Canned Soup (sold at stores)
Most canned soup sold at stores tastes watery, overcooked, too salty, and in need of additional fresh ingredients.
I normally add fresh ingredients to Progresso brand Lentil soup and turn it into a fantastic stew consisting of additional ingredients such as shitake mushrooms, garlic, and green peas, along with various spices.
Campbell's rebranded its Gold Label line as "V-8." Those soups are so thick, you have to spoon the contents out. Among the best and thickest soups sold at conventional supermarkets. My favorite is the Butternut Squash soup, which I also add some spices and ingredients to such as fresh squash and a small bit of kale or spinach.
I recently tried the Muir Glen brand for the first time and was blown away by its chicken tortilla soup. I did not have to add any additional spices, and was surprised at how spicy it was. Word of warning - this soup tastes very salty.
The soup is thicker than the normal canned soup (although not as thick as the V-8 line), but the tortilla soup did not contain cream, as far as I could tell. I think the thickening came from the potato ingredient or soy components. Most of its ingredients are organic, which is why this soup is premium priced.
Campbells has a healthy request version of Chicken Tortilla soup. It is made with a cheese component, and although it is more watery, it still tastes better than the normal canned soup.
Jyoti has its version of canned curried lentil soup (called "Sambar" on its can), which is decent. Not as thick as the Progresso, Muir Glen, or V-8, but offers a pleasant spice flavor to lentil soup.
If I can't get out to a restaurant for very good soup, or make time to do my own from scratch, any of these that I listed are a more than adequate substitute!
I actually tried Healthy Request for the first time a few days ago after my grocer had it on sale for 88 cents/can. Very happy with it. I will only buy Healthy Choice, and Healthy Request now if I have to buy it in a can. All others are just salt water with boiled vegetables. Healthy Choice, and Healthy Request have about half the sodium of most canned soups, therefore they have an actual flavor, not just salt.
I am astounded by the increase in prices and options for nonconcentrated soups these days. This week Progresso is on sale at a local super for $1.25 per can, and the Sunday paper had a coupon for 50-cents off two which most stores will double. A lot of the natural soups are bland and thin -- they need the salt and heft from crackers just to make them palatable. I usually prefer chicken broth, but I'm turning to vegetable or tomato for more flavor. A good sprinkle of parmesan cheese or grate of black pepper helps too.
I make good old Campbell's tomato soup, but I always add some fresh basil and tarragon, and use a small bit of cream with the water. The cream adds body and heft, and the herbs add a lot of flavour. That soup with a couple of pieces of lightly buttered toast makes a very satisfying lunch on a cold winter day.
I have to agree with the notion that canned soup has gotten quite expensive. The cost is not prohibitive, but it gives me added incentive to make my own--although I do enjoy Amy's and Healthy Choice and buy them in bulk at Costco.
I do love Annie Chun's soup bowls though. They're filling, taste good (to me) and have less sodium than most of the canned soups.
The best time to buy canned soup is in the winter because they run specials then. Markets often have some variety of Progresso - like Traditional or Hearty - at $1 apiece (maybe $1.33 for the more "expensive" kinds). They're never on that kind of special in warmer, less soup-appropriate months.
They do make good bases if you spice them up and add fresh vegetables. Two favorite guilty pleasures are canned Progresso with an egg poached in it or with shrimp added. I add a lot of spice.