the company's Web site. Unfortunately for American consumers, "We have no plans to bring Tropicana Alvalle's soups to the U.S. at this time," says Pete Brace, a spokesman for Tropicana Products North America.
Kagome Co., which supplies U.S. natural foods retailers with fresh bottled juices, introduced three flavors of shelf-stable cold soup in Japan in 2004. Kagome's production line, which cost about $10 million, used an aseptic filling system, according to Geoff Hasegawa, general manager of corporate branding for the company, which has offices in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, as well as in Foster City and Los Banos, Calif. While initial sales were strong, the company discontinued the product line about a year ago. "We tried to promote the soup into the market, but there was an unseen barrier to Japanese consumers adopting soup into the daily diet," Hasegawa says.
The lack of packaged cold soups in the States shouldn't be an obstacle for your customers, however. Perhaps one of the best features of cold soup is its ease of preparation: Coarsely chop a few ingredients, throw them in the blender and, voilá, soup's on!
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 4/p.22, 26