May 20, 2024
nine panera soups

nine panera soups – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

It’s always great to have soup on hand for a quick meal, whether you’re feeling under the weather or simply in a lunch break crunch. Soup is as old and reliable as a meal gets, and Panera Bread is a trusted name in the world of quick-service chains that serve nutritious soups and salads. But just how good is Panera Bread’s grocery store soup line? That’s what I’m here to discuss today.

I went to a local grocery store and picked up all of the Panera Bread soup flavors available at that location. Over a handful of days, I tasted each of the varieties to see which ones I liked, and which ones I would never buy again. The results surprised me. For some of these soups, the difference in quality between what you’d get from a┬áPanera Bread restaurant and what you’d get from the supermarket is significant.

Ultimately, I tried nine flavors of Panera Bread soup from the grocery store, ranking them based on their flavor and texture. Many were disappointing, but one shone through as my favorite.

Read more: The 15 Best Store-Bought Barbecue Sauces, Ranked

9. Lobster Bisque

Panera Lobster Bisque soup

Panera Lobster Bisque soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

There has to be a last place, and unfortunately, that honor today goes to Panera Bread’s Lobster Bisque. A bisque is a dish that requires subtlety and complexity to pull off, and this store-bought container of soup shows no signs of those things.

This lobster bisque was relatively flavorless, despite the numerous spices, aromatics, and seasonings on the label. In terms of salt, the bisque was also lacking. The vague flavor of seafood (not even a pure lobster flavor) and cream, were all I could taste. All of the other flavors that were supposed to be there were drowned out by this indistinct shellfish flavor. Notably, the recipe for this soup uses clam broth, as well as lobster stock.

Overall, this was the worst soup because it lacked any semblance of balance. It also paled in comparison to any restaurant version of a lobster bisque that I’ve tried.

8. Greek Style Lemon Chicken

Panera Greek Lemon Chicken soup

Panera Greek Lemon Chicken soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

This was a strange one. It’s difficult to nail down what made Panera Bread’s Greek Style Lemon Chicken soup so unpleasant. It did have the two flavors it was going for (lemon and chicken). But it didn’t end up working for me.

The chicken bits had a nice texture and tasted fresh, but they were woefully underseasoned. The only flavor I got was from the soup itself, which hit that lemon note hard. It was overpowering, and the soup tasted way too sour because of how strong and artificial that lemon flavor was. Plenty of other veggies (like leeks and spinach) were in there too, but I couldn’t really taste them. The only discernible ones were the carrots, which mostly just tasted like lemon, too.

The long-grain brown rice that’s supposed to be in the soup didn’t really show up to the party. It was there, but the texture was all but gone. There should be a nice, hearty chew to the rice, but this was lost to the broth. Of all the Panera Bread soups I tried, the Greek Lemon Chicken was the one I enjoyed second to least.

7. Creamy Tomato

Panera Creamy Tomato soup

Panera Creamy Tomato soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

As a big fan of tomato soup, I was profoundly disappointed by this offering. Tomato soup is my go-to on the rare occasion I find myself at a Panera Bread location. I get it with half a baguette, which is perfect for dunking into the soup. Alas, lack of bread was the least of this soup’s problems. The take-home version of the Creamy Tomato soup from Panera was noticeably worse than my memory of the one served at the fast-casual chain.

First off, this version of the tomato soup was not very creamy. That’s actually typical of Panera Bread’s tomato soup, even at the restaurant, and I personally don’t mind it much. Additionally, there was something about it that made it feel more natural than a thin Campbell’s soup. Despite my lack of qualms about the texture, the flavor just wasn’t there. The soup tasted like bad pizza sauce — overly sweet and too heavy on the oregano. More cream and a better balance of seasonings could have helped place this one higher up on this list. But as is, I didn’t find too much to love about this soup.

6. Chicken Tortilla

Panera Chicken Tortilla soup

Panera Chicken Tortilla soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

Next up was another soup that I absolutely love when it’s made correctly — I even make a decent┬áchicken tortilla soup myself! However, I found that this Panera Bread option didn’t live up to the quality of what I can produce. Even after sprucing this soup up with tortilla chips and cheddar cheese, it wasn’t worth finishing the 2-cup container.

The biggest issues with Panera’s Chicken Tortilla Soup were the lack of flavors and the imbalance of flavors. There was seriously a lack of salt and acid, and it was heavy on the paprika, giving it a bitter taste. Reading the ingredient list on the back of the container, there were a ton of ingredients in the soup that I didn’t taste when I was eating it. These included poblano peppers, lime juice, cilantro, and even tortilla chips, but none of them registered when I tried the soup.

At the very least, the packaging promotes its inclusion of all white meat chicken. And, to be fair, you can taste that, at least. This was also higher-quality chicken than you can expect to find in soups made by more popular brands, like Campbell’s or Progresso.

5. Mexican Style Street Corn Chowder

Panera Mexican Corn Chowder

Panera Mexican Corn Chowder – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

The next soup I tried had a very good flavor, but I couldn’t get over one prominent problematic element. Panera Bread’s Mexican Style Street Corn Chowder was tasty and has a great blend of Southwestern flavors. Unlike the Creamy Tomato soup, this corn chowder had a creamy, rustic body that one would expect from a thicker soup. There was a cheesy element to it that is, according to the label, created by using cheese cultures. However they accomplished it, it was quite a feat.

What I found lacking, though, was the quality of the ingredients in the soup. The poblano peppers and fire-roasted corn brought a nice smokiness, but the potatoes were a big miss. These little chunks of potatoes didn’t taste like much, and the hard texture was off-putting. The low quality of these potatoes made it seem like this relatively inexpensive ingredient was tossed into the soup to only give it some substance. I usually love potatoes in my chowder, but the bland and unpleasant chew of these potatoes made me turn against one of my favorite foods.

4. Baked Potato

Panera Baked Potato soup

Panera Baked Potato soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

This one took a while to grow on me, but I ended up quite enjoying it. Panera Bread’s Baked Potato Soup was doing its best to emulate the flavors of a loaded baked potato — one that’s overflowing with bacon, sour cream, scallions, and cheese. It ended up getting some of these flavors right while missing the mark on others. However, the biggest win for this soup was the potatoes. They were much better than the spuds in Panera’s Mexican Style Street Corn Chowder.

The hunks of potatoes in this soup were large and soft. They really tasted like they were in the oven before being mixed into the soup. The creamy soup had a bacon flavor that came through in pretty much every bite. While the pieces of bacon were almost too tiny to register, the flavor of the smoked meat enhanced the soup greatly. I also saw scallions in my bowl but didn’t get much of a taste for anything resembling an onion, which was a shame.

As it stands, this one required a bit more doctoring to reach perfection. I recommend adding a little bit of onion, and perhaps a tiny bit more salt and pepper. Then you’ll have a pretty great soup on your hands.

3. Broccoli Cheddar

Panera Broccoli Cheddar soup

Panera Broccoli Cheddar soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar soup is a fan favorite among the chain’s diners, and I finally understand why. It is certainly much better in the restaurant, but in contrast to how the Creamy Tomato soup performed earlier, this grocery store soup was much better.

I am not the biggest fan of either of these flavors, so it was shocking how much I enjoyed the taste of this broccoli cheddar soup. It was properly seasoned — it was almost too salty but not quite. There was a savory broccoli and faint cheddar flavor in every bite. The best surprise was the large chunks of broccoli, which were delicious and nutritious. It’s safe to say that if you like broccoli cheddar soup, this was a pretty good take on it. I understand the love now. This soup was excellent. In the end, there were just a couple of soups I preferred over it.

2. Turkey Sausage, Kale & Quinoa

Panera sausage and vegetable soup

Panera sausage and vegetable soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

This was a surprising stand-out among the soups that I tried. Panera Bread’s Turkey Sausage, Kale & Quinoa soup has a thin broth, but it doesn’t lack flavor. Plus, the soup is loaded with ingredients that taste good and are good for you. What more can you ask for in a soup?

One prominent ingredient in this soup that took it to the next level was the red bell pepper. The interplay of the pepper flavor with the savory turkey stock gives an excellent kick to every bite. And the turkey sausage itself was quite good. The herbaceous, fennel-forward flavor you’re used to in a pork sausage is omnipresent and delicious.

The kale and quinoa are hearty additions that make this soup feel more like a full-fledged meal than many of the other Panera soups I tried. Overall, this was one of the few winners I found in my taste test.

1. Autumn Squash

Panera Autumn Squash soup

Panera Autumn Squash soup – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

This seasonal soup was an absolute hit. Of all the Panera Bread soups I’ve tried, this is the one I would buy again, and I’d do it in a heartbeat. The Autumn Squash soup from Panera was delicious. It was on the sweet side, but deliciously balanced with spices and dairy, making it one of the best grocery store soups you can buy.

The first thing that hits you is the natural sweetness from the pumpkin and butternut squash that make up the base of this soup. It’s then reinforced with ginger and other aromatic spices to complement the squash mixture. The soup itself was silky smooth, with tiny chunks of onions, carrots, and celery that kept the texture from becoming too monotonous. Each bite of Panera Bread’s Autumn Squash soup had me coming back for more, and that’s the highest praise I can give to any of these selections. I loved it.

Methodology

various packaged Panera soups

various packaged Panera soups – Bryn Gelbart/Daily Meal

For this ranking, I purchased all of the Panera Bread soups available at my local grocery store, which ended up being nine varieties. Each soup cost around $5.99 before tax. I tasted each of the soups and ranked them in order of my personal preference, from best to worst. I took into account flavor, texture, and whether or not I would be willing to buy the soup again.

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