In another lifetime talented singer, cabaret artist and actress, Lucia Mthiyane, was a school teacher. By day she would teach History and English, and by night she indulged audiences with her first love - music. When her teaching job fell through, Mthiyane swopped the classroom for the stage and has never looked back. But something she remembers from those teaching days is the aromatic smell of instant soup that lingered on the misty air of cold winter mornings.
Almost as talented in the kitchen as she is on stage, Mthiyane knows all about the flavourful heartiness of a good soup. She regularly makes her own from scratch, but on days when she's stuck for hours at auditions or rehearsals, instant soup provides a good alternative to tea or coffee and is a welcome, relaxing break. She is currently starring in a play The Game at Durban's Playhouse. When Mthiyane has more time to indulge her friends and family with a home-cooked wholesome treat, she confesses to using instant soups to help add flavour to her dishes.
"A great flavour of instant soup to use in home-cooked like broths and stews is white onion soup. I love cooking but it takes time. Sometimes I take up to two days to make a good home-made soup with flavours that have matured and marinated together that I can enjoy with friends and family."
Mthiyane says that instant soups are definitely a part of her weekly groceries, but she uses them to flavour her home cooking rather than consuming them on their own.
"They're great to use as a thickening agent," she says. "I also use them to make my own pasta sauces. You would not believe the difference they make to the flavour, livening up and enriching my fresh ingredients."
Her speciality is chicken liver pasta, which she enhances with white onion soup just before serving.
We asked Mthiyane to taste-test and compare instant chicken soups that are exclusive to some of the larger retail outlets. This is what she said:
"Spar's brand of chicken soup, which comes in a box of separate sachets is quick and easy to prepare. Just add the contents of the packet to hot water and stir well."
Mthiyane found the packaging appealing although it would not necessarily catch her eye or draw her attention.
"The red and white packaging is simple and obviously serves to keep costs down, so I would assume that this soup is pretty well priced," she added.
She felt that the smell of the Spar brand soup is not very strong: "I'm not certain whether this is a good or bad thing, but the soup definitely tastes better than it smells. This soup is for a Monday. It's not very exciting or spicy and I think it could be improved with a bit of salt. I suppose it's lack of flavour would make it good for people with high cholesterol."
She described the soup as having a good body but an appearance that looks more like tea with small bits of vegetables dropped in by mistake rather than a thick and rich soup.
Mthiyane says: "It has an unfortunate lingering aftertaste that isn't very pleasant. I would definitely add something to this one, like croutons, but overall, just the fact that it's got MSG in the ingredients is a big turn-off for me."
The next soup she tasted was the Pick 'n Pay branded instant chicken soup. "I don't like the look of this one, "she immediately announced. "It looks a lot like dirty water and to me presentation means a lot. The plain packaging does not bother me though. I understand that they're trying to make the soup affordable."
Mthiyane found the Pick 'n Pay branded instant chicken soup to be rich in texture and taste.
"Hey, I'm constantly confirming that looks can be deceiving because this soup is actually smooth and delicious even though it looks really weak. I even think I can taste origanum and parsley, mmmm..."
The Checkers brand soup looked good to her, but how does it fare on the taste-test? "This brand is thick and hearty looking. It's got volume, it says 'take me right now, I'm rich and creamy'."
But, wait... it does not have much flavour at all. "It's one of those soups that fools you with its appearance and before you know it, it's too late and the cup's half empty. Oh, no. Once again looks are deceiving."
She carefully reads the packaging: "Ah, I see it has thickening agents, so that's why it looks so hearty. It's like a man in a toupee. It will fool you at first, but on closer inspection it'll get caught out and get used only for practical purposes. It's also a problem for me that on close examination the ingredients reveal that it has pork in it. That would be a turn-off for a lot of people."
The Woolworths packaging is definitely the most appealing according to Mthiyane. "I really like this one," she says. "I love the chunky noodles, it's makes the soup a complete meal. The packaging would appeal to kids. It is bright and colourful and the soup looks like a proper home made broth."
Out of all the soups she tasted Mthiyane found the Woolworths one to be the most delicious and most appealing.