What Is Chaya Soup And What Does It Taste Like?

With so many different varieties to enjoy, soup is a pleasing food for nearly everyone, and chilly outside temperatures deliver a reason to warm up with a bowl of your favorite soup. If you've had your fill of the classics like chicken noodle, French onion, and cream of broccoli — and you're interested in exploring a fresh flavor palette — chaya soup (sopa de chaya) may be the perfect recipe for you.

This savory soup features chaya, a spinach-like leaf from Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. With a flavor profile that is similar to spinach or Swiss chard, chaya is a relatively neutral green that pairs well with several other ingredients, especially when slowly simmered in a soup. The hearty broth, lime juice, and spice from chiles all combine in chaya soup to create a burst of flavor. Often paired with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts, the result is a hearty blend that will warm you from the inside out.

Soup is a perfect way to enjoy the benefits of chaya

The health profile of any dish can be increased with the addition of leafy greens, and chaya is a particularly nutrient-dense green. The chaya leaf was an essential food in Maya diets for several centuries as it is a fast-growing plant that readily regenerates, making it widely accessible. Additionally, the mild flavor of chaya allows for versatility when cooking. The Maya used chaya leaves in their soups, scrambled with their eggs, in tamal, or boiled and eaten with a fat like butter or oil.

Chaya's strong medicinal profile is another desirable reason to add it to healing dishes like soup. Chaya leaves contain many nutrients including calcium, iron, protein, and vitamins A and C. Chaya may also help support blood sugar, treatment of Type 2 diabetes, and aid in digestion, circulation, and other bodily processes.

While the leaves are the powerhouse of the chaya plant, a cautionary note is that they cannot be consumed raw. A substance called hydrocyanic glucoside resides within chaya leaves and is considered toxic when raw. Luckily, boiling the leaves for 15 minutes eliminates the toxicity of the chaya. This cooking requirement makes chaya soup the perfect vehicle to enjoy the health benefits and flavor of the leafy green.

How to prepare your chaya soup

If you're intrigued by the flavor and health benefits of chaya soup, and curious to make it at home, there are different varieties to try based on your personal taste. While there are broth-based and cream-based options, most chaya soup recipes require a few standard ingredients including cooking oil, salt, cooking stock, and an onion. For any folks feeling extra ambitious, try making your own classic chicken stock to use as the hearty base for your chaya soup. The actual chaya leaves can be purchased at a specialty grocer or website that offers fresh cooking leaves. While cooking times vary by soup recipe, you may want to allocate additional prep time for chopping, seeding, toasting, or blending.

From there, customization is key. Varieties to enhance your soup can include toasted pumpkin seeds, sweet limes, fresh habaneros, corn tortillas for dipping, and other flavorful add-ins to elevate your soup's flavor and texture. Whether preparing this soup for your family, serving it to guests at a dinner party, or enjoying a fresh bowl for yourself (and freezing the leftovers), chaya soup is guaranteed to deliver the taste, nutrients, and warming factor to sustain you through the cold months.