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[Eds: J. is back today as a guest blogger. While today is technically "National Chicken Soup for the Soul" day, she's decided to focus on the more pressing need of the [sickly] flesh. J. has a Master’s Degree in Microbiology, and has attained Level 4 – Warrior Mommy status, both of which may be apparent from the article which follows.]
Chicken soup is ubiquitous throughout the world. I ‘m not going to go into the great culinary histories of Asia, Egypt, France or NYC. From what I have gathered, food historians do not truly know when people started tossing veggies and poultry into a large pot, cooking it over a flame until the delicious thing known as soup came out. It probably originated in some place with a terrible winter and a plethora of colds and flus – like Saskatchewan.
Chicken noodle soup could not be more appropriate in my house right now. Perhaps this year’s paranoia over the flu pandemic causes me to cook a freezer full of comfort food. Last week saw containers of ragu sauce on the counter, yesterday was a elk hoisin stew and today is chicken noodle soup. Unfortunately, I live in what I call a “triumvirate of disease” – one individual of our household works in a medical clinic, the second individual attends prekindergarten and the third likes to stick his hands in his mouth after riding in a shopping cart at the grocery store (he attends preschool as well). Of course, all three of the sacred triumvirate have been vaccinated for H1N1 as they are considered “high risk”. I am not in a sacred, high risk group. I am not vaccinated. I am surely doomed. Just kidding, as I have yet to buy into the ignorant and paranoid ideas of a significant portion of the population. In fact, I am happily boarding a germ-infested flight in two days time to visit my dearest D., swine flu be damned! [Ed: Yipee!!]
The most interesting thing I found about chicken soup is not the recipes (google at your own leisure), but the scientific advances made in the world of boiled poultry and veggies. “Jewish Penicillin” , although a funny misnomer, does allude to what researchers have found to be possibly beneficial when ingesting chicken soup while ill with a cold. Let’s say one little nasty rhinovirus or adenovirus invades your upper respiratory tract, starts an infection and within 2-3 days you are producing lovely mucus and sneezing your head off. The mucus and congestion are just your immune system’s way of getting immune cells to the site ASAP. Interestingly, Renard et al. (2000) found that chicken soup inhibited neutrophil migration (chemotaxis) and thus provide an possible explanation for the decrease in inflammation after eating chicken soup. However, I seem to remember way, way , way back in university that neutrophils were more interested in the phagocytosis of bacteria, not battling viruses, but maybe I’m out to lunch on that particular immunology lecture. (Help anyone?) It is difficult to separate the science from the traditional home remedy, but an article I found in CMAJ was a nice, fluffy explanation of these problems.
I try to make my own stock whenever the opportunity arises. Two weeks ago a lemon roasted chicken gave itself to the stock pot and I really quite like the subtle citrus flavor imparted to the stock (read: I left the lemon in the body cavity by mistake). I made a fairly generic type of chicken noodle soup for my hubby, sick with a cold. Just some good, old fashioned egg noodles (always cook separately), diced browned chicken breast, carrots, peas, and S&P to taste. I always like to add a little sesame oil as a finish. Its a trick I inherited from my grandfather. In fact, he would add sesame oil, soya sauce and a big dollop of chili oil. Which brings me to my favorite chicken noodle soup recipe – a more Asian inspired bowl that always clears your sinuses. Simmer some fresh ginger and garlic in your stock, then add whatever Asian-like ingredients you want – shrimp, noodles, green onion, mushrooms, carrots, shredded cabbage, or bean sprouts. Always finish with sesame oil and chili sauce/oil . . . et viola, placebo effect or not, you can breathe again. For an hour at least.