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What’s the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

Created December 10, 2019
Dump-It Slow-Cooker Beef Stew, Creamy Tomato-Basil Soup, Easy Ham and Potato Corn Chowder)
Is it a soup or a stew? Let us finally set the record straight on some of our favorite foods in a bowl.
In this season of all things cozy, our meals are a regular rotation of warm, hearty comfort foods usually served in a bowl—there’s no argument there. But it’s what’s inside that bowl that stirs the pot on what each of us considers a soup vs. a stew vs. a chowder. So let’s take a deep-dive into our catalog of cold-weather recipes, break down the differences and similarities between our go-to foods in a bowl and dig into the details of our favorite cozy winter meals.
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The Difference Between Soup and Stew

Soup and stew both serve the same purpose: To provide us with a nourishing, comforting meal the whole family will love. They’re also both served in bowls, they’re both delicious and they both pair perfectly with Pillsbury™ crescents or biscuits for dunking. Beyond that, however, there are several distinctions that make up a soup vs. a stew. Let’s simmer more on that, shall we?

The main difference between soup and stew is found in the primary ingredient: liquid. In soup, the liquid is the main deliverer of the ingredients within the pot. Soup can either be completely liquified, or it can include other elements (such as meat, fish or vegetables) that are fully submerged in broth, water or stock.

Stew, however, is much heartier and thicker than soup. The ingredients are chunkier, too, and while the overall dish includes liquid, it contains just enough to cover the main ingredients.

Another way to look at it: Soup is any combination of ingredients cooked in liquid. Stew is any dish that’s prepared by stewing—that is, submerging the ingredients with just enough liquid to cook them through at a simmer in a covered pot for a long time.

The Details on Soup

One-Pot Creamy Tuscan Ravioli Soup

Soup is one of the oldest prepared foods that has made its way into modern cooking—there is evidence to suggest that soup existed as far back as 20,000 B.C.! The category of soup is extremely broad and includes a wide variety of bases, add-ins and toppings. It also varies greatly by cooking time—while some soups simmer for hours, others are ready to eat in 30 minutes or less.

Soup also isn’t defined by its consistency—it can be thick, thin, chunky, smooth, hot or cold. It can cook on the stove, in the slow cooker or in the Instant Pot®. It can be made just before dinner or days before (and it freezes beautifully, too).

The process of making soup generally involves bringing all ingredients to a boil, then simmering for a period of time to enhance the flavors. For example, with our Creamy Tomato-Basil Soup, you can have a simple-yet-scrumptious soup in an hour’s time ready to eat right away, or you can freeze it for later—you choose!

What you’ll need:

  • 3-quart saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Blender
  • Large mixing bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 can (28 oz) Muir Glen™ organic crushed tomatoes with basil, undrained
  • 3/4 cup Progresso™ chicken broth (from 32-oz carton)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired

First, heat oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 5 minutes until tender.

Saute onions

Next, stir in crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the half-and-half and basil.

Soup in a pot with a wooden spoon, on the stove

Carefully pour half of the mixture into a blender; cover and blend on high speed for 30 seconds or until smooth (or don’t, if you like chunky soup!). Place the blended mixture in a bowl and repeat the blending step with the remaining half of the soup mixture.

Soup in a blender

Return the blended soup to the saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until heated through. Serve with Parmesan cheese for topping.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

Expert tip: Love soup as much as we do? Host a soup swap to stock up on new recipes and share your favorites!

The Details on Stew

Instant Pot® Beef Stew

Just thinking about stew gives us the warm fuzzy feelings inside. It’s the kind of food that sticks to your ribs, keeps you cozy like a big sweater on a chilly day and doesn’t take much to turn into a hearty, filling meal for the whole family.

Unlike soup, stew is defined more narrowly: It’s almost always served warm, tends to be thick with chunky with larger-cut ingredients and usually benefits from a longer cook time. A stew’s meat or vegetables are barely covered with cooking liquid (usually water, broth or stock, oftentimes enhanced by wine or beer for additional flavor) and, during cooking, the liquid reduces to a gravy-like base that is sometimes thickened by flour, cornstarch or a roux.

Like soup, stew can be made on the stove, in the slow cooker or in the Instant Pot®. It can be made just before serving, prepped and refrigerated ahead of time or frozen and stocked for whenever you need a cozy meal.

Stews can benefit from a secondary serving component—such as mashed potatoes, noodles or rice—but they also taste delightful on their own. In the case of our popular Dump-It Slow-Cooker Beef Stew, everything cooks in the slow cooker and preps in just 5 minutes so you can have a hearty bowl of yums with minimal effort.

What you’ll need:

  • 6-quart slow cooker
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Whisk or fork

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb beef stew meat, chopped
  • 1 package (1.5 oz) beef stew seasoning mix
  • 1 bag (12 oz) frozen mixed vegetables (preferably with onions)
  • 14 oz baby yellow potatoes
  • 8 oz baby-cut carrots
  • 1 carton (32 oz) Progresso™ beef flavored broth
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

First, spray slow cooker insert with cooking spray. In slow cooker, place the stew meat, beef stew seasoning mix, frozen vegetables, baby yellow potatoes, baby-cut carrots and beef broth. Stir to combine. Cover and cook everything on High heat 5 to 6 hours (or Low heat 8 to 10 hours).

Stew meat, mixed vegetables, baby yellow potatoes, seasoning, broth in a slow cooker

Before serving, transfer 1/2 cup of the stew broth into a small bowl and beat with flour, using whisk, until smooth. Pour back into the stew and stir until the mixture is thickened.

Whisk together broth and flour

Expert tip: Use prechopped beef stew meat from your local grocer or butcher for even less prep work!

Dump-It Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

Stew vs. Chowder

Easy Ham and Potato Corn Chowder

While we’re talking about all things we love to eat from a bowl, let’s discuss the difference between stew and chowder! Chowder is a type of soup or stew that’s often prepared with milk or cream and butter, and thickened with a roux, crackers or hard biscuits. Oftentimes they’re made with vegetables or seafood, but some of our favorite chowders are meat-based (such as our Easy Ham and Potato Corn Chowder). Chowders also feature chunky ingredients and a thicker, creamier texture more akin to stew than soup.