The Cozy, Comforting, and Surprisingly Complex History of Soups in Europe

Ah, soup. That bowl of goodness that warms your soul on a cold winter day. But have you ever stopped to think about where this divine concoction came from? You may be surprised to learn that soup’s history in Europe is anything but bland—it’s as rich and layered as a pot of French onion soup.

The Birth of Soup: When Things Were Still Stone Cold

If you think the history of soup is a modern tale, think again. Archaeological evidence suggests that even the Neanderthals were making soup. How do we know? Researchers have found animal bones with evidence of being boiled in water in ancient hearths. Okay, it was probably more bone broth than a creamy chowder, but the concept was there: simmering water with ingredients to extract flavors.

The Roman Connection: Soup Gets Civilized

The Romans were soup enthusiasts, and why wouldn’t they be? In a society that bathed in public baths and read the daily news on pillars (they called them acta—the original newspapers), a communal pot of soup was the obvious choice. Records from ancient Roman cookbooks, like “Apicius,” showcase an array of soups—vegetable soups, grain-based soups, and yes, even meaty broths.

The Dark Ages: When Soup Was The Light

During the Dark Ages, soups served as a critical part of the diet. Especially for peasants, soup was the dish that stretched limited resources. It was a vehicle for nutrition, a hot meal that could feed many with little. The base was usually ‘pottage,’ a mix of grains like barley and any available veggies or meats. The pottage could be thickened and eaten as is or diluted into a soup.

Renaissance: A ‘Soup-er’ Cultural Shift

Fast forward to the Renaissance, where the art wasn’t the only thing getting a facelift. Cuisine, including soup, was becoming an art form. Chefs in the houses of the rich and noble were creating soups that were intricate, beautiful, and, yes, delicious. Two standouts? The Italian Minestrone and the French Bouillabaisse. Soup wasn’t just sustenance anymore; it was an experience.

Minnestrone soup
Italian minestrone

Enlightenment and Industrialization: Canned and Packaged Love

Come the Enlightenment era, science and efficiency started to change the soup game. Nutritionists praised the benefits of a balanced diet, in which soup played a major role. With the Industrial Revolution, canned soup became a thing. Yeah, that’s right—convenience in a can. Though America usually gets credit for the first condensed soup in the 19th century, the concept wasn’t new to Europeans who had been preserving soups in various ways for centuries.

The World Wars: Soup on The Frontline

During both World Wars, soup was a critical part of the rations for soldiers. It was easy to prepare in large quantities, could be nutritious, and had the added benefit of boosting morale. Back home, citizens facing rationing and food shortages turned to soups to make the most out of limited ingredients. Think British ‘Woolton Pie,’ a dish of mixed veggies in a sort of broth, named after the Minister of Food. It was basically a soup masquerading as a pie.

Modern Era: A Bowl of Global Influence

Today, Europe’s soup culture is a diverse mix of old traditions and new influences. You’ve got your classic French Onion Soup, Spanish Gazpacho, and Russian Borscht sitting comfortably next to more recent arrivals like Asian Pho and African Peanut Soup. And let’s not forget the gift from Scandinavia, the Pea Soup. Often paired with thin pancakes, it’s a dish traditionally served on Thursdays, stemming from an old pre-Reformation Christian tradition.

Spanish gazpacho soup
Spanish gazpacho soup

The Cool Trends: Soup Cleanses to DIY Soup Bars

Currently, we’re seeing a revival of the ancient concept of soup as medicine, with soup cleanses emerging as a healthier alternative to juice cleanses. At the same time, the foodie culture has taken soup to new experimental levels. Ever tried a beetroot and coconut milk soup? Well, you should—it’s a millennial favorite!

The Takeaway: Soup is Eternal

From ancient pots over open fires to Michelin-starred restaurants serving soup as an amuse-bouche, Europe’s love affair with soup is ageless. It’s a staple that has survived wars, crossed cultural boundaries, and continues to evolve. It’s more than just liquid in a bowl—it’s a story, a history, and a testament to the enduring power of simple, nourishing food.

So the next time you slurp down a bowl of your favorite soup, take a moment to appreciate the rich tapestry of experiences, cultures, and eras that have contributed to that humble bowl of comfort in your hands. Because let’s be honest—soup is pretty darn amazing.

So here’s to soup: the comforter, the sustainer, the unifier, and yes, the culinary superstar in disguise. Cheers, or should I say, “Bon appétit!”