It’s that time of year again, the weather is getting colder, the kids are in school hanging out with other pint-sized germ magnets and everyone is sniffling, sneezing and wheezing. Some people pop pills or do cough syrup shots to get through the day. Others use vitamin C to boost their immune system “naturally”. Although we all sometimes need an over the counter cure for the common cold, check your kitchen cabinet before your medicine cabinet. Chicken soup, sometimes referred to as “Jewish Penicillin”, may be all you need.
In 2000, CHEST, the official publication of the American College of Chest Physicians, published a study noting the healthful qualities of chicken soup. According to the authors, the study “suggests that chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity. A mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections.” I didn’t need a doctor’s recommendation to enjoy chicken soup, but it doesn’t hurt. I would still be an unrepentant “soupie” even in the absence of any medical claims.
Chicken soup has been a Jewish remedy for at least 2000 years. In the Babylonian Talmud (Seder Moed, Shabbat 145b) the healing properties of “Rabbi Abba’s fowl” (chicken broth) are lauded by the other sages. Egyptian Jewish physician and Jewish philosopher Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) in his 12th century treatise, The Causes of Symptoms, recommended chicken soup for the relief of respiratory tract maladies. Other cultures have also integrated soup into their naturopathy with great creativity.
Chicken soup is also one of the most emotive dishes found in traditional Jewish cuisine. My Bubba made the best chicken soup I will ever have. Bubba didn’t follow a recipe and she never would have shared it, even if she had. A “dash” of this, a “pinch” of that and “season to taste” does not exactly translate well, but her soup is the standard by which all others are measured. And every time I boil chicken, chop carrots, slice onions, cut celery, and sprinkle salt and pepper, the soup becomes both my own and a memory. Knowing that my Bubba’s mother and her mother’s mother also made chicken soup, links me to a generation I have never even met.
Chicken soup is the ultimate comfort food. When you throw in a little science, a dash of history and some good taste, you have a recipe for chicken soup that satisfies body and soul. Until there is a cure for the common cold that is made out of chocolate, I will keep slurping.
For the recipe used in the CHEST study click here.