I’ve been writing regularly for this website for the last few months – and I have never once touched on chicken soup. Why? Well, to begin with, I’m really not that much of a fan of chicken. As a South African (and having read my previous blog posts), you’ll probably know that we prefer ostrich meat.
Joking aside, chicken soup is just a little… cliché, right? Like when people think of soup, chicken soup is the one that comes to mind first. It’s the go-to for common-cold-stricken children – it is even so ubiquitous that it has spawned a wildly popular 100+ book series on motivation, “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.
Recently, however, it got me thinking about why chicken soup is such a cultural touchstone for us – why is chicken soup so universally connected with health and healing? Is it simply an old wives’ tale run amok? Or is there any merit to the mythical healing properties of chicken soup?
I’m certainly not the first food commentator to ask the question – dozens of people over the ages have scratched their head over why chicken soup is seen as medicine in a bowl. Apparently, the earliest known recording of chicken soup being used as a ‘therapeutic dish’ is in ancient China, around 200 BC – listing it as ‘yang food’, which meant it was a warming food meant to help encourage healing or growth in sick people. However, the story gets weirder – the belief didn’t originate and spread from China. It actually cropped up in many different cultures, completely exclusively from one another. There is also historical evidence of chicken soup being used for its healing properties in ancient Greek, Babylonian, and Jewish tradition.
Ready to make soup?
It makes sense – chickens have been domesticated all over the globe since the Stone Age, so making soup from the most common domesticated bird available is a no-brainer. But it’s interesting how all these separate cultures seemed to understand the healing properties of the dish. How does that work?
The Science Behind Chicken Soup
The scientific evidence essentially agrees with the wisdom of the ancients: chicken soup is good for you and especially good for colds. Chicken soup has many nutritional benefits that help combat congestion, act as an anti-inflammatory, boosts your immune system, and even helps you fall asleep – the best thing for a sick body to do. Oddly, the experts also say that there is a significant benefit to the mythos surrounding chicken soup’s healing qualities – a sort of placebo effect. Not only that, but it seems like the original book publishers were right, in a way – it turns out that chicken soup really is good for the soul. A study from the Association for Psychological Science found that the consumption of comfort foods like chicken soup boosts the need to belong and can provide a defence against loneliness.
So, there you have it, I guess. Chicken soup is a ridiculous cliché, but then again, if this is the kind of soup that has been helping us get over our colds since 200 BC, who am I to disparage it? And with how the world has been the last couple of years, maybe we could all use a little chicken soup – if not for our health, at the very least for our souls.