There’s no such thing as a cure for the common cold. But there is soup – and according to some studies, it might help.
Lauren Sams

13 Jul 2016 - 9:33 AM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2016 - 9:39 AM

Everyone has their own cold or flu remedy. Some of us swear by Vicks. Some like to imbibe a hot toddy. There are those who drink tea all day and those who eat raw garlic to fend off a lurgy. And most of us have tried chicken soup to help end a cold in its tracks. Hot, comforting and delicious, chicken soup and colds go hand-in-tissued-hand.

And while it’s true that we seem to turn to chicken soup when we’re under the weather (research by US food delivery service Grub Hub and ZocDoc, which allows you to book doctors’ appointments online, showed that as appointments for cold and flu appointments spiked, so too did soup orders!), it's not just for comfort - there seems to be some truth to the idea that the soup actually helps. But what is it about chicken soup that’s so good for a cold?

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Teresa Cutter, a Sydney-based chef and nutritionist, swears by a humble bowl of chicken soup when she’s stricken with a cold. “There’s nothing better,” she says, “than something hot and delicious when you’re not feeling well.” Cutter starts with a homemade stock (“I boil the bones from roast chicken for an easy stock that’s full of amino acids and minerals, both essential for building the immune system,” she says) and adds organic chicken thighs, garlic, ginger and turmeric. According to Cutter, it’s this combination of spices that really helps. “Garlic, ginger and turmeric are all anti-inflammatory and detoxifying. They clear out mucus and they’re intensely hydrating.” Plus, she adds, chicken soup is easy to eat – or drink – when you’re not feeling well.

But not everyone uses that magic trio of spices. In 2000, Dr Stephen Rennard published a landmark study in CHEST, confirming that chicken soup can help to ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections – just as so many of us have always suspected. Rennard used his wife’s grandmother’s soup recipe, which included chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley and salt and pepper – no garlic, ginger or turmeric. Rennard found that after drinking the soup, the movement of neutrophils (white blood cells) was reduced, so they could concentrate on repairing the upper respiratory tract. Rennard hypothesised that the soup had anti-inflammatory properties that helped ease the symptoms of a cold.

This Nepalese chicken noodle soup (thukpa) is fragrant, hearty and simple to prepare. 


Yet another study offered a different thesis – that it was the heat of the soup itself that helped increase the movement of nasal mucus, easing the cold. And yet, the study looked at the benefits of hot water, cold water and chicken soup, and while both of the hot liquids made a difference, the chicken soup was the clear winner.

The jury is still out on exactly what it is about chicken soup that is so helpful to a cold, but one thing is clear: it does help. And it’s more palatable than Cutter’s other home remedy – a bulb (not a clove) of raw garlic smashed between slices of rye bread. Cutter swears that this traditional Polish cure (used by her family to ward off an impending cold) works – but we’ll take the soup. 

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Chicken, coconut and galangal soup (tom kha gai)

Tom kha gai is the coconut-based soup common in the central part of Thailand. Simply made with coconut milk, herbs, chilli and fish sauce, some areas do not add lime juice but use tamarind puree instead to add that vital hint of sourness. Chilli powder can be added to increase the heat, if you like more spice.

Chicken noodle soup (soto ayam)

Rich and fragrant, this Indonesian chicken soup is a much-loved classic. It's a recipe that brings people together. Place the broth in the middle of the table surrounded by the condiments and let your guests serve their soup to suit their own tastes.

Korean ginseng chicken soup

Korean ginseng chicken (sam-gye-tang) soup uses a whole young chicken stuffed with ginseng, jujubes, chestnuts, garlic and sticky rice. Traditionally, this soup is revered during the hottest month of the year to combat the fierce heat.

Chicken soup with matzo balls

This soup is traditionally eaten at Passover, a Jewish holiday commemorating the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. As this recipe is quite involved, a double quantity is usually made so that an extra portion can be frozen for another meal. As not everyone has a 20 litre stockpot, you can simply halve stock ingredients (except carrots) and it will still serve 8. Start this recipe a day ahead.