Grilled Cheese And Tomato Soup: The History Behind The Iconic Pairing

A gooey slice of a perfectly toasted grilled cheese sandwich dipped into a steaming bowl of flavorful tomato soup is a tough combination to beat when it comes to easy comfort and satisfying taste. Yet how this delicious duo came to be so commonly revered is less known. 

In the 1920s, when vegetables and meat were costly, pre-packaged replacements and affordable ingredients held special appeal for everyday Americans. Canned and processed foods offered not only convenience but some nourishment with less of an impact on finances. Once James L. Kraft invented processed cheese and Otto Frederick Rohwedder created a bread slicer, the simple sandwich took off. Though tomato soup had been circulating among kitchens since the mid-1800s, the marriage of the cheesy sandwich served with the bowl of soup didn't occur until World War II. Military families and sailors turned to the meal for sustenance, and soon, the combination found its way into civilian society. 

When necessity is the mother of invention

With the vitamin C found in tomatoes and carbs packed in the cheese sandwiches, tomato soup and grilled cheese was a quick recipe that could keep energy levels high without blowing any fiscal budgets. When coupled with a steaming bowl of soup, the humble sandwich took on a new form. In time, it wasn't only soldiers craving the soup-and-sandwich coupling, but the meal could also be found served up in schools and government-run institutions.

Though the sandwich's origins came from a thrifty place, it has maintained a firm grip on the American culinary landscape. Grilled cheese and tomato soup have flavored both snacks and candles, and boards made with the soup and various accouterments have graced dinner parties. Through various ingredient substitutions and culinary swaps, chefs have sought to reimagine the soup and sandwich combination, creating deconstructed versions offered at higher-end establishments and using edible gold flakes to plate pieces of toasted French bread. Regardless of your budget, there are grilled cheese and tomato soup pairings that are right for you, without needing to experience military rations firsthand.