As a child, if my sister or I were unwell, my grandmother and my mum would make a big pot of chicken soup; it was the family go-to...
We loved it, and always found it nourishing, soothing and delicious. This time-honoured family tradition has continued in our household today, as we often consume it for dinner, lunch and even breakfast.
But beyond it being the ultimate comfort food, the humble bowl of chicken soup also boasts some pretty impressive health and immune-boosting benefits. Referred to by many as ‘Jewish penicillin’—the medicinal benefits of chicken soup are well-recognised the world over. In fact, it’s reported that an Egyptian-Jewish physician and philosopher was recommending chicken soup to help treat respiratory conditions as far back as the 12th century! Almost every traditional culture has their own variation of chicken soup and whether enjoyed during the depths of winter, or simply when you’re feeling a little under the weather, a great chicken soup recipe (or two!) is the perfect kitchen companion.
Thankfully making chicken soup is quite easy. I often do a big Sunday broth cook up and freeze batches to use as a base for many simple but impressive and delicious dishes throughout the week—Vietnamese style Pho with a few sticks of cinnamon and star anise simmered in the broth with a touch of chilli and lime and the addition of rice noodles; Chinese style with some shiitake mushrooms, bokchoy, coriander and gratings of ginger; Thai style with kaffir lime leaves and coconut dumplings, or two of my favourites, an Italian style Stracciatella or Greek Avgolemono with egg, lemon and spinach. For something a little more substantial, I often add a little cooked buckwheat groats or rice to these dishes too.
Given the current health climate, having a stash of chicken soup in your freezer is not only practical and easy for a quick and healthy meal, but also a wonderful way to help bolster your immunity. Here’s why...
To Support Gut Health
As the gut is the key to our overall health and immunity, it makes sense that we must nourish it with nutrient-dense wholefoods. And when it comes to gut nourishment, there’s nothing more healing than bone broth—the base of any great chicken soup. But the secret to bone broth’s incredible health benefits lies in the diversity of amino acids contained within it. Glycine, for example, is an amino acid that assists the cells in our gut to regenerate, protecting and strengthening our gut, while proline and glycine both help to boost collagen production. As the most abundant protein in our bodies, collagen provides the building blocks for our bones, ligaments, joints, hair, skin and immune cells—so it’s essential that we consume collagen-boosting foods, like bone broth and chicken soup, to help support its synthesis. L-glutamine is also essential for gut health, strengthening the intestinal barrier, protecting the delicate gut lining and supporting immune cell activity in the gut, with research suggesting that L-glutamine may also help to modulate our immune response to infection or trauma. The presence of amino acid-rich gelatin in chicken soup, also helps to heal and seal the gut which subsequently improves digestion and our ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients.
To Combat Inflammation
Put simply, inflammation is our body’s natural protective immune response to a perceived threat such as a bacterial infection or virus, and most low-grade inflammation stems from the gut. This is why it’s so essential to strengthen our gut lining by including as many anti-inflammatory foods in our diet as possible. The magic of chicken soup is that not only is it rich in amino acids like L-glutamine which strengthens the intestinal barrier and subsequently reduces inflammation, but depending on the ingredients you choose to add to your broth, you can boost its anti-inflammatory properties dramatically. Herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, turmeric and black pepper all contain immune-boosting compounds which help to bolster immunity. Garlic, for example, contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant quercetin, which research suggests may improve overall immune health and protect against infection while ginger and turmeric are both traditionally added to chicken soup to support immune health. Curcumin, the orange/yellow pigment in turmeric, is anti-inflammatory and actually helps to modulate our immune systems, while ginger is also a potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial—making it the perfect addition to your chicken soup recipe!
To Up Your Vitamins And Minerals Intake
Our overall immune health is also dependent on ensuring we consume a variety of micronutrients in our diet and the good news is, chicken soup is packed with goodness! Including a variety of nutrient-dense vegetables—kale, spinach, bitter greens shiitake mushrooms and carrots —as well as herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, coriander, garlic or ginger, not only adds a depth of flavour to your broth, but boosts its nutritional value, too. Bones are also a great source of minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese and zinc—which all help to support immune health—so get the most out of your chicken soup by cooking it low and slow to draw out these magnificent micronutrients. Adding a dash of apple cider vinegar can also help draw out the minerals from the broth.
My Chicken Broth
If you’re ready to get cooking and discover the immune-boosting benefits of chicken soup for yourself, here is my favourite chicken broth base. I hope you enjoy.
Best, Carla xx