21 Clever Ways To Garnish Your Soup

One of the biggest mistakes people make with their homemade soup is leaving off the garnish. You've gone through all that trouble to make everything from scratch, so it's worth taking just one more step to add not only visual interest but also extra flavor. Even the best soups can benefit from a bit of textural crunch, an herby lift, or a swirl of something creamy. You can also dress up your canned soups to make lunchtime more interesting.

It's your choice whether to keep your garnishes on the minimalist side or mix and match. All of these garnishes work well with others (which is why they're so good with soup), so combine them as you please.  Some complementary garnish pairings include cheese and herbs, popcorn and seasoned salt, sour cream and bacon, and olive oil and walnuts. The combination possibilities are practically endless, so feel free to get creative. 

1. Homemade croutons

Croutons are kind of a no-brainer when it comes to garnishing your soup. Along with crackers, they're probably one of the soup toppings you'll find most often. Don't insult a good bowl of soup with those stale, tasteless packets of croutons you get at the drive-through. Make your own croutons and take your soup up a level.

Croutons are not only a cinch to make, but you can make use of those less-than-fresh pieces of bread. If you're one of those people who always cuts the crusts off your sandwiches, start saving them for future use as croutons. Simply toss bread cubes in oil or melted butter, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, and bake on a cookie sheet until golden and crunchy. You'll be amazed at how rich and buttery they taste. 

2. Creative crackers

Crackers are as ubiquitous as croutons, but they don't have to be boring. There's a whole world of crackers out there beyond the usual Saltines. Flavored crackers like sesame crackers, rosemary crackers, or even Chicken in a Biskit can add extra taste to your soup. Dense wheat crackers add both crunch and heft to simple broth-based soups like chicken noodle. 

When garnishing, you can also choose a cracker that pairs well visually with the soup you have on hand. Goldfish crackers are a fun partner for fish chowders, while the bright color of cheese-flavored crackers makes a nice color contrast to an overly beige cream soup. Animal crackers may be more like cookies than crackers, but their light vanilla flavor is just right for sweeter soups like sweet potato or pumpkin. 

3. Potato chips (and other salty snacks)

An easy way to add crunch to your soups is to head for your snack drawer. Potato chips are a brilliant way to garnish soups at home, but why stop there? Nearly any type of crunchy snack can be a topper for your soup. Pretzels are a perfect garnish for cheese-based soups, and they're even better with a beer-based cheese soup. Tortilla chips are a match made in heaven for chicken chili or southwestern soups.

Use flavored snacks to adjust the taste of your soups, for example, if your soup isn't spicy enough, add jalapeno or Cajun chips for extra heat. You can also add visual interest with the fun shapes of snacks like Bugles or Funyuns. Can't decide which snack to use? Garnish your soup with a snack mix. 

4. Fresh herbs

A bouquet of fresh green herbs looks beautiful on top of any bowl of soup, but they're not just for looks. Herbs bring a bright freshness to soups, giving a lift to the dish and elevating the flavor to something more deliciously complex. They're a must when serving spring soups, but can add a much-needed lightness to heavier winter soups and stews. 

Choose herbs that complement the flavors of the soup, such as basil leaves for tomato soup or thyme for chicken and vegetable soups. Cilantro gives a tasty boost to soups with Southeast Asian flavor profiles as well as those with a Tex-Mex flair. Autumnal soups pair well with sage or rosemary, adding lovely aromatics along with the flavor. Don't overlook parsley, either: It adds a pop of color to any bowl of soup. 

5. A swirl of something creamy

Sour cream, crème fraiche, and Greek yogurt each make a useful garnish for any soup that can benefit from a tangy flavor and a creamy texture. As you spoon up the soup, the topping becomes incorporated into the soup, and the whole dish gets creamier. It gets prettier, too, as making a swirl on top of colorful soups like pea soup or borscht makes them suddenly Instagram-worthy. 

Don't worry if you're not so adept at swirling. A gentle dollop will do just as well, and you can sprinkle fresh herbs on top of the creamy white cloud for further visual interest. Making vegan soup? Try one of the many non-dairy sour cream or yogurt products as a garnish. This is a beautiful way to serve soup for a dinner party. 

6. Crunchy chickpeas

Crunchy toppings are among the best when it comes to soup garnishes because it's nice to have something to contrast with the mostly liquid meal. If you've already tried every cracker, chip, and snack food, how about something a little more off the beaten path? Chickpeas can be transformed into something akin to crunchy nuts by baking them in the oven (they're a legume, just like peanuts). 

You can get more detailed instructions on how to make roasted chickpeas while also learning a sweet potato curry soup recipe that uses them for a garnish. Roasted chickpeas pair well with heavily-spiced soups and stews, like those from Morocco or India. Make plenty, because you'll end up snacking on them while your soup simmers. (You'll be lucky if any last long enough to use as a garnish.)

7. Crumbled bacon

Is there anything that can't be improved by bacon? If there is, it's certainly not soup. The crunchy, meaty, salty, savory ingredient is everything a soup could need, all rolled up into one tasty topping. Of course, the classic soup pairing for crumbled bacon is homemade potato soup, but dare to think outside the bowl. Crispy shards of bacon are wonderful on chowders and other creamy soups, as the savory taste helps balance the sweetness of ingredients like cream and fresh corn. 

If all you have on hand is vegetarian soup and you're not in a vegetarian mood, bring on the bacon. Bean-based soups are just begging for some bacon on top. Make any soup extra hearty by adding both cheese and bacon, for a meal that's both filling and delicious. 

8. Grated or crumbled cheese

When it comes to topping a soup, cheese is downright transformative. Imagine a French onion soup without a bubbling layer of Gruyère on the top or a baked potato soup without a generous grating of sharp cheddar. Cheese is more than just a garnish. For some soups, it's an absolutely essential ingredient. 

Of course, almost any soup can benefit from a little (or a lot of) cheese. Try dusting your next bowl of minestrone with some fresh-grated Parmesan, or add some pungent crumbles of gorgonzola or stilton to a simple bowl of tomato soup. Spicy Mexican or Tex-Mex soups can be enhanced with some salty cotija. Tip: Make sure your soup isn't too overly hot when you add the cheese, or it could separate.

9. Seeds and nuts

Seeds and nuts are sometimes an obvious choice for a soup garnish, depending on the soup. Ground or whole peanuts are a given when you're serving a Thai peanut soup and it's become common to serve pumpkin soup with a garnish of pumpkin seeds. Don't be afraid to make some less predictable choices among the many varieties of seeds and nuts you could use to top your soup.

Pomegranate seeds, walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds can all add interest to soups, and they're especially good with autumnal soup recipes. For the best taste and texture, most nuts benefit from toasting beforehand. Simply toss them in a skillet for a few minutes until they're a toasty brown. (Keep them moving; they can burn easily.)

10. French fried onions

French-fried onions aren't just for topping the holiday green bean casserole. You may be used to only seeing the crispy onions once a year, but it's worth keeping them on hand all year long as a go-to garnish for soups that need a little extra something. The commercial variety makes things simple, but for even better taste, consider making your own.

To make French-fried onions, slice onions extra-thinly, soak in buttermilk, dredge in seasoned flour, and fry until they reach crispy perfection. The onions are a perfect garnish for creamed soups like cream of mushroom or cream of asparagus, and they're a novel way to top onion soup if you want to forego the usual toasted bread. You can also use them to top Chinese-style soups in place of wonton strips. 

11. Crispy fried sage leaves

Sage leaves seem custom-made for fall, with an aromatic taste that makes so many of the season's recipes memorable. (What would cornbread stuffing be without sage?) Seasonal soups can benefit from sage as well, but there's no need to stop with simply adding dried sage to your soup as it's cooking. Sage is also a beautiful soup topper.

Because of their powerful aroma and taste, raw sage leaves aren't the best move when garnishing soup. Frying them in a pan makes for a completely different experience, though. Pan-fry whole sage leaves until crispy, and they're transformed into lovely leaves that are far more edible than their raw counterparts. You can even crumble them to release their flavors, but they look pretty left intact, especially when garnishing squash-based soups.

12. Dill pickles

If you're searching the pantry or fridge for an inventive soup garnish, don't overlook the jar of pickles. Plenty of soups can use a boost of something tangy and sour. It's an unexpected garnish, but one that can add that special something to the right soups. Overly creamy and fatty soups can be balanced with acidic ingredients, so a super soup to top with pickles is a heavy cheeseburger soup. (Pickles also add to the inherent cheeseburger-ness of the dish).

Of course, the best use of pickles as a soup garnish would be for dill pickle soup, a dish that's sure to please the biggest pickle lovers. Don't forget pickled ingredients beyond the humble dilled cucumbers. Pickled onions, pickled green tomatoes, and pickled jalapenos are all fine additions to soup. 

13. Pesto

The great thing about pesto is that each of its ingredients makes a splendid addition to soups on their own. Basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan, and olive oil are each worthy of being a soup garnish. A spoonful of pesto lets you reap the benefits of each of these flavor enhancers all at the same time. Even just a little pesto goes a long way.

Ina Garten is a fan of stirring a spoonful or two of pesto into minestrone as it cooks because of the flavor that it adds, but using it as a garnish makes the soup look as beautiful as it tastes. While pesto works with a myriad of soup recipes, keep visual contrast in mind. Tomato-based soups and creamy white soups look spectacular when garnished with the fresh burst of green pesto provides. 

14. Microgreens

For something a bit more subtle than pesto, but still brilliantly fresh and green, consider topping your soup with microgreens. The delicate-looking baby greens elevate the presentation of soups into something worthy of a fine restaurant menu or magazine cover. Don't let the preciousness of the tiny leaves fool you: They still have plenty of fresh, herbaceous flavor. (And while a few sprigs look great, you can pile a cluster of them on, too.)

Microgreens are an especially good garnish for light spring soups when warm-weather ingredients are at their best. (Heavy soups and stews would eclipse what they have to offer.) A spring pea soup or asparagus soup would make a good pairing, or place microgreens artfully atop cold soups like cucumber-dill or vichyssoise.

15. Fruits and vegetables

Your produce bin is a great place to find soup garnishes, though it's often overlooked. There's really no type of fruit or vegetable that couldn't make the perfect garnish for the right soup. For vegetable-based soups, consider garnishing with one of the soup's components. Roasted cherry tomatoes can top a tomato soup, sliced mushrooms can enhance mushroom soup, and a bit of grated carrot or zucchini can garnish your minestrone.

For less obvious garnishes, turn to fruit. Try some tangy grilled pineapple or mango on top of a spicy Tex-Mex soup or coconut soup. Thinly-sliced apples look (and taste) lovely atop butternut squash soup. Need to add zing to a lackluster soup? Garnish with some slices of fresh hot peppers to liven things up.

16. Popcorn

If you're having trouble getting kids to eat their soup, a whimsical garnish may be what you need to pique their interest. Freshly-popped popcorn is a fun soup topping that adds just the right amount of crunch, and because of its neutral taste, it works on any type of soup. Popcorn is the new crouton! If you'd like a little more flavor, you can always add seasonings to your popcorn before serving.

Popcorn as a soup garnish doesn't just have to be for kids. It's an easy thing to make for solo suppers at home (especially if you use bagged popcorn), but it can also be elevated. Popcorn can be artfully arranged and combined with ingredients like prosciutto or Parmesan to make a garnish that's both whimsical and gourmet.

17. Softboiled egg

There are a zillion ways to top a bowl of ramen soup, but for the perfect instant ramen, a softboiled egg is a must-have ingredient that does far more than just make an attractive garnish. The soft yolk of the egg combines with the hot broth to make it rich and creamy, upgrading it into a satisfying dish that belies its humbleness. 

When garnishing soup with an egg (whether ramen or any other soup), the trick is to undercook it. A fully hardboiled egg will turn rubbery in the hot soup, which cooks it further. Cook an egg for about six minutes to reach the softboiled stage, but you might undercook it for a couple of minutes if you would like even more of the runny yolk to infuse your soup with its golden strands. 

18. Seaweed

If you've only eaten nori when it's wrapped around sushi, you're sleeping on one of the world's great crunchy snack treats. Toasting sheets of nori gives them a lightly crisp crunch, which is great for snacking on, but it's also perfect for adding crunch and texture to soup as a garnish, not to mention the depth of the umami flavor it brings.

Wakame is another seaweed variety you might consider trying on your soup, and you can purchase it in strands or in flakes, so you can choose the type that brings the visual effect you desire. Seaweed is an ideal garnish for miso soup, but don't be afraid to try it on some Western-style soups. Toasted nori makes a tasty garnish for fish soups and chowders.

19. Olive oil (and other drizzly things)

There's no rule that says that soup garnishes have to be crunchy, or even creamy. When it comes down to it, you mostly want visual appeal and flavor, and texture is just a bonus. Olive oil has both visual appeal and flavor, and for simple soups, a little drizzle of its buttery, peppery goodness enhances the deliciousness of the soup's ingredients, while letting the soup's texture stand for itself.

A bit of balsamic vinegar adds similar (but more tangy) depth to soups, and a balsamic glaze can be artfully drizzled to make the soup as beautiful as it tastes. Want to achieve the drizzle effect with something more impactful? Try a swirl of sriracha sauce, straight from the bottle, to add both flavor and heat.

20. Wonton wrappers

If you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant, you've likely seen the ubiquitous crunchy strips sometimes served with egg drop or hot and sour soup. While they may seem common, there are a couple of things you need to know about them that can take your soups to a new level. The first is that you can make your own. The crunchy garnish is made with fried strips of wonton wrapper, that you can make hot and fresh with wonton wrappers from the grocery.

The second thing you need to know is that you are missing out if you're confining your use of crunchy wonton strips to the staple soups of Chinese takeout restaurants. Try some on your chicken noodle soup, wild rice soup, or in place of tortilla strips in a tortilla soup. 

21. Salt, pepper, and seasoning blends

Something as simple as salt and pepper can visually enhance soup when used as a garnish. Creamy white soups look more enticing with a dusting of cracked black pepper for contrast. Coarse-ground salt is pleasing atop cheese soups (add just before serving, before the crystals are absorbed). Experiment with salt blends and unusual varieties and colors of peppercorns. 

Seasoning blends are not only tasty but can add intrigue as a soup garnish. Everything bagel seasoning is useful in almost anything, and soup is no different. Try some as a topping for potato soup, tomato soup, or chowders. Japanese furikake seasoning was made for adding flavor and nutrients to rice, with multiple varieties and ingredients such as fish flakes and dried yuzu peel that can enhance soup flavors. Plus, furikake blends come in different shades, so you can match them artistically as well as by flavor.