What's the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

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Nothing warms you up on a chilly day like a hearty soup or stew. Looking for recipes? We’ve got plenty of ‘em. But, as you cook, you may find yourself wondering: What exactly is the difference between soup and stew?

Soup vs. Stew

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Soup and stew are very similar dishes. There’s a lot of crossover—some soups can definitely be considered stews and vice versa. There are a few distinctions, however: 

1. Soup uses more liquid. 

In soup, the liquid is the primary ingredient. Soup can be completely liquified or it can consist of other elements (like meat and vegetables) that are fully submerged in water, stock, or broth.

Stew, meanwhile, is typically chunkier. It contains just enough liquid to cover the main ingredients. 

2. Stew is a more narrowly defined category. 

As recipe category, soup is much broader than stew. Soups are technically any combination of ingredients cooked in liquid. They can be thick or thin, chunky or smooth, and hot or cold. Some soups take hours, while you can whip up others in 20 minutes or less and may not require cooking at all (like gazpacho). 

Stew is almost always served warm, is chunky and thick, and usually takes a while to prepare. 

3. The cooking methods can vary slightly. 

Stew can refer to any dish that is prepared by stewing—a method by which something that is barely covered in liquid is simmered slowly in a covered pot. 

Soup can be prepared in a variety of ways, but it’s often made by bringing ingredients to a boil and then simmering to deepen the flavors.

Related: 23 Soups and Stews to Make in Your Instant Pot

Soup 101

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Soup is one of the oldest prepared foods we still consume today. In fact, it’s likely as old as cooking itself. Evidence of its existence can be found as far back as about 20,000 B.C., according to Campbell’s. 

In French cuisine, soups are separated into two categories: clear (bouillon and consommé) and thick (purees and bisques). 

Again, this is a very broad category that includes both thin miso soup and chunky minestrone—thus, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what makes soup, well, soup

Soup Recipes

  • Lemony Chicken and Spinach Soup
  • Slow Cooker Tuscan White Bean Soup
  • Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheddar Cheese
  • Warm-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup
  • French Onion Soup With Ham

Get more soup recipes here. 

Stew 101

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Like soups, stews have been made since ancient times. Stew can consist of any combination of solid food ingredients (vegetables or meats) cooked in liquid, such as stock. Common ingredients are: beef, chicken, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, beans, and peppers. The liquid in stew is often thickened through reduction or with flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot to create a heartier, gravy-like base. 

Stew Recipes

  • Beef Stew
  • Slow Cooker Mediterranean Chicken and Quinoa Stew
  • Chicken and Mushroom Stew
  • Turkey-and-Collard Green Stew
  • Irish Beef Stew 

Get more stew recipes here. 

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