Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana: What To Know Before Ordering

Ever since opening in Florida back in 1982, Olive Garden has been synonymous with classic Italian cuisine — or Italian-inspired cuisine, at least (per Nation's Restaurant News). Perhaps you're a fan of digging into those warm, buttery, breadsticks and getting that garlicky aroma all over your fingers. Maybe you enjoy the Tour of Italy, spending a Friday night with friends eating the trio of Chicken Parmigiana, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Lasagna Classico, while smooth '40s pop-jazz echoes through the dining room. Or maybe you love nothing more than taking the first spoonful of a piping hot bowl of Zuppa Toscana.

A part of Olive Garden's homemade soups line-up, the Zuppa Toscana combines spicy Italian sausage, bacon, fresh kale, and russet potatoes in a creamy broth (per Olive Garden). Described by Greatist as one of the best soups you can get at Olive Garden, this warm and creamy potage offers a hearty meal of meat, potatoes, and herbs in one bowl. But let's say you've never had Zuppa Toscana before and you're curious to know everything about it. Does it live up to the hype? Is it expensive? Can you make it at home or do you have to visit Olive Garden for it? After reading this, we're certain you'll have all the information needed to decide whether you want to try Zuppa Toscana for yourself.

The story behind Zuppa Toscana

Zuppa Toscana isn't exactly an original Olive Garden creation, though the chain's version is certainly proprietary. It takes its cues from the Tuscany region in Italy, thus the name, which translates to "Tuscan Soup." Historically, Tuscany was an "impoverished, rural region," and these kinds of "use what you have" soups would most likely have been prepared by the lower classes of the Italian citizenry, as their components were relatively inexpensive and readily available (per Cellar Tours). Potatoes were introduced to Italian diets in the early 19th century, explaining their later addition to this hearty dish (via Italy and the Potato: A History, 1550 – 2000).

Although it has roots in Italian culture, the Zuppa Toscana you'll purchase at your local Olive Garden isn't exactly 100% authentic Italian. The Olive Garden version of this recipe differs slightly from the classical version, adding heavy cream, peppers, bacon, potatoes, and Italian sausage. Much like certain other famous dishes at Olive Garden such as the Fettuccine Alfredo, according to Food Network, Zuppa Toscana is indeed a hearty meal — it's just not a genuinely Italian dish.

Nutritional information about Zuppa Toscana

Olive Garden is undoubtedly good for satisfying a craving for planks of fried mozzarella and bottomless pasta. It's all about decadence and flavor there, and you'd be forgiven for wanting to splurge on breadsticks and chicken parmesan. But how nutritious can a simple bowl of soup be? Is it enough if you order just a bowl of Zuppa Toscana?

According to Fast Food Nutrition, a single serving of Zuppa Toscana is 220 calories and contains 15 grams of total fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, and an impressive 790 milligrams of sodium. Compared to the other soups on the menu, the Zuppa Toscana is actually a close second to the Chicken & Gnocchi Soup, which sits at 230 calories with an outstanding 1,290 milligrams of sodium. It's not wildly unhealthy, however, especially compared to the massive Tour of Italy combo, clocking in at a monstrous 1,680 calories, 104 grams of fat, and 3,390 milligrams of sodium (per Eat This, Not That). In short, the Zuppa Toscana is a fine choice for a light and simple lunch, but the high sodium content should warrant some consideration first.

The price of Zuppa Toscana

Value can sometimes be a difficult thing to determine when dining out. A soup chock full of bacon, sausage, potatoes, and herbs sounds like more than enough to leave you feeling full. But will you be overpaying for this soup or will you find it to be a pretty good deal?

According to Real Menu Prices, a bowl of Zuppa Toscana costs around $5.49. Considering sales tax and tip, you're probably looking at around $6 total, though prices will vary by location. While this may seem like a lot of money for a bowl of soup, a smaller cup of soup at Panera Bread would be around $5 or $6 dollars (via Top Restaurant Prices), so you're paying a relatively average cost for your bowl of Tuscan soup. Besides, if you select the unlimited breadsticks and salad, you'll probably be eating much more than $6 dollars worth.

What does Zuppa Toscana taste like?

Now we come down to the real question. Is Zuppa Toscana even any good? It may not be expensive and it may not be the unhealthiest thing on the menu, sure, but none of that matters if it tastes bad. Savanna Swain-Wilson of Insider undertook a bold quest to rank every Olive Garden appetizer on the menu, including the Zuppa Toscana. Swain-Wilson immediately noticed the careful balance of all the flavors in the soup, noting that everything from the tender potatoes to the savory bacon was in perfect sync with one another. She did note her affection for the "star of the show," the spicy Italian sausage, which she claimed made every bite more delicious than the last. Her only complaint was that, despite being delicious and gluten-free to boot, it's not exactly shareable as an appetizer.

And if you were worried about the soups being "homemade" (i.e. simply being reheated in a microwave), Olive Garden employees want you to rest assured that all soups including the Zuppa Toscana are made every morning using only fresh vegetables (via PopSugar). While it all comes down to personal taste, you can at least take comfort knowing that your soup is prepared from scratch.

How to make your own Zuppa Toscana

Let's say all this reading has put you in the mood to dig into a bowl of Zuppa Toscana, but you're not in the mood to brave the outdoors to go to your nearest Olive Garden. Fortunately, there are multiple recipes online (including one from Mashed) that call for cheap, easy-to-find ingredients, and relatively little time to prepare something that's as good as — or maybe even better than — the real thing.

Creme de la Crumb's recipe is relatively easy to make and takes only 30 minutes to prepare. The simple list of ingredients includes bacon, butter, potatoes, heavy cream, onions, garlic, kale, and chicken broth, plus around a pound of spicy or mild Italian sausage. The process is fairly straightforward, cooking the sausage, sautéing onions and garlic in butter, and then boiling the heavy cream, chicken broth, potatoes, and water before adding the rest of the ingredients in to simmer. At around 208 calories per serving, it's on par with its Olive Garden counterpart, and the recipe assures us that this soup "eats like a meal" and is bound to leave you feeling full.

Food Network offers their own version of Zuppa Toscana, which calls for sweet Italian sausage rather than spicy and recommends you add a splash of white wine vinegar to bring out all of those delicious, heavier flavors. Not a bad back-pocket option for soup season!