HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Is low-salt soup a reality?

I was discussing the topic of "salt and soup" with someone recently, and I stated that it was just about impossible to make a low-salt soup that had any taste. The other person responded that with sufficient amount of spicing it was possible.

Anyone have any opinions, experience, science, etc that might be enlightening?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think it depends on what you mean by "low salt" I think it is totally do-able.

    1. I love salt, but one thing I've found is that if I make a soup without salt at all, but use plenty of herbs and aromatics, people really only need to add a bit of salt to their own portions. This provides far less sodium than actually cooking with salt. Of course, we are not on a low-sodium diet, so for someone who is, even salting one's own portion may too much sodium. Check with your doctor if this is the case for you.

      1. Not sure what you mean by low, but I tend to cook things with about 1/2 as much salt as called for, as that typically is what tastes good to me. When making soups (especially ones that are pureed and/or a bit creamy) I add a 1/4 teaspoon or so of hot sauce. The combination of salt, spice, and acid seems to give it a little punch (this is not enough to make it at all spicy or really add that much salt).

        Also, I find that soups that have been reheated (especially if they have been frozen) need more salt and/or hot sauce.

        1. How low is low? Some salt is always necessary but acid acts as a flavor amplifier, so try using less salt with some lemon juice or rice vinegar stirred in at the end.

          If you're not scared of MSG, a couple pinches also serves as a salty-taste enhancer.

          6 Replies
          1. re: RealMenJulienne

            MSG>>>monoSODIUMglutamate, of course it serves as a SALTY taste enhancer. It's still sodium, just not sodium chloride.

            1. re: bagelman01

              < It's still sodium>

              Yes, MSG has sodium. However, you can reduce sodium by using MSG instead of sodium chloride. What I mean is that you can easily substitute three molecules of NaCl (sodium chloride) for one molecule of MSG -- thus your overall consumption of Na is reduced. In reality, you can use even less.


              1. re: bagelman01

                MSG itself does not taste salty. It just makes the surrounding salt taste stronger.

                1. re: RealMenJulienne

                  It tastes a little salty - just less salty than salt. Taste a tiny bit of Accent just by itself.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I have not tasted Accent but I have tried straight Aj Ni Moto, and I don't get any saltiness, just a mouth-coating slightly-sour mushroom flavor.

                  2. re: RealMenJulienne

                    :) I agree with cowboyardee. I have tasted MSG straight when I was young. It tastes salty, but also very complex.

              2. I never use salt in my cooking (nor do I add any to my own food at the table). The flavourings for my soups come from the stock, the primary ingredients and appropriate herbs and spices. I want my soups to taste of them and not salt.

                1. The issue with soup is that it requires far more salt to bring it to the same level of perceived saltiness of non-liquid savory foods. For example, a bag of chips might have 150 mg of sodium, whereas a cup of chicken noodle soup might have over 1000 mg for the same or fewer calories.

                  In effect, soup is harder than most foods to make low-sodium without changing the flavor drastically. The same tricks work with soup that work with other foods - use more herbs, work more with sour flavors, increase the use of natural glutamates (savory flavors). But the lack of salt is harder to hide. Incidentally, using a low ratio of broth to hunks of ____ (whatever - meat, potatoes, noodles, dumplings, vegetables - as long as those hunks are solid and not salted through) can make a soup or stew effectively much lower in sodium per serving, though even then most people have a tendency just to add more salt to the broth/liquid to fully balance the flavor.

                  1. Of court it's a reality. An insipid reality.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Heh heh. Indeed. The Campbell's food prudes have made it so.

                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                        i salt my food pretty liberally, but canned soup just tastes like a salt lick to me, blechk.

                        soup needs great stock, plenty of aromatics and acid. then adjust the salt.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          Perhaps. But Campbell's is now so bland that I no longer even think of buying it. And I'm a Campbell's consumer dating back to the early 70s.

                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                            honestly i haven't had canned soup in decades.

                    2. I agree with others. I think low salt vs normal salt vs high salt -- are very arbitrary terms. Low-salt does not mean No-salt. It is also said that most recipes can reduce its added salt by half (to one-third) without any noticeable taste difference.

                      In addition, many soups have significant favor from other ingredients such as stock, herbs, spices. So I think it really depends on the complexity of the soups. In the end, I think it is entirely possible to reduce salt by more than half for most soups.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        I wish there was a like button for these posts, I'd give you one for this post.

                      2. I tend to add salt, or salty seasonings, gradually, until I like the taste. Usually there is a point where the flavors 'pop'. Before that the soup is bland, beyond can taste over salted. Since don't usually measure, I can't say for sure where my ideal is, compared to commercial preparations, or even recipes (which often say 'salt and pepper to taste').

                        To a degree we train our tastes to prefer a certain level. And other herbs and spices do affect the optimal salt level. Unsweetened baked goods (e.g. biscuits, muffins) need more salt than even lightly sweetened ones.

                        Some say that if they use enough herbs and spices they don't need salt. That may be true. But if too many flavorings are use, the combined result can be muddy (like the brown that results from mixing too many colors).

                        1. I think it depends on the soup. Chicken soup needs salt (unless you're basing the soup on very concentrated stock). When I make any kind of squash soup (usually with apples, onions, and chestnuts), I don't add any salt at all...it doesn't need it. Same with tomato soup...in fact, I find that salt actually robs tomato soup of flavor.

                          1. In my opinion, the issue is more about the level of saltiness that a person is used to experiencing. When you don't have the same level of saltiness, it's easy to dismiss it as being without any taste.

                            I switched to a low sodium diet many years ago. For six weeks, everything tasted like cardboard. But once my tongue and mind got acclimated, I noticed different flavors in dishes--the non-salt ingredients became far more noticeable. My taste buds have become more adept at detecting other flavors.

                            Sometimes, I have gone to restaurants where friends raved about the dishes we ordered. But I didn't like those dishes because could not taste the chicken, tofu, bok choy, etc. The saltiness simply overwhelmed them.

                            Here's a CNN article about how we have become used to high levels of salt in our diets:

                            1. I've found that even so-called low sodium canned soups have a fair amount of sodium. When I make soups, I use my own stock - made with no added salt, but some ingredients do contain sodium naturally - then add salt just before serving. I use kosher salt because the bigger granules dissolve nicely on the tongue and the first few tastes fool your taste buds into thinking the soup is saltier than it is.

                              1. I think soups need a fair amount of sodium. I make my soups with a lot of salt, by some people's standards, but I've never had anybody complain or not eat it because it was too salty, I say this because most people get seconds. I will use discreet amounts of fish sauce, anchovies, clandestine mushrooms, other things with a high umami rating, the important thing is to get a lot of flavor into the stock, to me. Most soup broths I try outside my house are really bland.

                                1. I think it's definitely possible, but takes more skill than doing so otherwise. [I'm taking low salt to mean "no salt added"]

                                  Use a good home-made broth as the base (not sodium free, but much, much lower than most of what you buy). Use good quality vegetables and meat in a nice balance. Having an acidic ingredient as part of the broth (tomato, for example) punches up the flavour without adding salt - a bit of lemon juice helps too. Use a judicious amount of seasonings (if you dump too many different things in the flavour gets muddy). And make sure you've got some fat in there, to help carry the flavours.

                                  I would argue that it's close to impossible to make a canned soup that has significant flavour without any salt, though. Adding salt is a cheap and easy way of bumping up the flavour in packaged food.

                                  For creamy soups - tomato, pureed vegetables, etc - I find that using more vegetables and less dairy makes the flavour more intense, as the cream or milk mutes the existing flavours, and then requires more salt to bump it back up again.

                                  I think that something like a cream of mushroom soup would be tricky to make really good with no salt, as the flavours are subtle in the first place, a lot of milk/cream is an essential part of the soup, milk based soups don't react well to adding acid, and adding other strong seasonings turns it into a different soup.

                                  I'm not sure, but I think soups based on vegetarian stocks would need some added salt. Meat based broths have some sodium in them naturally, while pure vegetable ones don't.

                                  My mom is on a low sodium diet for health reasons, and she can only use "no salt added" broth. Canned soups, even putatively low sodium ones, still have absurd amounts of sodium in them and are off limits.

                                  1. One classic problem with a food that is typically eaten *hot* (rather than warm) like soup is gustatory rhinitis: people who suffer this often need more salt to bring out flavor (acids help, but not as much).