Soup, Stew, Chowder, Bisque, or Chili?

I generally consider winter to be “soup season.” Subsequently, I’ve been looking over a lot of soup recipes as I plan my winter menu. In addition to soups, I’ve seen recipes for stews, chowders, bisques, and chilies.

A liquid base and some sort of vegetable, fruit, fish, or meat comprise soups, stews, chowders, bisques, and chilies. How do these dishes differ?

Many of these recipes look similar, so how can we tell these different varieties of “soup” apart? What makes them distinct?


All of these dishes have some sort of liquid base and are popular for their flavors.



Soup is an umbrella term that describes the resulting dish when you cook solid ingredients (e.g., chicken, beef, carrots, potatoes, beans, pasta, rice) in a liquid (e.g., broth, water, juice). Cooks plan for most soups to be served warm, but there are some designed to be served cold.

Cream soup

Cream soups are a subset of soups characterized by a creamy texture. They have been thickened with béchamel sauce or other ingredients (e.g., egg, butter, cream, lentils, flour).


Stew is a term that technically describes any dish prepared by stewing (i.e., the ingredients are barely covered with a liquid and simmered for a long time in a covered pot). However, in practice, most cooks use the term stew to describe soup-like dishes that have less liquid and larger pieces of solid ingredients than traditional soups.


Chowders are thick and chunky soups that traditionally contain seafood (e.g., clams, lobster). They are creamy due to the presence of milk or cream and chunky due to the presence of large bites of seafood (or other meats) and vegetables. Some cooks casually use the term chowder to describe thick, chunky soups that don’t contain seafood (e.g., corn chowder), but there is debate regarding if these are true chowders.


Like chowders, bisques are rich, thick soups that typically contain seafood. Unlike chowders, they are not chunky. Bisques are pureed so they are smooth. Most contain wine and cream, which sets them apart from pureed vegetable soups.


There is a ton of debate regarding the definition of the term chili. However, most cooks don’t consider it to be a soup. Chilies are stew-like dishes usually comprised of chili peppers or chili powder, meat (typically beef), and often tomatoes and beans. What is included in chili varies greatly based on geographic and cultural differences.

It’s nice to understand how these warm bowls of goodness differ. You certainly can’t go wrong making any of them! For additional information, check out my sources (here, here, and here).

Do you prefer one of these dishes over the others? Why do you prefer it?

Shared at the following:

Making Your Home Sing and The Art of Home-Making.








  1. Wow, this is so fascinating! I never knew about these distinctions, and I think it’s particularly interesting that chowders traditionally have seafood. I honestly don’t know if I could say which I prefer out of all of these-it’s hard when they’re all so yummy! I guess when I think about it, I really like bisque-I’ve only had it once, but when I had it, it was pretty spectacular, and I’d love to make it again sometime. I also like miso soup a lot.

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