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Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

Rating chicken-noodle soups: the good, the bland and the ugly

By C. D Clawson

December 15, 2006 | It's that time of the year again when red and green seem to be everywhere, when our lawns are replaced by a few feet of snow, and when soccer moms pull each other's hair out over Sesame Street dolls. Yes, even the winter season has its dark side, and we know it as Cold and Flu Season. It's time to pull out some extra blankets, the humidifier and a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup. Here's some advice on which brands to buy and which ones to avoid.

In a blind taste test, the following brands of canned chicken noodle soup were compared: Campbell's, Healthy Choice and Progresso. Our panel of judges was determined to find the soup with the firmest, thickest pieces of vegetables, the heartiest egg noodles and pieces of chicken and a thick well-seasoned broth. Cost and nutritional value were also considered.

Campbell's Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup -- This brand sticks out for its mediocrity, although it appears to be the healthiest of the three brands. It may be most recognizable, relatively healthy, and the least expensive, but this brand lacks quite a bit as far as taste goes. One taste-tester remarked, "It tastes like a good soup that sat on the shelf for months and months." The soggy noodles, thin, greasy broth, and lack of vegetables really detract from the distinct and strong chicken flavor.

Campbell's lacked the most necessary ingredient in chicken noodle soup. There is almost no chicken in the soup. How can you call it chicken noodle soup with almost no chicken? Even worse, the little bits of meat that the soup did have looked and felt like discolored erasers off of No. 2 pencils. There is nothing worse than the feeling in your jaw muscles bouncing as your rubbery food fights back.

Price: $1.39 (2.5 servings)
Calories (per serving): 60
Fat: 1.5 g
Sodium: 890 mg
Rating: 2.0 stars out of 5

Healthy Choice Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup -- This was the most disappointing of all of the brands tested. The label suggests that this variety is healthier; however, the nutritional facts suggest otherwise. Although the brand has half the sodium of the other two brands, it has more calories. And, as is the case with many food products that purport to be healthier, supposed health comes at the cost of taste.

The vegetables are so soft and mushy that they fall apart in the bowl. The broth is thick, but has a bland, oily aftertaste. The noodles looked divine, but after taking a bite into one a taste-tester said of the noodles, "These must be made of plastic." All around this was an unforgivable combination which overpowered the hearty, genuine chicken pieces which were as out of place as a Hawaiian shirt at a formal dinner party.

Price: $1.99 (2 servings)
Calories (per serving): 110
Fat: 2.0 g
Sodium: 480 mg
Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

Progresso Rich and Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup -- This soup lived up to its name. The broth is thick and rich just like Grandma used to make. It's not oily and doesn't leave that greasy, sticky feeling on your lips. The generous pieces of chicken taste real and don't look processed. The selling point of the brand however, is the real egg noodles. They're not so mushy that they fall apart on your tongue nor are they rubbery, but the perfect balance between the two extremes.

The brand does fall flat in two significant aspects. This brand, although relatively low in fat and carbohydrates, is fairly high in sodium, and, as is the case with the other two brands tested, the vegetables were mushy. However, the price and taste handily made up for these less significant details.

Price: $1.99 (2.5 servings)
Calories (per serving): 100
Fat: 2.0 g
Sodium: 950 mg
Rating: 4.0 stars out of 5

After sampling these three different brands of chicken noodle soup, our three taste-testers came to a conclusion with but a few seconds of deliberation. They recommend Progresso Rich and Hearty for that part of the season spent underneath the covers with a thermometer and a bowl of soup.



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