What is Clam Chowder?


Blount’s Family Kitchen Soups Clam Chowder
Blount’s Family Kitchen Soups’ New England Clam Chowder

Clam chowder is a white milky or red tomato-y soup with clams and vegetables like onions and potatoes. Arguably, the most famous clam chowder is New England clam chowder. 

New England clam chowder is a rich soup with clams, dairy, bacon, and veggies like potatoes, onions, and celery. This popular seafood chowder has been served for centuries.

History of Clam Chowder

Chowders originated in French fishing villages. They made their way to the Northeastern U.S. via the British, French, Nova Scotian settlers in the 18th century. The name “chowder” is derived from chaudron (French for cauldron). It has been such a popular dish for so long that it is even mentioned in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick.

The most popular clam chowders include:

  • Manhattan clam chowder: tomato-based “red” chowder created in Portuguese fishing communities in Rhode Island
  • New England clam chowder (also called Boston clam chowder): cream or milk-based “white” chowder that originated in the northeastern U.S.
  • Rhode Island clam chowder: clam juice broth-based “clear” chowder. Rhode Island clam chowder can also refer to a “red” chowder made with tomato purée that originated in Rhode Island

There are regional versions of clam chowder across the U.S. Additional varieties include:

  • Hatteras Island clam chowder: minimally seasoned clam juice broth-based “clear” chowder
  • Long Island clam chowder: half Manhattan and half New England “pink” chowder
  • Minorcan clam chowder: tomato-based “red” chowder that originated in St. Augustine, Florida that is made with the datil pepper
Pike Place Chowder New England Clam Chowder
 Pike Place Chowder’s New England Clam Chowder
Iggy's Chowder
Iggy’s Chowder

Is Clam Chowder a Seafood?

Clam chowder is a seafood stew. Chowders are thickened by cream or milk. They traditionally have seafood in them. 

They are hearty soups filled with diced clams and vegetables. Not all chowders have seafood in them. For example, corn chowder does not contain seafood.

What Is Clam Chowder Soup Made Of?

Clam chowder is a chunky, hearty, and creamy soup made with fresh clams, heavy cream or milk, and vegetables. Oftentimes, chowder is a thick soup served in a cup, bowl, mug or bread bowl with oyster crackers. Oyster crackers are hexagonal or tiny round salted crackers.

The types of clams most often used in chowder are quahog clams, which are Atlantic hard-shell clams. Species of these clams most often used in chowder recipes include cherrystone, chowder, and littleneck.

Most clam chowder soups are made of the following ingredients:

  • Bacon or salt pork
  • Butter
  • Celery
  • Clams like cherrystone, chowder, and littleneck
  • Clam broth
  • Heavy Cream (or cream or whole milk)
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Seasonings and spices

Clam chowder should not be confused with the following seafood soups:

  • Bisque: a thick, smooth cream soup made from puréed seafood and/or vegetables
  • Gumbo: a highly seasoned meat or seafood stew 
  • Stew: a chunky meat and vegetable dish with just enough liquid to cover its ingredients. A stew is thicker than soup.
Boston Sail Loft New England Clam Chowder
Boston Sail Loft’s New England Clam Chowder
Splash Cafe Award Winning Clam Chowder
Splash Cafe’s Award Winning Clam Chowder

What Is Clam Chowder Supposed to Taste Like?

New England clam chowder is a mix of creamy soup and briny, salty, chewy clams. This is complemented with soft onions, celery, and cubed potatoes. Seasonings like pepper enhance the soup, preventing it from being bland.

Is It Healthy to Eat Clam Chowder?

New England clam chowder can be high in calories, fat, and sodium. However, homemade recipes can be altered to substitute ingredients like swapping out heavy cream for low-fat milk. Clams are rich in nutrients like omega-3s, iron, vitamin B12, and protein.

Manhattan clam chowder is a healthier option because it is a tomato-based soup. However, this soup tends to be high in sodium. Eating chowder in moderation can make it a reasonable lunch or dinner. Seafood chowder is hearty enough to be a meal on its own.

Most Famous Clam Chowder

Let’s spoon. The most famous chowders can be found coast to coast. Here are some of the best clam chowders from the northeast United States.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. Clam Chowder

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. uses generations-old recipes to share a wicked good taste of Maine. Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co.’s Clam Chowder is 32 delicious ounces of chopped hard-shell clams, diced potatoes, and authenticity.

The Clam Shack Clam Chowder

The Clam Shack

The Clam Shack has been an institution in Kennebunkport, Maine, since 1968. The seafood shack is popular for lobster rolls, but they make an impressive New England clam chowder too. The Clam Shack’s Clam Chowder is thick and chock full of fresh, plump clams.

Blount’s Family Kitchen Soups Clam Chowder

Blount’s Family Kitchen Soups’ New England Clam Chowder

Since 1880, the Blount family has been making their beloved soups. Their New England Clam Chowder is the real deal. Nothing beats a piping hot mug of this seafood chowder, especially on a cold day. It is thick and rich and loaded with clams, potatoes, spices, and love.

We love chowdah! America’s best restaurants, seafood markets, and seafood shacks are shipping the best clam chowder and seafood chowders nationwide on Goldbelly!

Lauren Mack

Lauren Mack is a journalist who writes about all things food for Goldbelly. She is passionate about exploring the world one meal at a time. Her favorite things to Goldbelly include cakes, biscuit sandwiches, and ice cream.

Lauren has been a journalist for more than two decades and has specialized in writing about travel and food for much of that time. Her work has appeared in 150+ websites, magazines, apps, and guidebooks, including Cheapflights, CultureTrip, INSIDER, Lonely Planet, Newsweek International, Savory Traveler, Seeker, The Daily Meal, ThoughtCo (formerly About.com), Thrillist, Time Out, TripSavvy, and Zagat.

A lover of Taiwan's night markets, Singapore's hawker centers, and New York City's food trucks, Lauren has never skipped a meal or dessert. She has an insatiable appetite for exploring the world's best food and will try — almost — anything. Her favorite foods are pizza, ice cream, dim sum, sushi, and Taiwanese braised pork rice, and she can't resist a chef's tasting menu.

From backpacking across Europe and Asia to circumnavigating the globe by ship to living like a local in multiple cities, her travels have taken her on food explorations to 60+ countries on five continents. She has called Miami, Beijing, Taipei, and New York home.