It’s soup season. And when soup is loaded with vegetables and beans, it can be really good for you. But when it’s loaded with sodium, not so much. Consumer Reports’ food experts took a close look at minestrone, that Italian classic, to search for tasty ones that are healthier.
Consumer Reports tasters did a blind taste test of nine of the lowest-sodium minestrones, looking for well-blended flavors and tender — not mushy — beans and veggies.
Does less salt mean less flavor? Not at all! Salt is a flavor enhancer, but herbs and spices and acids like those in tomatoes give minestrone flavor.
CR found that the best-tasting soups come in glass jars — not in cans — and are frozen or refrigerated. In canning, soup can be processed under high heat, which strips away the flavor and makes vegetables, pasta and beans too soft.
Here are three that got marks of Very Good for taste.
Tabatchnick Minestrone (510 mg sodium/110 calories/1.5 g fat) comes frozen and is described as thick and hearty. It has lots of veggies and beans with a slightly firm texture and soft pasta shells. It has a slight salty flavor.
Trader Joe’s Organic Hearty Minestrone (630 mg sodium/100 calories/2 g fat) is boldly flavored with rosemary and other dried herbs and is moderately salty with nicely textured red and white beans.
Instead of tomatoes, Zuppa Rustica Minestrone (530 mg sodium/330 calories/16 g fat) is loaded with beans, cabbage and other veggies. It has 16 grams of fat, some of which come from olive oil. It has a moderately salty flavor.
But Consumer Reports’ top choice in the blind test is a homemade minestrone made by its trained chef. It had less sodium and the best flavor of all of them. So if you have a little more time, consider making your own soup. It just might taste better and be better for you.
Consumer Reports’ easy minestrone recipe
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (28 ounce) can no salt added crushed tomatoes
3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 (15 ounce) can no salt added chickpeas, drained
1 (15 ounce) can no salt added kidney beans, drained
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces ditalini pasta, cooked according to package directions
4 cups fresh spinach
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1. Add the oil, onion, celery, carrots, and garlic to a multi-cooker on Sauté mode or a traditional large pot on the stovetop. Stir and sauté the ingredients for 5 minutes. Stir in oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
2. Add the tomatoes, broth, water, chickpeas, kidney beans, zucchini, and green beans. For multi-cooker: Close the lid with the vent in the sealing position. Change the setting to Pressure mode. Set the timer for 5 minutes. When the multi-cooker beeps, do a quick pressure release according to the manufacturer’s directions. For stovetop: bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 to 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
3. Stir in the spinach until wilted, about 1 minute; add cooked pasta. Serve topped with the Parmesan cheese and parsley.
Makes about 10 servings
Nutritional information per 1 cup serving: 210 calories, 4 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 33 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 10 g protein, 190 mg sodium