What's the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

These two bowl-bound dishes are certainly similar, but here's what distinguishes one from the other.

Cabbage and Kielbasa Soup with Onions, Potatoes, Carrots and Celery in pot with close up of ladle

LauriPatterson/Getty Images

Nothing warms you up on a chilly day like a hearty soup or stew. Looking for recipes? We’ve got plenty of ‘em. But, as you cook, you may find yourself wondering: What exactly is the difference between soup and stew?

Soup vs. Stew

Soup and stew are very similar dishes. There’s a lot of crossover — some soups can definitely be considered stews and vice versa. However, there are a few distinctions:

1. Soup Uses More Liquid

In soup, the liquid is the primary ingredient. Soup can be completely liquified or it can consist of other elements (like meat and vegetables) that are fully submerged in water, stock, or broth.

Stew, meanwhile, is typically "chunkier." It contains just enough liquid to cover the main ingredients.

2. Stew Is a More Narrowly Defined Category

As recipe category, soup is much broader than stew. Soups are technically any combination of ingredients cooked and consumed in liquid. They can be thick or thin, chunky or smooth, and hot or cold. Some soups take hours, while you can whip up others in 30 minutes or less and may not require cooking at all (like gazpacho).

Stew is almost always served warm, is hearty and thick, and usually takes some time to prepare.

3. The Cooking Methods Can Vary Slightly.

Stew can refer to any dish that is prepared by stewing — a method by which something that is barely covered in liquid is simmered slowly in a covered pot.

Soup can be prepared in a variety of ways, but it’s often made by bringing ingredients to a boil and then simmering to deepen the flavors.

Soup 101

bowls of French onion soup

Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Soup is one of the oldest prepared foods we still consume today. In fact, it’s likely as old as cooking itself. Evidence of soup's existence can be found as far back as about 20,000 B.C., according to Campbell’s.

In French cuisine, soups are separated into two categories: clear (bouillon and consommé) and thick (purees and bisques).

Again, this is a very broad category that includes both thin miso soup and chunky minestrone — thus, it’s difficult to pin down an exact quality that makes soup, well, soup.

Classic Soup Recipes:

Stew 101

Slow Cooker Beef and Chicken Stew
Slow Cooker Beef and Chicken Stew. Diana Rattray

Like soups, stews have been made since ancient times. Stew can consist of any combination of solid food ingredients (vegetables or meats) cooked in liquid, such as stock. Common ingredients are: beef, chicken, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, beans, and peppers. The liquid in stew is often thickened through reduction or with flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot to create a heartier, gravy-like base.

Classic Stew Recipes

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