The surprising ingredient you can use to thicken soup

In the summertime, the soups of choice are light and clear and sometimes even served cold, such as gazpacho. When the temperatures start to cool down, however, we all crave soups that are not only hot, but are also thick and hearty. 

Soup is basically a liquid, though, so how do you get it to thicken up nicely while still retaining its essential soupiness? You can always add cream or perhaps a little yogurt (though not too much or your soup might curdle). Coconut milk makes a good dairy-free option — according to The Kitchn, a quarter cup of coconut milk will allow your soup to thicken without adding any overtly coconutty flavor, although if you're making an Asian-inspired soup, a little touch of coconut might be just the thing.

Other typical soup thickeners include flour and cornstarch — with both of these, though, it's important to dip out a spoonful of the soup you're cooking into a cup and whisk your dry thickener in until it's a smooth paste. If you just dump a dry thickener into the entire pot, you might end up with a lumpy mess.

One of the best ways to thicken a soup, however, involves vegetables. If the soup is vegetable-based, you can just strain out some of the veggies, puree them, and add them back into the pot. Even if it's not a vegetable soup, though, you can always thicken it up using good old potatoes.

How potatoes can help thicken your soup

A contributor to the cooking website AllRecipes shared a favorite soup-thickening tip. A former restaurant cook, he revealed that leftover mashed potatoes were often added when any soup was looking on the thin side. As precooked mashed potatoes may not be a staple in everyone's home kitchen, however, he recommends frozen hash browns as the best possible soup thickener that you've never dreamed of using in your soup. 

Hash browns are already precooked (not to mention pre-shredded), so when they are slowly warmed up in a soup, they'll break down into a tasty, non-clumpy starch that will thicken a soup, a chowder, or even a stew or chili. As an added bonus, hash browns will give that soup a heartier flavor, as well.

While the frozen hash brown thickening trick will work best in your slow cooker (aka crockpot), you can use it for stovetop soups as well. Just make sure to cook them slow, low, and long, since it takes some time for those hash browns to dissolve entirely. Either way you prefer to cook it, though, you couldn't find an easier, mess-free, fuss-free, and (with a little patience) practically foolproof way to thicken your soup than using frozen hash browns.

​Another surprising soup thickener

But what if you have no potatoes — fresh or cooked or frozen? Try this trick from our friends in the Mediterranean (home of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet): thicken your soup using bread crumbs. This tip, Epicurious assures us, will add texture as well as bulk to your soup. 

What's more, using bread crumbs as a soup thickener has the added bonus of being super-frugal — not only does it help you use up any stale bread you might have otherwise thrown out, but it will also stretch a meager bowl of soup into a hearty meal for one or perhaps even two. In fact, if you're feeling lazy and don't even want to go to the bother of crumbling your bread, you can just toss big old chunks of bread into the soup pot and let the cooking process break them down.

​One more soup thickener you may not have thought of

Yet another soup thickener that you might never even have heard of, or at least not have any idea how to pronounce, is something called a beurre manié, which is French for "kneaded butter." To prepare this, you obviously need butter, as well as flour — equal parts of each, according to Saveur, and by "kneading," they mean that you simply mix these two ingredients together with a fork or with your fingers. Once they've combined into a smooth paste, roll the mixture into small balls (each about a teaspoon's worth), and then whisk one ball at a time into your soup and cook for at least one minute. 

By this point, the butter should melt, the soup should thicken, and, if it's not quite thick enough, just add another beurre ball. Saveur says that using beurre manié "will add a sleek luster" to your soup, which is cool, but the best thing about it is that butter (as Paula Deen would be sure to agree) always makes everything better.