4 surprising flavor hacks to make your soups irresistible

Ingredients for soup.

Among the flavor enhancers used in Michelle Huneven’s Roman-style Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Bulgur are, top left, Red Boat salt and Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce.
(Shelby Moore / For The Times)

If you try a soup-for-dinner diet to cut back on calories or just to simplify your life, amp up the umami and other flavor notes with these unexpected flavor spikes when your soup needs a boost.

Red Boat Salt

Infused with Red Boat’s famous fish sauce, this salt is pricey but highly concentrated — a little goes a long way. In a soup that uses 4 to 5 cups of broth, I’ll use a scant half teaspoonful for an instant blast of umami. (A friend once ruined some good steaks “brining” them in this salt. Use sparingly for maximum benefit). Try with this recipe for Roman-style Chickpea and Tomato Soup with Bulgur.

Dishes and cooking of soup in Michelle Huneven's kitchen.

Roman-style Chickpea and Tomato Soup With Bulgur

Time30 minutes
YieldsServes 4


Yes. MSG. Blind tests have long indicated that MSG is safe and that negative reactions to MSG have not been reproducible in scientific studies. A synthetic glutamate most commonly made from fermented sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses, MSG is the salt version of glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in many foods. It’s basically umami in its purest form. Added with restraint, it amplifies savory flavors.

Huy Fong chili garlic sauce

I add a teaspoon of the chili garlic sauce from famed sriracha makers Huy Fong Foods when soups are simmering. Like wine, it needs to cook a bit to settle in. In small doses, it adds a warming, subtly spicy lift to soups. More, and the heat rises.

Ground shiitake mushrooms

In thicker soups (like bean or potato soups or purees), I sometimes sneak in a teaspoon of shiitake mushroom powder, another source of deep umami. In more delicate brothy soups, the powder can add an unwanted murkiness or mustiness.

More flavor spikes to have on hand

Aleppo pepper, smoked paprika, brewer’s yeast, lime and lemon juice, grated lemon peel, fish sauce, Parmesan cheese rinds, finishing salts.

Dishes and cooking of soup in Michelle Huneven's kitchen.

Kaeng Lieng (Thai Vegetable Soup With Shrimp)

Time30 minutes
YieldsServes 4

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