Here’s the REAL Difference Between Chowder and Soup

Updated: Feb. 05, 2021

What is chowder? Is it really all that different from soup?

When I went to culinary school, we spent a lot of time discussing soup. It started by mastering stock before moving on to producing consomme, brothy soups with simple additions, thick pureed soups and chunky stews. By the time we finally tackled chowder, I certainly felt like a soup expert!

What Is Soup?

There are a lot of subcategories of soup, but at its most basic, it’s a liquid made with water or broth. It can be clear (like chicken noodle soup) or thick (like bisque and other cream-based soups). Some soups contain solid ingredients, including vegetables, meat or fish, while others are pureed after combining the ingredients to create a smooth concoction. If the soup contains more chunky ingredients than liquid, it’s often referred to as a stew instead of a soup.

Soup is usually cooked and served hot, although there are several cold soups that don’t require any cooking (we’re looking at you, gazpacho).

What Is Chowder?

Chowder is a rich, creamy soup that often contains clams and potatoes. Seafood chowders are typical in the Northeast, with New England clam chowder being the most famous. Other seafood chowders skip the clams and swap in scallops, shrimp, lobster, crab or even fish like cod or smoked salmon.

Southwestern chowders, on the other hand, feature Mexican spices and usually contain corn. Since seafood isn’t abundant in this part of the country, these chowders tend to use meats like bacon, ham, chorizo or chicken instead.

Of course, meat and seafood aren’t requirements when making chowder. You can create a robust vegetarian chowder by combining hearty vegetables like potatoes or sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, winter squash or mushrooms.

Chowder vs. Soup: What’s the Difference?

While soups can be thin and light, a chowder is characterized by being rich and thick. Like stew, it contains large chunks of meat or seafood and vegetables, notably potatoes. Regardless of the ingredients used, chowder is always chunky, and most variations are creamy (although Manhattan clam chowder breaks from the mold and uses a tomato base instead of cream or milk). Finally, it’s always served hot. Cold chowder would be…weird.

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