habitant pea soup

How Habitant pea soup became a grocery store staple in Canada

Habitant pea soup is a Canadian staple. Whether you love it or you hate it, there's no denying that this soup has stolen into our hearts (and on to our shelves) for decades.

The Québécois soup combines a tantalizing mix of blended yellow peas, salted ham, and fragrant spices (onions, celery, carrots, and a bit of thyme are common in the soup, too).

The Habitant soup's origins are a little sketchy, but the soup probably arrived in Canada sometime in the early 1800s, according to Amanda Whittaker, a PhD student at the University of Toronto Culinaria Research Centre.

"The early settlers relied on the convenience and easiness in preparing the soup," Whittaker explained to Freshdaily. "For farmers and settlers, the warm and hearty soup was a particularly important staple for surviving the long and cold winters."

She can't pinpoint exactly who came up with pea soup in general, noting that Finnish, French, Greek, Dutch, and Polish cultures all have their own versions of the soup.

Even British "pease pudding" could have influenced the dish.

Early records also suggest that Habitant pea soup could have been created by eighteenth-century settlers blending Canadian green peas to ease digestion.

Green peas apparently became difficult to digest and "windy" as they matured, according to the recipe for purée of pea soup from Taste of History: The Origins of Quebec's Gastronomy.

Early Canadian agricultural writers thought that by removing the skin of the peas and blending them, they became easier to digest.

Hence, Habitant pea soup.

So how did the Habitant pea soup take off?

Whittaker notes that the soup became popularized and mass produced as early as 1889, when instant powdered versions of the soup were manufactured.

However, many Canadians today picture Campbell's popular canned version of the Habitant pea soup, which was launched a few decades later in 1918.

Although Campbell's pea soup wasn't marketed until 1924, the split-pea soup became an instant classic; today, the company sells more than 18.3 million units in grocery stores across the country each year, according to a spokesperson.

Unsurprisingly, Quebec accounts for most of that number, with residents consuming 10 million cans yearly.

Admittedly, Campbell's version of the 400-year-old recipe is pretty pared back, but Canadians frequently add bacon, ham, cheese or even salted pork to spice things up.

Whether you're a fan or not, there's no denying that this stick-to-your-ribs soup tastes especially good on a winter day.

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