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A bowl of home-made chicken soup

Will chicken soup really help your cold?

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Find out why this classic comforter should be your go-to when you’re suffering from the sniffles… and use our recipe to stock up your freezer, ready for winter.

The case for chicken soup when you have a cold

The Vietnamese have chicken-noodle soup (pho ga), Malaysia and Singapore have laksa, the Hungarians serve a clear chicken soup studded with dumplings and European Jewish cultures have matzo ball soup. 

There’s good reason why so many cultures go hard on the birdy broth – and it goes beyond the fact that it’s so darn comforting to eat. 

Along with its warming properties, which make it perfect fodder for a chilly winter’s night, chicken soup is widely touted for its purported health benefits.

What makes chicken soup good for a cold?

A classic Western-style chicken soup is made with collagen-laden chicken broth, virtually a crisper’s worth of veggies, meat from the bird itself and sometimes noodles or rice. When those powers combine, you’ve got yourself a super nourishing dish.

Take immune-friendly ingredients such as onion and garlic. Both are thought to reduce inflammation, making a soup loaded with them if not a cure, then a salve for a stubborn bout of cold and flu. 

The broth itself is a boon for those looking to lessen the severity of sniffles. For a start, inhaling the steam from a hot bowl of soup will help to clear up sinus congestion quick-smart. 

There’s a reason your mum shimmied you into a steamy shower when your nose started running as a kid – and it might not just be old wives’ tales. 

When you’ve caught a cold, white blood cells called neutrophils make a beeline for your throat, causing inflammation that leads to pesky coughs. 

But a study published in medical journal Chest found that chicken soup (researchers haven’t narrowed it down to just the one ingredient) stopped those neutrophils from fleeing, leading to reduced inflammation and upper-respiratory symptoms. 

Maybe it’s just the ingredients themselves that are the heroes. After all, what could be better than a bowl full of vitamin-, mineral- and protein-heavy foods such as chicken, broth and vegetables? 

And if your soup is made with real chicken-bone stock (as it ought to be, chefs), it’ll contain gelatine, which is thought to help you absorb all those nutrients from the other ingredients. 

Even at a very basic level, the amount of water you’re taking in via the soup is beneficial.  

While the science behind chicken soup’s cold-busting benefits is a little shaky (let’s be honest – nothing can “cure” cold and flu), there are still plenty of other things that can explain why so many cultures have touted it as curative over the centuries. 

The nostalgia factor, for one, is high. If your mum fed you chicken soup when you were sick as a child, doing the same as an adult could offer a placebo effect. 

Plus, when you’re feeling lousy – or if it’s cold out and your throat is feeling a bit scratchy – there are few things more comforting than a hearty bowl of salty, meaty soup. 

RECIPE: Chicken soup for the soul (and sniffles)

Serves - 6
Prep time - 20 minutes
Cook time - 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 6 carrots, 2 peeled and roughly chopped, 4 peeled and sliced
  • 5cm piece ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 100g thin, dried egg noodles
  • Handful greens, such as kale or baby spinach
  • Salt and pepper, to season

How to make

1. To make the stock, place the chicken, 1 onion, celery, 2 carrots, ginger and bay leaf into a large saucepan. Pour over 2.5 litres of water. 

2. Bring to the boil, skimming any scum that might rise to surface. 

3. Once at boiling point, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, occasionally skimming surface of scum.

4. Once the stock is ready, pull out the chicken carcass, leave to cool, then shred the meat. Set aside and reserve the stock. 

5. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan. Place remaining onion, carrots, garlic cloves and thyme in pan and cook for 10 minutes, or until soft.

6. Strain the stock through a fine sieve, then return to the saucepan, along with softened vegetables and noodles. Bring to the boil, and cook until al dente (8–10 minutes, depending on brand). Two minutes before ready, add greens.

7. Ladle soup into bowls and season to taste with salt and pepper.