The Proof Is In The Soup

Germs have invaded my home this week, but thus far — knock on wood — I’ve managed to ward them off.

Poor Hubby Bryan, however, has been hit hard with cough and congestion. So, of course, I made him chicken soup.

I am a firm believer in the power of the soup. (Trivia of the Day: The word “soup” was derived from the practice of people using a piece of bread to “sop” up the broth.) A couple of years ago, when I had come down with a particularly bad case of the sniffles, I whipped up a quick batch of chicken soup and — miracle of miracles — when I woke up the next day all my symptoms had disappeared.

Not too long ago, I came across an article that touted the medicinal properties of chicken soup with a basis in science, and it in-spired me to do some further research.

It seems there is historical support for chicken soup being called “Jewish penicillin.” Sometime around the 12th century (800 years before penicillin was discovered, I must note), an Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimonides, wrote, “The meat should be that of hens or rooster and their broth should also be taken because this sort of fowl has virtue in rectifying corrupted humours.” He used this soup prescription to not only treat respiratory illnesses, but also hemorrhoids, constipation and leprosy.

The most extensive recent study of chicken soup as a cold remedy was conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical Center by Dr. Stephen Rennard. Rennard released his findings in 1993, mostly because he found the subject amusing, and has been widely cited ever since.

“When I’m gone, out of all the research I’ve done, I’ll probably be remembered most for my research on chicken soup,” Rennard said.

Colds result from infection in the upper respiratory tract, which causes inflammation, and it’s believed that inflammation contributes to cold symptoms. I won’t go into all the scientific details of Rennard’s study, but the gist was this: The movement of neutrophils, the white blood cell that defends the body against infection, was reduced by the consumption of chicken soup. The really interesting thing was that neutrophil movement was not inhibited by consuming chicken broth alone or any of the other components singly — it was the cumulative effect of the soup. Furthermore, Rennard claims that chemicals in the soup clear a stuffy nose by inhibiting the inflammation of cells in the nasal passages, and it also improves rehydration and nutrition in the body.

The morning after I made chicken soup, Hubby Bryan reported feeling a bit better. Of course, it could have just been the natural progression of his affliction, but I’d like to think it was the soup. I would share the recipe, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it the same way twice, and I’ve certainly never measured any of the ingredients.

When I made it the other evening, I used some frozen chicken stock, made from the carcass the last time we had a whole chicken, along with diced celery, carrot and onion. The chicken meat also came from the freezer — the last of some chicken breasts that had been grilled and frozen at the end of summer. Sometimes I make homemade noodles, using my German spaetzle maker, but this time I settled for packaged egg noodles.

If you’d like to repeat Dr. Rennard’s experiments, here’s the recipe he used, which came from his wife’s Lithuanian grandmother, as provided by University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The Chicken Soup

Clean one 5- to 6-pound stewing hen or baking chicken. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Add one package chicken wings, 3 large onions, 1 large sweet potato, 3 parsnips, 2 turnips and 11 to 12 large carrots. (The recipe doesn’t specify, but I would assume the vegetables are all peeled and cut up. Boil for about 1½ hours. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates.

Add 5 to 6 stalks celery and 1 bunch parsley and cook for another 45 minutes.

Remove the chicken. The chicken is not used further for the soup.

Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. Both were performed in the study.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Matzoh balls were prepared according to the recipe on the back of the box of matzoh meal (Manischewitz).