Supermarket Soup with Class

Pacific Natural Foods Carton Soups

Pacific Natural Foods Carton Soups

I Paid: $2.69 for a 17.6-ounce box of soup (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4 stars

Marketing: 4 stars

If there's just one thing you need to know about Pacific Natural Foods' line of carton-packed chunky soups, it's this: The boxes that these soups come in are amazing. Shelf stable and ready to heat, PNF soups arrive in nicely photo-illustrated, securely lined cardboard boxes that require no can opener, scissors, or blowtorch to access. You just push the box's top corners together and rip along a perforated line. Dump into a pot, heat, and you're eating soup.

Better yet: You're eating fairly tasty soup with a conscience. Billed as "all natural" (vague in theory, but realized here with simple, non-chemical-laden ingredient lists), the soups are vegetarian and packed in Tetra Pak cartons made largely from renewable resources.

The Thai Sweet Potato variety had a soothing creaminess imparted by its creamed coconut base, and highly tasty bits of spicy sweet potato backed by a bit of a harsh lime bite. The Roasted Garlic Mushroom Lentil flavor packed a convincingly earthy mushroom undertone, strong garlic flavor, and substantial lentils and potatoes—the vegetables still had some substance and texture, a real victory in the world of supermarket soup.

The best of the varieties I sampled was Poblano Pepper and Corn, which was a home run. Poblano peppers gave the soup a subtle, earthy, but distinct heat, spices (black pepper in particular, I think) brought a nice bright kick, and the corn had great freshness and snap. If you're lucky enough to stumble across PNF soup, stock up—it's got good flavor, a decent ethical sense, and cool packaging. Hard to beat that trifecta.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.