How To Elevate The Flavor Of Canned Tomato Soup

Who doesn't know the comforting pleasure of a grilled cheese sandwich perfectly paired with a bowl of steamy tomato soup on a rainy afternoon? The same rings true, even if your soup du jour is of the straight-from-the-can variety. For many of us, the flavor of tomato soup has the ability to transport us back to our childhood — it was the splash of color that brightened an otherwise gloomy winter day. But we grew up, and so did our tastebuds, so why settle for the tinned sentimentality and admittedly one-dimensional flavor of your average canned soup? The good news is, you don't have to.

Viewed as a foundation, canned tomato soup can be taken in a myriad of directions. Think of that freshly opened can as an opportunity to explore your tastes, finding new favorites, and growing your inner child's culinary repertoire. Once you have a few basic principles down, it's hard to really mess up. By adding some spices, textures, thickeners, and a few carefully chosen toppings, sprucing up your tomato soup can actually be a fun and rewarding experience (especially for your tastebuds).

Get ready to crack open a can and let your creativity run wild.

Canned tomato soup and simmering spices

Out of the can, tomato soup is as you would expect — pretty basic. Its main ingredients are most often water, tomato paste, sugar, a little wheat flour or some other starch, salt, citric acid, and maybe a few mild spices to round out the flavor. Even though that doesn't sound like much, that's the beauty of one of these little magic cans of starter — it's like a blank canvas you can embellish as you like.

To get started, the first thing you'll want to consider is the direction you'd like to take your seasoning profile. If you're looking to add some flavor but nothing too trendy, stick with oregano, fresh or dried basil, or Italian seasoning. Dill or marjoram can add a few zippy little notes if you'd like to branch out a little more. If you want to put a French twist on things try chervil (aka French parsley) or something a bit more chi-chi like herbs de Provence (in place of Italian seasoning). Or, for a Mexican spin, sprinkle in some cumin, chili powder, garlic, onions, and Mexican oregano to give your tomato soup some spicy flair.

Adding texture and flavor to canned tomato soup

Once you've decided on a flavor zone and the requisite blend of spices, you might consider adding some texture. While some folks prefer the ultra smooth consistency of the majority of canned tomato soups, if you're feeling a little more adventurous, you can jazz things up both flavor-wise and texturally, by adding your favorite pasta (fusilli, gnocchi, and tortellini are great choices) or a handful of your favorite veggies. 

When it comes to vegetables, spinach or kale are perfect go-to choices. Not only do they mesh well with tomato's vibrant, acidic flavors, but they add a little bulk to your soup without overpowering it. You can also double down on brightening up that tomatoey flavor, shifting its consistency by stirring in some chopped bits of sun-dried tomato, chunks of canned stewed tomato, or dicing up a fresh one.

But if what you're after is something a bit more subtle, increasing your soup's overall body without heading to chunky town, try cooking down some diced yellow onions and minced garlic on the stovetop, or roasting up some jalapeños, poblanos, or sweet bell peppers in red, yellow, or orange (or all three). Once your add-ins are appropriately sautéed or roasted and peeled, blend them up with your canned soup for tons of extra flavor and only a smidge of added texture.

Canned tomato soup and thickeners

The next thing you'll want to consider when sprucing up your canned tomato soup is viscosity. One of the fastest ways to level up your canned soup, is to give it a little heft. While most canned soups can be a bit on the thin side, restaurant-style tomato soup is often thicker and more silken in texture like bisque. Of course, the easiest fix is to sub in milk or heavy cream for water (just be sure to simmer your soup slowly, taking care not to curdle the soup). 

Cream cheese is another excellent thickening ingredient, adding that creamy smoothness and a zesty infusion at the same time (an immersion blender comes in handy here). Dairy-free? No problem — a simple boiled potato (high starch russets or even instant mashed potato flakes work best here), blended smooth with your canned soup will thicken it sans dairy, while adding some much needed mouthfeel.

And while you can resort to other kitchen staple thickeners like corn or potato starch, it's always best to find a more flavorful alternative. In this case, take your inspiration from the French, adding a chunk of beurre manié (made of equal parts flour and butter kneaded together) to your soupy creation. Mix some herbs in and this doughy little flavor bomb may be the only thing you need to elevate your canned soup to a place that will leave you feeling bougie on a budget.

Top-off your canned tomato soup

And now for the big finish — toppings. This is where you can really get creative. Top-off your masterpiece with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream and a sprinkling of chives or fried onions. Try topping it with shredded chicken, crumbled bleu cheese, diced avocado, or even a fried egg. Add some grated parmesan or cheddar for that extra melty, cheesy goodness. Or finish it all off with crispy bacon, parmesan crisps, or crunchy, garlicky croutons. 

Looking for something simpler but more elegant? Add a splash of sherry or red wine vinegar and a chiffonade of fresh basil, a tablespoon of homemade pesto or romesco sauce, or maybe a squeeze of fresh lime and some freshly fried corn tortillas strips or a palmful of pepitas. And don't forget a twist or two of fresh ground pepper.

With these tips, it's clear you don't have to give up the comforting taste of the tomato soup from your childhood. You can simply treat canned tomato soup as the perfect start to an elevated tomato soup experience that will appease your evolved palate, while still providing that cozy hit of nostalgia. The only limits are your imagination. 

Now, to elevate that grilled cheese sandwich ...