Soup. The word itself just sounds like comfort, maybe because it sounds a bit like "soothe." Think of aromatic chicken noodle or smooth, savoury tomato soups. Think of thick, hearty vegetable blends packed with flavours. Imagine the curl of steam rising from a pot of home-cooked soup.

Most of our world's cultures have their own take on a big bowl of broth and assorted chunky or puréed ingredients. And it's little wonder - soup is so easy to make! You can simply throw all you've got in a pot - like the Tuscan ribollita that always includes leftover or stale bread. Or you can highlight the flavour of minimal ingredients, as in Japanese miso or Irish leek soup.

For those who feel lost in the produce section, the diversity of soup recipes offers opportunities to try out lesser-known vegetables, like fennel or rutabaga or okra. You can also explore the world of herbs and spices. Simmer fresh thyme or dried bay leaves to infuse ingredients with their subtle flavours. Grate garlic or ginger into a soup or toss in a chili pepper for a spicy kick. Garnish a soup with fresh leaves of basil, cilantro, mint, or milder parsley to add an aromatic finishing touch.

Soups' ingredients can be easily modified or swapped out for more healthful components. Recipes can be tweaked. You can trade out the squash you don't like for the mushrooms you do. Replace whole milk or cream with non-fat milk and use olive oil instead of butter. Chicken fat can be trimmed or skimmed off the broth, or you can use turkey, since it's slightly leaner.

Speaking of trimming fat, soup may help with weight management. One study has shown that if you eat a small bowl of soup before a meal, you're likely to eat 20% less food during your meal. Not just any soup, though: soups with fatty ingredients were more effective at curbing appetite than those containing protein.

The cooler temperatures of autumn and winter make soup look even better. Cold and flu season coincides with the weather changes, and soup can be a go-down-easy option for sore throats or delicate stomachs.

Centuries of sickly souls have been soothed by a simple bowl of chicken soup. The chicken soup remedy has interested researchers for about as long. Is it the steamy heat of the soup loosening nasal congestion? Is it the combined nutritional impact of the soup's ingredients - chicken, broth, and assorted healthy vegetables? Some research indicates that chicken soup may slow the activity of white blood cells. This research was done in a lab, not in humans, but it may give researchers insight into why chicken soup can give us a moment's rest from cold symptoms. Maybe it's just the comforting quality that gives us a lift.

If you're not confident in your soup-making skills, you can still enjoy the healthful, comforting benefits of soup. Canned and processed soups come in many varieties and are convenient and can be as tasty as homemade. Watch out for elevated levels of sodium, and always heed the serving size on the nutritional label. Sometimes one can of soup actually holds two or more servings, which means you'd need to double or triple the fat, calorie, and sodium totals, too.

Amy Toffelmire