Brown soup: why is it happening, how to avoid it, and what, if anything, can you do about it?
Picture it: You’re working over a hot stove, the soup steaming in your kitchen, and the aromas of fresh garlic fill the air. Everyone’s starving, but you have one final step. You grab an immersion blender and blend away—only to reveal a drab, brown soup.
The question is, now what? The soup tastes great and has the perfect creamy texture, but it’s as brown as wet cardboard. Why does that happen? More importantly, how can you fix a brown soup to make it a more appealing color?
While there’s no reversing a brown soup, even the dullest-looking soup can be salvaged. Read on to find out how.
What Makes Soup Turn Brown?
The soup is on the table, and your guests look less than delighted. It may taste great, but it doesn’t look great. Why is that?
Blending a mix of colored vegetables: It may seem obvious, but blending various colors of vegetables is the fastest way to end up with a murky-colored soup. This is especially true if the vegetables were sautéed before being blended.
Remember, sautéing promotes browning, which helps to improve the flavor of the vegetables but also gives them a brown color! This is also known as the Maillard reaction, and it occurs when amino acids and sugars are introduced to heat, such as caramelizing onions.
Using red or green vegetables: While using a variety of colors will likely get you brown soup, often the culprit is simply using red and or green vegetables, especially tomatoes and dark leafy greens like kale or collard greens.
If you recall the color wheel from school, you might think, “Red and green make yellow, not brown!” That’s where oxidation comes in. When vegetables are cut, the cell walls are broken, and enzymes are released to make a browning color, similar to when you slice an apple. This, coupled with dark-colored veggies, will make for a brown soup.
Using beef stock: Dark-colored stock will immediately darken any soup, especially as it simmers and becomes concentrated.
One solution is to use a lighter-colored broth, such as chicken broth or chicken stock. The downside is this will influence the flavor of the soup. Mushroom broth is another good alternative that offers a similar savory quality to beef broth while slightly lighter in color.
How to Fix Brown Soup
The soup is brown, but it tastes amazing. So what do we do now?
Garnish: Top the soup with brightly colored garnishes, like parsley, green onions, or shredded cheese. My go-to garnish is sprouts, which take up a lot of surface area without influencing the soup’s flavor.
Add extra vegetables: Stirring in vegetables such as diced peppers, spinach, or carrots can distract from the brown and add a pop of color. Just make sure the added vegetables have been cooked until tender, or the soup has been returned to the pot, and the vegetables are simmered in the soup.
Add paprika: Paprika can be added to turn a brown soup a slightly redder color, but keep in mind this will heavily influence the soup’s flavor and should not be overdone.
To do this, you’ll want to return the soup to the pot and use an immersion blender or whisk to make sure the paprika is fully incorporated. Start with ½ tablespoon per 6 cups of soup, then taste and add more if needed.
Add cream: Stirring in heavy cream will lighten the color to more of a gravy hue and make it more appealing, akin to a potato leek soup. You can add the cream directly to the pot or to individual bowls. I prefer to swirl the cream in each bowl to create an attractive swirl pattern and add contrasting color.
Remember that cream should always be added at the end of the cooking process after the soup has been removed from the heat. Otherwise, you risk the cream curdling.
Make it more brown: Go big or go home! Adding more brown elements to the soup can make it look intentional. For this, you’re going to want to return the soup to the pot and do one of the following:
- Caramelize tomato paste: If the soup has tomatoes, caramelized tomato paste will compliment those flavors and darken the soup. Start by combining 2 parts paste with 1 part water in a separate pot over medium heat. Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the paste darkens in color, about 5 minutes. Then, stir this into the pot of soup.
- Add soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce: Add about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce or 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire per 6 cups of soup. If you’re concerned about salt, opt for a low-sodium soy sauce.
- Make a brown roux: Combine equal parts flour and butter in a separate skillet over medium heat. Whisk frequently until the roux thickens and turns dark brown. Then, introduce the roux to the soup and whisk to combine.
How to Avoid Brown Soup
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind to avoid ending up with another unfortunate-looking soup:
Pick vegetables of the same color: Strategically sticking to vegetables of the same color is the easiest way to guarantee a vibrant-colored soup.
For example, make an orange soup by combining carrots with sweet potatoes, or make a green soup with leafy greens, broccoli, and leeks. Neutral or translucent ingredients like onions, garlic, or russet potatoes can be an easy way to influence the flavor without changing the color.
Opt for a minestrone: Let’s face it, not all soups are made to be creamy. Minestrone soup is one of the most popular soups ever, but if you threw it in a blender, you’d be unimpressed. Stick to a chunky, unblended soup and relish in the combinations of vibrant colors and textures.
Blend *a few* of the ingredients: Compromise is key. By blending a select number of ingredients, you can get a creamy soup that’s vibrant in color but has a rich texture. Simply blend the ingredients of similar color and leave the outliers intact.
The main reason your soup is brown is typically the combination of different colored vegetables blending together or the use of dark-colored ingredients like beef broth and leafy greens. To make vibrant, rich-colored soup, stick to vegetables on the same side of the color wheel or make a chunky, unblended soup. And don’t be afraid to go all in and make the darkest, boldest soup in town!You've voted for this post