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Why did my chicken soup get kind of sour?

It's been less than 2 days since it was made (from scratch). There are parsnips, carrots, celery, onions, green beans, chicken, and noodles in it. The chicken pieces taste good.

Is it normal to get kind of lemony tasting? My SO loves it, but I'm nervous that it might have spoiled already.

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  1. Was it properly cooled? Soup needs to cool quickly, down to 40F within four hours. Either put the soup pot in a sinkfull of ice and water or a sinkfull of cold running water, or make sure it is in a shallow layer (no more than 4" deep), uncovered, in the refrigerator.

    4 Replies
    1. re: babette feasts

      It probably wasn't cooled down quickly at all. It tasted normal yesterday and the day before, but not today.

      Does this mean it's spoiled and I should throw it out?

      1. re: OysterHo

        I would toss it. Soup that's gone bad is said to sour.

        1. re: OysterHo

          Sorry to verify your fears, but yes.

          Chicken soup is a perfect medium for cultivating bacteria. They are killed at high temps above 140, and they don't multiply at low temps below 40. In the middle, they grow like crazy. Big containers of broth or stock need to be cooled as quickly as possible, in an ice bath or broken down into much smaller containers and placed first in the freezer. A big container of hot soup placed into a refrigerator does not cool nearly fast enough, which is compounded by it warming up the fridge at first.

          Once spoiled, boiling the soup will kill the bacteria but won't eliminate the toxins they have emitted into the broth nor correct the taste. Note also, even properly chilled soup or stock only has about three days in the fridge before it needs to be boiled again and then hopefully frozen. Also note, all homemade soups and stocks should be brought up to a boil for a couple of minutes when reheating, even if they have been stored in the freezer.

        2. re: babette feasts

          I never heard about cooling soup down quickly, but it's interesting information. Is this meant for all types of soup? As far as chicken soup is concerned, I generally take out the chicken, carrots, soup greens, etc., then pour through a strainer and once the soup has cooled down somewhat, pour into containers, then let it cool off a bit more and put it in the freezer. I am sure that it is in the freezer within 4 hours (usually less) after it is turned off, but not sure it's down to 40 degrees within 4 hours. It seems to me that soup is like any other food--you cannot leave it out "forever" without the risk of spoilage.

          I agree with others here--If in doubt, pitch it. Long run, it's safer and actually cheaper than ending up with food poisioning.

        3. If you don't think it was cooled down quick enough and stored properly then unfortunately, I would give it the benefit of the doubt, and throw it away. Personally, I don't take chances.

          1. Any grain or carb in a soup will go sour, I've found. I no longer refrigerate soup with noodles, rice, barley, spaeztle or any other grain or noodle in it. I'll strain it out, and chill it separately.


            1. This happened to me after Thanksgiving. I blame it on the aluminum bowl I put the soup in. The metal can react with the acidity in the soup (it's acidic even if you didn't add acid like lemon juice). It's the same reason you shouldn't make tomato sauce in an aluminum pot. While I don't think soup that's sour for this reason is unhealthly, it doesn't taste good. I ended up throwing all my turkey soup out - so sad! But lesson learned :)

              1. VERY VERY IMPORTANT - take the onion out as soon as your soup is done. Don't know why, maybe an old wives tale but my mum, grandma and every other Jewish woman I know takes the onion out. Makes the soup go sour. I never cut my onion up into chicken soup. Put them in whole and using a slotted spoon remove as soon as you turn off the heat.

                1 Reply
                1. re: smartie

                  This Jewish woman has always left in the onion (as has my Jewish mother), with no noticeable souring. I usually cut an X into the top, cutting about 1/3 of the way down into the onion before cooking, and leave it in with the other veggies.

                2. Properly chill the soup and strain out the carbs - I've never had problems with small onion pieces but have followed my GM and only put in a large sectioned onion to sieve out later with the spices. After two times of reheating, throw it away as well. When I make my matzo ball soup, I store the balls in a different container.
                  Without chilling, the fat goes bad quickly. If you let it come down and then chill it and skim the fat off, it will help.

                  1. It's vitally important to quickly cool chicken soup.

                    Soup that's gone bad does taste sour. Once it's bad there's nothing you can do.

                    I would throw it out.

                    1. For all you Chowhounds, here is a free tip to cool your soups down the way they do it in professional commercial kitchens.

                      A commercial container specifically for the cool down of soups, used by freezing water inside and later used to cool down soups by immersing into the pot costs about $75. A complete waste of money. Instead, save your plastic drink or soda bottles, labels removed.......3 liter, 2, liter, 1 liter or 20-24 ounce bottles and fill them with water and freeze the day before you plan to make your soup. Use the appropriate sized vessel according to the amount of soup you are making, or the size of the pot used will accept. This also works for large amounts of Red Sauce for pastas.

                      Immerse into your soup after you are done serving it, and it will cool quickly without any chance of spoiling or souring your soup.

                      Another good tip is to bring your leftover soup to a boil after two days to stretch the shelf life a little further.......especially chicken based soups.

                      The cost.....free.........minus original purchase price of your preferred drinks.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: fourunder

                        I have used this frozen plastic bottle method and it works well. But I recall that someone on one of these boards warned about its safety. Now, certainly a plastic bottle used for water or soda would be food-safe. But when immersed in very hot soup there was some concern about the petrochemicals that make up the plastic leaching into the liquid. If I recall correctly, that poster advised using containers that were heatproof, such as those that can be placed into a microwave. But those containers, with thicker and more insulated material, will also decrease the cooling effectiveness of the ice frozen within.

                        So, do you think it is safe to use plastic water or soda bottles or not?

                        1. re: nosh


                          I cannot account for the chemical make up of any plastic bottles, but I have never had a problem with a bottle melting or any peculiar tastes following a cool down and subsequent heating... If the concern was that great, you could allow for some initial cool down naturally or put into an ice bath, which is the most preferred method and method used in commercial kitchens, due to the availability of many sinks and ice machine availability.

                          I personally think it is a safe method and have been using it for years. As for the the concerned poster and others of the like,..........all I have to say is let your common sense be the guide. When these rocket scientists warn you of every conceivable action and precaution, I just laugh it off.....I really do not understand the big words........if the bottles were not safe to begin with, they would not be approved to package even water, and originally when made, they were processed with heat, hotter than the temperature of boiling water.

                          Here's an alternate method/solution to any one who has a concern about the bottles. Next time you go to a Chinese Take-Out restaurant and order soup and it comes in the plastic container with lid, save it and use it instead of a bottle. The principle is the same.....although the seal is not as secure........

                          BTW......I cannot take credit for the tip as originally conceived by me.....I read it in Cook's Illustrated originally if that means anything to any one. Also, my Mom reheats her teas specifically in 20 ounce Gatorade or Vitamin Water bottles in the microwave oven many times over without any breakdown in the integrity of the plastic bottles.

                          1. re: fourunder

                            thanks, fourunder. i agree that we can drive ourselves crazy while avoiding every unlikely problem, even when trying to do the right thing.

                            made some turkey stock from the carcass a month ago. strained from the stockpot into my two or three-quart farberware pots. took my castiron skillet with the high sides and put down a layer of ice and a touch of water, placed the 3-quart pot on top so the heavy disc bottom got cold immediately, and then bobbed a small .5-liter frozen water bottle in the middle. soup was cool enough within 15-20 minutes to transfer into plastic soup or sauce takeout containers or old 26-oz pasta sauce jars for the freezer.

                        2. re: fourunder

                          fourunder, I am not sure I want to put plastic bottles into my hot soup. It is such a good tip though....thanks

                          1. re: Deborah


                            As I suggested earlier, let common sense be your guide. Plastic bottles are used to cool down soups in commercial kitchens...it is a fact, although most will cool down using a ice bath.

                            As for concern of putting plastic bottles into hot boiling soup, again let your common sense prevail. Most commercial kitchens, and I would imagine home cooks, intend to serve the soup when it is made and ready. Due to the larger quantities made in commercial kitchens, they have a more immediate need to cool down the soup as to not compromise the original integrity of the soup. In home kitchens, you can cool down with a towel under the bottom of the pot, tilted to allow some air flow......then immerse the plastic bottle or container, to accelerate the cool down process for soup not completely consumed at one seating.

                            I cannot imagine any kitchen of any kind, making soup and immediately cooling down completely in an ice bath or with a ice vessel container......unless they are packaged for retail sale for take-out, or made earlier for convenience to be served for a later dining event.

                        3. Thank you for all your replies!

                          The good news is that in spite of eating sour soup that day, we lived! We didn't get sick either! I threw it out anyway. That old saying "when in doubt, throw it out" always prevails.

                          My SO and I have made soup so many times and I swear this has never happened before. I always would throw it out after 3 days because of my fear of old chicken but I've never tasted sour before. This seemed too soon for going bad, I guess that's why I questioned it. We did store it in the aluminum stockpot in which it was cooked. :O

                          So many lessons learned this time around. Thank you again!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: OysterHo

                            I know this query is old, but I am a new member with a new solution. Instead of freezing plastic containers and putting them in hot soup, I use my own frozen chicken stock. I freeze part of my most recent batch in a silicone container (food comes out easily, even frozen solid) then add it to the new batch to bring the temperature down quickly. For the first batch (before you have your own frozen starter), you might want to buy chicken stock in quart-sized packages, freeze them, and then cut/tear the package away, or simply transfer the stock to a freezer container. Add it to your newly made stock or soup to cool it, then gather enough liquid to chill your next batch.

                            1. re: ladlingitup

                              I fill up the sink (or the bathtub, if the sink is full) with cold water, enough to come about halfway up the outside of the pot, then immerse the uncovered soup pot in it. It's at easily refrigerable temperatures in 30-45 minutes of cooling, rather than several hours if just left on the counter. No exposing plastic to hot food, no need to plan ahead - it's very easy.

                          2. Another way to cool soup without messing with ice water or frozen soup is to use to put the soup in front of a fan and stir the soup occasionally. The first time I did this it amazed me how fast the soup cooled. The rising steam is blown away so the heat dissipates quite fast. While this is going on, put another empty kettle in the refrigerator to chill it and when the soup has cooled quite a bit, put it into the cold kettle and into the refrigerator without a lid. Cover it after it has cooled to at least 40°.

                            1. If you completely cover hot soup or stock, it will turn "sour". Always allow it to cool completely before you cover it firmly. And never cook, reheat, or simmer soup or stock with a lid completely covering the pot. Always leave the lid ajar a little bit. This kind of "souring" is purely taste-related, not a safety issue.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Palladian

                                Interesting. I also do this with my soup and it's never been sour.

                                (The only sour tasting chicken soup I've had was from Bristol Farms where I think they added too much lemon to their Matzo Ball soup, was disgusting.)

                                1. re: Palladian

                                  This has been mentioned before, but if completely covering a pot of simmering stock will turn it "sour", how do you explain the success achieved when making stock in a pressure cooker? I believe the idea that a lid will sour a soup or stock came from French chefs years ago and that bit of wisdom has persisted. Someone once posted that Julia Child mentioned the souring soup tip on one of her shows. I'm not sure I buy it.