There's nothing better than a bowl of hot, steaming soup on a dark and stormy night. Store-bought soups are good but expensive for what they are - and of course you have no control of what goes into them. On the other hand, making your own soups at home can be a time consuming process.
With an electric soup maker - a sort of combination of an electric kettle and a blender - you can cut down on both the prep time and the cooking time. And as you're in control of the what goes into the machine, you can decide exactly what sort of soup you want.
There are two main components in a soup machine, the blender and the heating element. The blender will chop up your ingredients, and the heating element heats them to the correct temperature. Most machines can produce different consistencies of soup - this dictates how long the blender will run for.
Most soup makers can create both smooth (or creamy) soup and chunky soup, but there are some that will only make smooth. These types are often sold as a dual-use, the primary use being to create soy milk. They only make smooth soup because they lack the ability to turn the blender component off.
Most machines will make your soup in less than 30 minutes. Chunky soup takes longer to cook than smooth or creamy soup. Soup makers with a smaller capacity tend to be very slightly quicker, but not enough for this to be a real decision point when deciding which model to purchase.
Capacity is important as it determines how much soup the soup maker can create in one go. Models range from 1000ml to around 1600ml. Allowing for 300-400ml soup per person, a 1000ml model is big enough for two large servings or three smaller ones, and a 1600ml model four large servings or five/six smaller servings.
Some high end models come with a handy keep warm function. This feature will keep the soup hot after it's been made - usually for up to around an hour.
Also found on high end models is auto clean, also known as pre-clean. This takes the form of a special mode, where you fill the machine with water and it will 'blend' and heat the water, in order to loosen and break down any left-overs or burnt on bits. In practice you may still need to clean your soup maker after using this function, but it does help to make the cleaning process easier and quicker.
Some soup makers come with a sauté function, which means your meat or veg will be lightly fried before being cooked. This is great for two reasons. Firstly, it can improve the taste and flavour of your soup, and secondly it means that there's less washing up - as you don't need to fry anything yourself in a separate frying pan.
Soup makers with a pause function allow you to briefly pause the cooking process in order to add herbs and spices, that you might not want to add at the beginning of the process. Some machines require you to press a button to pause cooking, and some will pause automatically if you open the lid.