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The History of Broths and Soups in Culinary Medicine

Updated on August 9, 2015

Bowl of broth


History of the Term Broth

The term broth was first applied around 1820 to an essential solution of meat, the strength of which was determined by the weight of the principal ingredients used. According to the ' Le Cuisiner Malerne ' an extract of meat was prepared in the form of dry tablets, which was easily transported and preserved during a year or even longer. These dissolved into an excellent broth though half the solid matter was gelatine.

A French chemist by the name of Chevreul, who in 1885 examined the extract of meat discovered in them a chrystalized substance 'creatin ', thus a greater chemical knowledge on the principles of meat were ascertained. Prout, found that the active element of sapid meat extract is an acid, probably the ' inosinic acid ' of Liebig. The French School of Cookery believed that broth is a foundation and the basis of all sauces.

For strengthening broths le, Saveur des potagis { known in Britain at the time as ' Maggies essence' was of great value, and importance. It is in fact an highly concentrated liquid essence, which had to be sparingly employed.Thus, this liquid essence was supplied in small bottles which were fitted with curved spouts at the neck. In this manner the liquid could be dispensed drop by drop. It is amazing how a few drops on a thin broth or soup made it immediately thickened.

It was considered that meat produced the weakest broth, while mutton was regarded as being a little stronger, but chicken broth was considered to be the strongest of them all. Some early cookery books conveyed to us how to make a cold broth--" broth can be made cold in quality without the application of heat, by digesting half a pound of finely minced beef with a pint of cold water, to which four drops of hydrochloric acid { then the basis of table salt }having been added ". As result the product was richer in soluable albuin than was the case when heat was employed.

By using rather more of the same acid, but no salt, heat could be applied up to 130 degrees F, and by this method nearly 50% of the meat could be obtained in broth. About 80% of the meat salt past into all the chlorides, with most of the phosphates.

Typhoid was once common in the west

Public Domain ---Rose spots on the chest of a patient suffering from Typhoid caused by Salmonella
Public Domain ---Rose spots on the chest of a patient suffering from Typhoid caused by Salmonella | Source

Some old medicinal recipes for broths and soups.

Poached egg soup [ Dr.Thudicum} was a pure soup which was said to be " quickly procurable" and a very desirable form of nourishment for persons suffering from an irritable, or sore state of the intestinal canal, as typhoid, or enteric fever. The recipe and method used was as follows.----

Prepare some standard broth, delicately flavoured. Then poach some eggs {contained in immersion moulds}, in boiling water. Trim them and transfer them to the tureen { A deep rounded dish with a cover used for serving soups,broths etc}, and pour the broth over them. Dice toast can be added if required.

Broth required for urgent illness { the cost then being a secondary consideration} the recommended method was that a pound of beef { a pound of very heavy lean gravy beef} and half a boned chicken. These were pounded well and put into a stew pan, with ten grains of salt.

Three pints of cold water was then poured over them and brought to the boil, whilst at the same time stirring. As soon as the water was boiling, shredded carrots, turnips, onions, leeks and celery were added. These were then boiled for a further twenty minutes. It was recommended that a lid was placed over the pan whist the boiling process was occurring.

Chardin Silver Tureen 1728

Public domain courtesy of Wetman  at Wikipedia
Public domain courtesy of Wetman at Wikipedia | Source

Dr. Thudicum recommended---

Dr. Thudicum stated that chicken broth was recommended for women and children, which could be rendered emollient, by boiling it in some marsh mallow root, and barley, sweetening it with Narbonne honey, boil, skim and filter!

One of the most unusual broths I came across in the course of my research, and one of the most distasteful I could imagine, was one by M. Dagin from the book ' Meals Medicinal' by W Fernie 1905 which gave the preparation as follows.---" Take some cockroaches, or black beetle of kitchen familiarity, for proving beneficial against albuminuria, or what is known as 'Bright's disease' in the kidneys."

M.Dagin's method was that you pounded the cockroaches in a mortar, put them in a sieve and pour boiling water or hot beef stock over them. he claimed this constituted a " delicious and nutritive dish preferable to Bisque"

For persons needing fat and bodily warmth while digestion was fair, plain broths and soups may be poured over crusts [croutons}. This method was carried out by removing the crusts from stale loaves, and cutting them into dice, and dropping them into boiling butter. " Shake them very gently but thoroughly , till they turn a light golden brown. When done, which will take about a minute take them up with a skimmer, and lay them in the mouth of the oven on brown paper to dry. The butter must cover the bread must be boiling"

Herrick, mentions a quaint superstition that people entertained in archaic times which was that it was considered lucky to carry a small piece of consecrated bread in the pocket against terrors of the day or night---

" If ye fear to be affrighted

If ye are by chance benighted

In your pocket for a trust

Carry nothing but a crust.

For, that holy piece of bread

Charms the danger, and the dread"

Scotch broth and ' baith meat and medicine'

The Glasgow herald on February 11 1926 printed an article with the heading " Baith meat and medicine" It conveyed the story in the following manner " A small boy connected to a Rhubarb cart, one with markings of a successful business man in him, called at the door and earnestly solicited an order, saying ' It's baith meat and medicine!'. Whether this be true of Rhubarb or not, it certainly is true of Scotch Broth."

" Is there a more delicious dinner than just a plateful of broth, velvety with Barley, sweet with the natural sweetness of Carrots, and fragrant with the aroma of Parsley and followed by tender meat, delicately flavoured by boiling among fresh vegetables!. meaty potatoes boiled in their skins and Carrot cooked in the broth complete a hygienic meal with no need for pudding; simple meals are best"

" One thinks of the Scottish farms of long ago, where everything necessary for the broth was found in the field or garden. Even the meat might be their own mutton of beef salted down!. What a freshness and flavour about vegetables straight from the garden into the pot, unwilted by a long train journey!. ' Baith meat and medicine', Good meat and delightful medicine. The Barley diuretic, soothing, The Leeks sworn enemy of stone troubles. Turnips and Carrots also have virtues and give a delicious sweetness to the broth."

" Broth should be made thick, there is no use supping water! Put in plenty of Barley, watery meals are indigestable, Either mutton or beef may be used. Make sure of a good meat and wash it well with cold water. Delicious broth can be made without any meat at all, especially id good garden peas are available, or if a tablespoon of lentils are added"

" A worthy farmer's wife used to roll a piece of butter in oatmeal and add it to her broth when beef was not available, and on this she raised strong sons and daughters. Those troubles with rheumatism should take meat-less broth. The strained liquid is splendid for little children, as it contains salts, and patients recovering from influenza find it a delicious change from plain Barley water and Milk foods"

The article was signed-- An Ayrshire Lass.

Cock-a-leekie-soup another popular Scottish soup.

Originally uploaded to Flickr
Originally uploaded to Flickr | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika ,you are quite right , soups have been used for many generations to treat all kinds of ailments and especially by people who were recovering from a long illness. Thank you for your kind comments they are truly appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      THE HISTORY OF BROTHS AND SOUPS IN CULINARY MEDICINE, you have lovely photos and always an educational hub from you so interesting, useful and informative. Soups are tasty with a bit more effort, for generations soups were used for many ailments.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, thank you for reading . I agree with you the cockroach element is better left well alone. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I agree with you on the Scotch broth. No broth to me is any good unless it is mostly stock. A great article that sums up the beauty of a healthy meal. Kindly withhold the cockroaches, please!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      peachpurple, You may well be right about its origins being in China as so many other things originated from there. The Article was based on the origins of broth in the Western world. Thank you for taking the time to read and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • peachpurple profile image


      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      nice hub on the history of broth. I thought that broth was first found in china. My mistake. Many ways to boil broth . I have heard the it could cure people who are sick, lack of appetite. Voted up


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