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You don’t have to be French to love French onion soup. A broth with a backbone of beef stock and alcohol, caramelized onions, gooey cheese, and a healthy slab of bread makes for a soup that eats like a complete meal. Rumor has it that soup has royal lineage, but what are the true origins behind this telltale soup?

Everyone loves good folklore and having food associated with a king always rings as fun and exciting. The story goes that after a hunt, King Louis XV wanted a meal, and after seeing the kitchen cupboards bare in his hunting lodge, he concocted a soup with the minimal ingredients that were on hand.


Now as neat as this story sounds, it’s hard to believe that a king would step into a kitchen and handle the plebeian matters of meal prep! Understanding the ingredients of French onion soup reveals a more logical explanation for the soup’s fame.

Onions are hardy and easy to grow in a variety of climates and make a surefire crop. This is why French onion soup is older, much older than its 18th-century origin story. Soup with just onions appears in the Roman era and also 14th century Tuscan records. While some ingredients are different, the principle of a meat-fortified broth and a body of onions was the common feature. Back then, the onions in broth were seen as medicinal, having a way to purify the humors that were out of balance. Phlegm (associated with heavy wet and winter) which, when in excess, was cured and rebalanced by consuming onions.

By the time onion soup migrated into France, and specifically the large city of Paris, the soup still had medicinal purposes, but for different bodily ailments. The area in which French onion soup blossomed, Les Halles, was an area where all walks of life passed through and partook in drinking. Eating French onion soup was considered a good cure-all to a night of heavy drinking.

Not only did it serve partygoers, but it was a staple street food for the working or poor. While many wouldn’t think onion soup with only an essence of meat flavor was filling, the addition of bread and cheese made this otherwise simple soup feel more substantial.

It’s because of French onion soup’s flexibility and versatility that won the hearts and warmed the stomachs of France. Unlike many dishes, this soup broke through class barriers, serving both the rich and poor alike (albeit people ate this soup for different reasons) and giving people a staple regardless of the season, weather, or occasion.

If you’re looking for satisfying French onion soup recipes, look no further than here.