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!
Thank you for this review. I’ve been using Pacific condensed soups (on occasion, with other organic ingredients) for awhile now. I always have 2 cream of mushroom & 2 cream of chicken containers in my cupboard at all times (reorder from the co-op when I run out). To me, this is my definition of “fast food”… make a quick stroganoff using this stuff, it’s still healthy, and I can whip up supper quicker than it would take my husband to drive to McDonald’s and back. So yes, while I don’t like to compromise on total healthy eating, this is one compromise I’m willing to make for the sheer convenience of it.
I clicked over to the Amazon link in your post. The ingredient label is different than in your post. The water is not stated as “filtered.” So who knows now if it is. But, the whey powder was gone! It leaves me wondering which ingredient list was more recent?
The ingredients list I shared is also what’s on Pacific Food’s own site, so I’d be willing to bet it’s the more accurate/recent one.
It’s good to know this is a good “occasional” item. I like Pacific foods and in college used to eat their soups once a week or so with grilled cheese for the ultimate comfort food. I am super interested in your emergency pantry. Is this just like a “uh-oh dinner emergency,” or an actual food storage emergency preparedness pantry? I ask because my brother-in-law and sister-in-law have come face to face with this living in the mountains outside Boulder, CO. With the recent floods roads all around them are washed out. The only way down is a dangerous gravel road. They weren’t as prepared as they normally are in the winter as the floods caught them unawares. They still were just fine for three weeks! Just wondering.
Eugenia Eu says
I’m pretty sure they did not use beef broth in place of water because many of their products are kosher, even though this one in particular does not seem to be. Anyway, their broths are not like gelatin rich long cooked broths – they’re thinner than that – I know from lots of former experience with this brand. The product is not terrible. It’s just not great like home prepared food.
I appreciate the accuracy of this info and decoding the list of ingredients. Yet I still wonder what can I make from scratch for a substitute for cream of ????? soups. Any ideas? Thank you.
I always made a roux and added sauteed mushrooms. You make a roux by melting butter and adding equal parts flour to it, then stirring it until bubbly. Then you add cream and stir until it thickens, adding mushrooms. It takes about 5-10 minutes, and it’s what I used to use in place of condensed soups in recipes.
brenda kaschner says
Thanks!! Loving these posts!!!
Helen Russo says
I stopped using conventional mushroom soup years ago and would substitute a homemade white sauce with additions. I found Amy’s to be a good substitution for Cream of Mushroom (or Celery) soups. I don’t think I’ve ever used Pacific’s soup, but that is because my kids disliked casseroles so I stopped making food no one would eat(well, my husband would eat it). That being said, I think we get a wee bit nit picky with food-I’m not going to grow _everything_ my self and process it-I simply do not have time, space or money. So finding alternatives like Pacific foods works for me, it’s mostly a win. Except for the whey. I have to be careful with whey and unfermented soy as they cause gastrointestinal distress. But that’s a whole ‘nother peeve. 🙂 Thanks for the information.
I would be careful using Amy’s brand of soups. Not only are they canned (BPA, or sister ingredient BPS) but they also have inflammation causing safflower oil in them. Last time I had one of their soups it caused a sinus headache.
You mentioned “your” homemade version of cream of mushroom in the article, was wondering if you could share your recipe. Or maybe you have it posted somewhere already, I just don’t know where to look for it!
I don’t have it posted. You can see my comment to Julie above for the method. I think the proportions were:
8 oz of sliced crimini mushrooms, sauteed.
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp flour
1-2 cups milk/cream depending on how thick I needed it
salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder all to taste
Brittany A says
I LOVE these decoding articles that you write. They are truly helpful. Keep up the good work!
Donna Marie says
This soup is so high in sodium I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I could never eat this.
Sodium isn’t bad for you. The body needs salt. I’ve found this series of articles by Chris Kresser super helpful in clearing it all up:
You know what I would love to see decoded…Grape Nuts. Actually, they don’t take a lot of decoding so it should be easy. I have never seen a regular, store bought cereal that had as few ingredients. The only one I didn’t recognize was soy lecthin (I know I’m spelling that wrong…don’t have a box of grape-nuts in front of me to consult). I know soy is bad, but they replaced that with a different ingredient some time last year.
I’ll add that to the list of possible future posts! Thanks, Gale.
Phew…. I’m so glad that passed!! lol I really missed green bean casserole and scalloped potatoes since I stopped eating campbells soup. I tried to make my own mushroom roux but it didn’t come out very good. Thanks for the recipes above. I’ll work on improving that. But until then, I am so glad to find a suitable substitute.
Jan in Canada says
In a world of over-processed, GMO, additive, and chemical laden foods, I love Pacific brand soups. I just wish they weren’t so difficult for me to find. If I want a cream soup (for soup – don’t know how this would work in a casserole) I also cook a few potatoes, use my stick blender to blend them with some cream, add them to my soup and, voila, cream of whatever soup.
Sherry Rainbolt via Facebook says
I have to make my own. I’m deathly allergic to canola oil…and it seems to be in almost everything! The process of making garlic/onion powder/salt they use canola oil. So that leaves out almost all processed foods.
Faith Epp via Facebook says
I make my own – so much healthier, I find a recipe and modify it to suit me.
Jill Herron Chapin via Facebook says
I used to make my own. But now the only part I can have is the mushrooms.
Susan Hamilton Roberts via Facebook says
Thanks for the analysis. I do like the idea that if I need something in a pinch there’s a decent alternative.
Kathy Malmberg via Facebook says
Heather Dunlop via Facebook says
I make my own.
Julianne Blandford via Facebook says
Good to know this is Approved. I keep this brand in my pantry, as I don’t have the time or desire to make my own for just me – never know when I’ll be home to use it. I’ve tried to eliminate a lot of packaged foods from my shopping list but some things just have to be there in a pinch.
Elvia Terrazas Rascon via Facebook says
Thank you for the break down
Bruce Ross says
I am surprised you have not told us how much sodium, fat, calories, calories from fat, cholesterol?
Since being acquired by Campbell’s, the formula for this soup has changed and the second ingredient is now cornstarch. That’s a no for me (I show signs of being allergic to corn).