What is the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

With both soup and stew cooking in a similar fashion, you may think they are ultimately the same thing. Both of these dishes provide a level of comfort that other foods cannot provide, nourishing your physical, mental and even psychological health.

What you may not realize, however, is that there are some differences between soup vs stew and knowing these differences can be all the difference in how you serve them moving forward. Some of these differences are a little obvious but others may be some that you have missed.

Stews Are Defined

One of the biggest differences between a soup vs stew is the way that stews are kind of thrown together and cooked down. Any stew comes down to a protein, root vegetables, and seasonings. While you can add in some other veggies you may like that are of the same family, you are not doing a lot of experimenting with ingredients and attempting to create a new dish.

A soup, however, has the ability to be flexible, and can be made into different variations. You can make it creamy, broth-based, or even theme it based on the spices that you plan to use. Different starches like rice, pasta, and orzo are used as an ingredient in the soup. Comparatively, there are hundreds of different soups and a handful of different types of stews available.

Proteins And Broth

Protein is also another difference in soup vs stew. There is always a protein as the source of a stew, whether that be beef, pork, chicken, venison, or seafood if you are looking to make a version out on the coast. There are some stews that have a mix of proteins, especially if you are planning to use venison, which is super lean.

If you decide to use seafood as a protein, it is often paired with sausage to balance that leanness and help with seasoning the other ingredients in the stew. This is where chopped sausage links and andouille sausages become essential in the stew category.

There is also some type of broth added into the stew to help the veggies and meat cook down into the texture that you want. Soups do not require either a protein or a broth. You can have a completely vegetarian and creamy soup like Creamy Tomato Soup, which is vastly different from a stew in taste, texture and ingredients.

Amount of Liquid

You may not realize it, but the amount of liquid that you find in a soup vs stew is very different. Soups are always meant to be eaten with a spoon because they are liquid, even if they are cream-based. Stews, however, cook down their liquid and are thickened up with either flour or cornstarch. This gives the stew a paste or gravy-like texture.

For reference, when I make my beef stew, I cook it down and purposely use the remaining liquid to make a gravy so that I can serve it in a plate over either rice or mashed potatoes. I eat this dish with a fork, making it very different than a soup that needs a spoon and bowl.

Cooking Differences

When you think about the cooking differences between sou vs stew, you may notice a bit more flexibility with soup. You can cook a soup for under 30 minutes, or it could take longer in a slow cooker if you are going for that method. There are options based on the time you have available and what other dishes you are planning to prepare with your soup.

For a stew, the process is simply low and slow. That can be a slow cooker or in the oven, but either way, you are not rushing a stew of any kind. The purpose is to manipulate the flavors that they are deep and you can taste them all the way through the dish.

I can tell you from experience that I once tried to rush a beef stew in the Instant Pot, and let me just say, that’s a big no-no. The meat in any stew, except for a seafood stew, needs to cook for longer periods so that it gets that tender texture and the flavors are infused. The only tender part of that dish was the veggies.

Diversity in Veggies

The vegetables that you can use in a soup vs stew is much more flexible. You have options to add in leafy greens, foreign veggies, tomatoes, squash variations, and even some different fruit if you want to build the flavor.

In a stew, you will always have a base of potatoes and onion, even in a seafood stew. The next most common veggies are carrots, celery, and mushrooms for those who really want to build that umami flavor in the stew.

This goes back to a stew being defined, as mentioned earlier. Even when you try and “shake it up” with new additions, it still doesn’t beat the classic flavors that come with these ingredients and how they embellish the protein after cooking down and infusing into the meat for hours.

Serving Soup vs Stew

Probably the biggest difference in how we serve soup vs stew is not just the dishes used, but also how it is presented at the dinner table. A stew is always the star, and the primary dish. It can be paired with sides, but it is often treated like a standard meal.

Some soups are also the primary dish, but they do not have to be. A soup can be an appetizer to a meal, or even a side dish. On the days that you want a lighter lunch or even lighter dinner, a soup and sandwich or soup and salad will be lighter than a stew and served differently.

You are also able to pour a stew over rice or mashed potatoes, where soup isn’t. Soup may have some of these starches in their dish, but they are just a small portion and the overall texture of the soup is still full of liquid.

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