Ages ago, when I was a very young cook, cream of mushroom soup was a wonder. I could open a can and easily transform it into beef stroganoff, broccoli rice casserole, green bean casserole, you name it. My Taste of Home magazine came crammed with recipe after recipe featuring these condensed soups.
When I started transitioning to real food, the canned soups were among the first to go. I learned that it was almost as easy to make my own mushroom roux, and I never looked back.
I also didn’t think that any kind of an alternative existed out there. Last week, though, a reader emailed me asking me to decode the ingredients label on her go-to cream of mushroom soup: Pacific Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup.
Here’s what the manufacturer claims:
“Organic Cream Of Mushroom Condensed Soup is a savory base of mushrooms combined with garlic and creme fraiche from our founder’s farms deliver a delicious, robust flavor that your family is sure to love. It is as versatile as it is delicious; our cream of mushroom soup is great as a base for soups, casseroles and sauces. This organic soup is gluten free and soy-free. It is a chef-inspired hearty soup that deliver fresh home-made taste in an easy open tear package; no can openers or scissors required, no sharp edges. BPA-free packaging.”
Pacific Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup: Ingredients
- Filtered water,
- organic mushrooms,
- organic creme fraiche (organic cultured cream [milk]),
- organic rice starch,
- organic rice flour,
- sea salt,
- organic whey powder [milk],
- organic onion powder,
- organic garlic powder.
Pacific Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup: DECODED
Filtered water is the #1 ingredient. My homemade version version of this would use nutrient-dense bone broth, so I see using water as a missed opportunity! Nevertheless, there’s absolutely nothing wrong or unhealthy about filtered water.
Organic mushrooms are the #2 ingredient. So far, so good.
Organic creme fraiche is simply a particular type of sour cream. I actually prefer it to sour cream (taste wise), and am pleased to see it here. I’m also happy that it’s made from organic cream. Is it from grass-fed cows? Maybe. That’s the problem with organic dairy standards. But at least the organic certification tells us a few things. We know the cows were raised without growth hormones or antibiotics, were outside (not necessarily on pasture, but at least outdoors) for the vast majority of the year, and were fed organic, non-GMO feed.
Organic rice starch and organic rice flour are used as thickening agents in lieu of a lot of other options (like wheat flour or corn starch). While they are both technically “processed,” it’s not in unnatural ways. I could, if I wanted to, collect rice starch in my own kitchen and grind rice into flour. In fact, Asian cultures have been doing just that for millennia.
I’m also pleased that the rice is organic. While some may be concerned about arsenic levels in rice, I’m not particularly. (For more on that, read Arsenic in Your Rice.) Others may also be concerned about the fact that this is likely white rice. Again, I actually prefer white rice. (For more on that, read my friend Emily of Holistic Squid‘s fantastic take on it in her post Is White Rice Bad For You?)
Next up, we have sea salt. Real sea salt is the good kind of salt, folks. Yet, as my friend Emily of Butter Believer pointed out the word “sea” in front of salt doesn’t necessarily mean it’s real. The only way to know for sure which they’re using is to contact Pacific Foods. I have done so and am waiting back from them.
Organic whey powder derived from milk is less than ideal. The vast majority of whey powders are produced using a high heat process that increases the oxidized cholesterol and produces enough free glutamic acids to cause reactions in MSG-sensitive people.
Organic onion powder and Organic garlic powder need no explanation. They are spices I would find in my own kitchen and could casually make myself.
Pacific Organic Cream of Mushroom Soup: THE VERDICT
I think this soup is okay as a compromise in moderation.
On the one hand, I care deeply about raising dairy cows humanely and sourcing milk and dairy exclusively from a grass-based environment. On the other hand, at least it’s organic!
There are two other (possible) compromises: the sea salt and the whey. Yet, even if I hear back from Pacific Foods and learn that they’re using refined sea salt and high-temperature processed whey, I also recognize that those ingredients are way down on the list — meaning they’re the least used ingredients per serving. And, there’s still a chance that they’re using the good kind for one or both of those.
It all boils down to where your comfort levels rest. This is obviously a convenience food.
Would I eat it all the time? No. Would I eat it sometimes? Feed it to my family or use it in otherwise homemade casseroles full of well-sourced ingredients? Yes. (In fact, I just bought a bunch of it to keep in my pantry for emergencies.)
Am I recommending that you eat it? No.
That’s because as a busy mother and meal planner, I’m responsible for making decisions based on my values, my budget, and my time constraints. Likewise, so are you. So essentially what I’m saying is that this is a personal decision, and I’m giving myself grace to not reject the good in favor of a (sometimes) unobtainable ideal.
Want Your Labels Decoded?
In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!