Ginseng soup is a broad category of soups that contain ginseng, usually in dried or powdered form. Essentially any soup, whether broth or cream-based, to which ginseng is added becomes a ginseng soup. A very simple soup can also be made by simply boiling the ginseng root into a broth of its own. Ginseng is well regarded throughout the world as a healing herb, and for this reason has long been popular in warm broths. Soup's warmth and steam, when combined with the healing properties of ginseng, are believed by many to restore health and ward off illness.
The ginseng plant is ubiquitous throughout the western hemisphere and is well regarded as a stimulant with multiple restorative health properties. Ginseng is sold as an herbal supplement around the world, though culinary uses are most common throughout Asia. Korean cuisine in particular makes robust use of ginseng roots and leaves. Most of the time, the root is the only part of the plant used in soups.
Cooking with ginseng root is relatively straightforward, but varies somewhat depending on how it has been preserved. Fresh root is usually grated or sliced, and is very potent. Its sharp flavor usually dictates that only a small amount be used, usually as a flavor or seasoning additive. In soups, fresh ginseng is usually added along with other herbs or vegetables to create an aromatic broth.
Dried ginseng root is more common, in part because it lasts for quite a long time. Cooks can purchase jars of dried ginseng slices or powered ginseng root without worrying about when it will go bad. Simmering dried root slices in water will reconstitute them and will create a flavorful soup base in the process. This base can either be served alone or with the addition of vegetables or meats. Powdered ginseng is usually added to soups much as salt or pepper would be: that is, as a seasoning meant to complement the other main flavors.
Ginseng chicken soup is one of the most common types of ginseng soup. In the West, chicken soup is usually little more than chicken broth with noodles, vegetables, and chicken chunks, and becomes a ginseng soup when the root is added in small quantities. It is essentially a variation on standard chicken soup, which is well regarded as a comfort food throughout North America and parts of Europe. Chicken soup is often given to people suffering from colds or flu-like ailments. Adding ginseng is seen by many as a way of upping the soup’s healing benefits.
Asian versions of ginseng chicken soup are also very common, but are different in several key respects. They are usually made with whole chickens, for instance, and include rice, not noodles. In many recipes, the chicken is actually stuffed with rice before boiling. Ginseng is usually much more predominant in Asian-style ginseng soups, as well.
In many of these recipes, the root is meant to be a central flavor, not simply a seasoning or an addition. The chicken is often boiled in a specifically ginseng broth, with additional pieces of dried ginseng added for flavor. Variations that include pork and beef are also common.
As there is no uniform ginseng soup recipe, there is no real right or wrong way to prepare the dish. Cooks often add ginseng to taste and pair it with any variety of other ingredients. It is sometimes designed to be medicinal, and other times simply a flavoring agent. There are many uses of ginseng, and soups are one of the easiest and most flexible ways of incorporating the herb into everyday foods.