British Columbia

Vancouver food bank develops proprietary chunky tomato soup

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is on a mission to expand its ability to accept produce donations, fill hungry bellies and provide nutritious meals to people in need. It all starts with a simple tomato soup.

'I was worried that it might be too homey, but that's what people want' says chef

Ugly carrots and imperfect tomatoes are key ingredients in the waste-not, want not approach to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank's tomato soup recipe development experiment. (NATALIA61/Shutterstock)

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank is in the middle of a city-wide "fridge cleaning" experiment in an attempt to create a broadly appealing tomato soup that will help it fill hungry bellies.

"You know when you make fridge cleaner soup? You go home and you open up your fridge and you go 'what can I make into a soup?'

"It's like that but on a really large scale, like a city-wide scale," said chef Karen Barnaby, who has partnered with the food bank on the Surplus Food Processing Pilot Project.

Barnaby is working with the pilot project, headed by the food bank, to develop a simple tomato soup using the entire tomato, save for a small section of the core.

Simple and homestyle

With just a sprinkle of salt, garlic powder, carrots, onions and celery. the off-market and seconds vegetables are transformed into a homestyle chunky tomato vegetable soup.

The goal of the pilot project is to develop a soup that will please the largest number of people, including children, seniors and people with various culinary preferences while following nutritional guidelines set out by the food bank.

Creating such a soup is part of the food bank's long term goal to expand the capacity to receive donations of produce.

In the first round of development, the homestyle flavours were well received by a blind taste testing panel, said Barnaby.

"I was worried that it might be too homey, but that's what people want," she told On the Coast story producer, Michelle Eliot.

Logistical challenges of storing and distributing fresh produce prevent the food bank from accepting large donations of food that often ends up in the compost instead.

'Funny' shaped veggies

"You can imagine getting two tonnes of almost very brown bananas is a logistical and a distribution challenge," said Alexa Pitoulis, general manager of the Surplus Food Processing Pilot project.

For the pilot project, the team partnered with local tomato suppliers. It sources oddly shaped carrots from a local supplier.

"Very different  shapes, very funny shapes that wouldn't necessarily make it to a retail grocery environment," said Barnaby.

If it goes well, Pitoulis and Barnaby believe the project could help create jobs and perhaps even expand into a retail soup operation that would  could help fund the continuation of the pilot project.

With files from Michelle Eliot and CBC Radio One's On the Coast