I’m sitting in my big comfy chair, wrapped up in a warm blanket, sipping tea and dreaming of chicken soup. If you draw the conclusion from that sentence that I have been stricken with one of the many viruses that have been making their way through our community, you are correct.
As the chief cook and bottle washer for the Lund household, I’m usually the one making chicken soup when someone in the household is sick, but today I just don’t have the energy to cut up a chicken, throw in some carrots, celery and onion and tend a pot while that aromatic brew turns into a healthful, healing broth. I am up to rehydrating a packet of chicken noodle dry mix or opening a can of broth or chicken noodle soup and very grateful I keep them on my pantry shelf.
What is it about chicken soup that is so comforting and healing to the body and soul when someone isn’t feeling well? I did an Internet search on that very question and was led to a study by a doctor from the Omaha medical community that was quoted by almost every major news source that did a story about this very issue.
Dr. Stephen Rennard is a pulmonary specialist in Omaha. In the 1990s, Dr. Rennard and his wife, Barbara were having a conversation about her grandmother’s statement that chicken soup was good for anyone suffering from a cold. As a researcher, Dr. Rennard couldn’t help but wonder if he could prove in a lab that chicken soup had an effect on the body’s ability to fight cold symptoms.
He set out to see if chicken soup acts as an anti-inflammatory as cold symptoms are often caused by the body’s inflammatory response to an invading virus. He had his wife make her grandmother’s soup and then tested it in a lab to see if he could prove that it had an effect on neutrophil migration. Neutrophils are the white blood cells that migrate to the respiratory tract when you have a cold to help fight the invading virus. Unfortunately, these cells don’t do a great job fighting the virus but they do make a cold-sufferer feel miserable because they produce lots of mucous that causes stuffiness, sneezing and coughing.
Lo and behold, Dr. Rennard found that chicken soup did inhibit neutrophil migration and therefore reduced the production of mucous that makes a cold so miserable. While his wife’s grandmother’s soup was effective, he also tested 13 commercially prepared soups from the shelves of a supermarket. They were also effective and five of them were even more effective than the homemade soup. Those tested included everything from ramen noodle soup to canned varieties.
Now as soon as I feel better, I plan on making Dr. Rennard’s wife’s grandmother’s chicken soup to store in my freezer for the next viral attack, but I’m glad to know that my canned and packet alternatives are also going to comfort and help me today. Not only will the soup slow down the migration of those neutrophils, the steam from sipping a hot cup of soup will help clear my head and the liquid will help me stay hydrated, and that is all good.
Dr. Rennard’s study included the recipe and procedure for making this soup. Once the chicken is boiled and used to create the broth, it is not returned to the soup but the meat can be used for other dishes. Dr. Rennard recommends chicken parmesan but no recipe was given.
1 stewing hen or baking chicken (5 to 6 pounds)
1 package of chicken wings
3 large onions
1 large sweet potato
11 to 12 large carrots
5 to 6 celery stems
1 bunch parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean the chicken, put it in a large pot, and cover it with cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Add the chicken wings, whole peeled onions, whole peeled sweet potato, whole peeled parsnips, whole peeled turnips and whole peeled carrots. Boil for one and one-half hours. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates. Add the parsley and celery. Cook for another 45 minutes longer. Remove the chicken. Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. Salt and pepper to taste. This soup freezes well. Recipe note: This soup is a great application for an immersion blender. If you have one you can skip the processor, blender or strainer. Just puree the soup right in the pot.
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To watch Dr. Rennard and his wife make this soup you can use the following link to a UNMC blog that features a 5 minute video with great hints. http://www.unmc.edu/publicrelations/chickensoup.htm
Quote of the Week
A Jewish woman had two chickens. One got sick, so the woman made chicken soup out of the other one to help the sick one get well. — Henny Youngman
Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.