White borscht or barszcz biały in Polish is an amazing Polish soup made with Polish white sausage, smoked bacon, and sour liquid made with fermented wheat flour. It may sound weird, but I can assure you, this soup is so delicious! It may be unusual to a foreign palate at first, but I can assure you, you will love it more and more with each bite (or spoon). The soup is meaty, smokey, thick, creamy, and delightfully sour. It’s traditionally eaten at Easter but is also popular during other parts of the year. It’s served with hard-boiled eggs.
Barszcz biały vs Żurek
Regular readers will notice that this soup is very similar to the Żurek soup that I shared last year. These soups are almost identical and are both served for Easter, depending on the region of Poland or family’s preferences.
- żurek is made with sour rye starter, while barszcz biały is made with sour wheat starter (the preparation of the starter is identical, just the flour type is different, for zurek, rye flour is being used and for barszcz bialy whole wheat flour)
- more cream is added to barszcz biały
- barszcz biały is slightly less sour (you need to add less sour wheat starter)
If you are familiar with bright-red borscht, the name of the soup may be a little bit confusing! Borscht (or barszcz in Polish) doesn’t mean it has to be made with beets!
There are many types of barszcz soup in Poland:
- ‘everyday’ barszcz (beet soup eaten without an occasion) – beet soup made with chicken broth, served with mashed potatoes, and finished with heavy cream, especially popular in the South of Poland
- another ‘everyday’ barszcz recipe, made without cream, but served with a dollop of sour cream on top
- Christmas Eve barszcz (meatless borscht eaten for Christmas Eve and served with uszka dumplings)
- Ukrainian barszcz – loaded with beef, vegetables, and beans – so popular in Poland that it’s considered a Polish soup
- and there you have a white barszcz (the recipe below), that has nothing to do with beets! a little bit confusing, I know!
You can listen here, how to pronounce barszcz biały.
Here you can find all my Polish soup recipes.
Here’s what you need to make white borscht:
Fresh Polish sausage, called biała kiełbasa (white sausage). Kiełbasa is a general Polish word for any kind of sausage. This particular sausage can be fresh/uncooked or cooked/scalded, but it is not smoked like most Polish kielbasa types (yes, there are many types of Polish kielbasa!). Because it is not smoked, it looks kind of ‘white’, that’s why it’s called “white kiełbasa”. This is the most traditional sausage type for Polish Easter soup (for both barszcz biały and żurek).
You can use fresh or cooked white sausage for this soup but I would recommend fresh – the flavor and texture are better.
Alternative: If you can’t find fresh white sausage, just substitute any kind of Polish sausage, it can be smoked – smokey flavor goes really well with this soup.
I would not substitute German white sausage (Weißwurst), which looks similar but it’s spiced differently. Polish white sausage is a pork sausage seasoned with garlic and marjoram, while German white sausage is a sausage made from veal meat, pork fat, and seasoned with parsley, lemon zest, onions, ginger, and cardamom.
Smoked bacon – is optional. As mentioned above, smoky flavor goes really well with this soup. It’s often made with a broth made from smoked pork ribs. I prefer to use chicken broth and then I add a small amount of smoked bacon for that smoky flavor but you can omit it.
Sour wheat starter – this is, besides the white sausage, one of the two key ingredients for this soup. The sour wheat starter is a liquid made with fermented wheat flour. It’s very similar to sourdough bread starter – it’s just not as thick, the water to flour ratio is different, but the preparation method is identical – wheat flour is combined with water and spices then left to ferment. Bacteria and yeast, which come from the air and the ingredients themselves, feed on the sugars in the flour, then transform them into lactic acid, which is responsible for the sour taste of the wheat starter.
This is one of the two key ingredients of this soup. In Poland, there is a huge array of pre-made products, which can be hit or miss. The sour wheat starter is really easy to make but it takes a couple of days to prepare. You can find the recipe for sour wheat starter in this recipe for zurek soup which uses sour rye starter – the preparation method is identical, you just need to swap rye flour for whole wheat flour (it must be whole wheat, not regular all-purpose flour!).
Why do you add sour wheat starter to this soup? It adds a delightful sour flavor to the soup and an amazing flavor.
Alternative: If you don’t want to make the homemade sour wheat starter and you can’t buy a store-bought sour wheat starter, you can substitute it with sour cream and flour. It won’t taste exactly like the traditional soup but it’s really good (I was really surprised when trying this!). Omit the heavy cream in the recipe, whisk 1 cup of cold sour cream with 1/4 cup of flour (35g) until smooth, add a couple of tablespoons of warm soup and whisk until combined. Add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Broth – I like to use chicken broth to make this soup. Alternatively, you can make broth based on smoked pork ribs or vegetarian broth.
Flavorings – garlic and marjoram – traditional Polish spices.
Horseradish – you can omit it if you don’t have it, it makes the soup taste more ‘sharp’ and delicious. Use just a tiny bit – a small amount goes a long way!
Potatoes – not everyone adds potatoes to their barszcz bialy, but I really love them in this soup! Some people serve the soup with boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes. I like to cook them directly in the soup.
Hard-boiled eggs – are traditionally served with this soup!
How to make it step by step
STEP 1: Cook the white sausage: Bring the broth to a boil, when hot add the raw white sausages and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes. The broth should not cook rapidly, it should just gently simmer.
When the sausage is cooked, take it out of the water and cut into slices.
STEP 2: Chop the smoked bacon into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes, press the garlic through a garlic press. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small cubes.
STEP 3: Add potatoes to the broth and cook for 7-10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
STEP 4: Heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot, add the sausage slices and bacon. Cook for a couple of minutes over medium-high heat, until they are browned on all sides.
Add the garlic and marjoram and cook for 30 seconds.
Add some hot broth to the pan then scrape with a spatula all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the content of the pan to the pot with broth.
STEP 5: Add the sour wheat starter – stir the flour with the liquid and add it to the soup. Make sure to add the starter gradually – trying the soup while you add it, to make sure it’s not too sour for you.
STEP 6: Add the heavy cream and horseradish. Warm up the soup until very warm (I’m trying not to boil it only to preserve the health benefits of the wheat starter).
Season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve with hard-boiled eggs.
This soup is perfect to make ahead. Tastes better the next day!
You can also freeze it before adding the cream (the cream will curdle).
Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!
White Borscht (Barszcz Biały – Polish Easter Soup)
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- 6 cups chicken broth 1400ml
- 12 oz (340g) Polish white sausage (biała kiełbasa) preferably uncooked, see notes for alternatives
- 1 tablespoon frying oil
- 5 oz (140g) smoked bacon, optional, in a block or thick-cut
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons marjoram
- 1 lb (450g) potatoes, optional
- 1 – 1 1/2 cups sour wheat starter or to taste, see notes for alternatives
- 1/3 cup heavy cream 30-36%, 80ml
- 1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish in a jar or to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 6 hard-boiled eggs to serve
- Cook the white sausage: Bring the broth to a boil, when hot add the raw white sausages and simmer over very low heat for 15-20 minutes. The broth should not cook rapidly, it should just gently simmer.
- Chop the smoked bacon into 1/2-inch (1 cm) cubes, press the garlic through a garlic press. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small cubes.
- When the sausage is cooked, take it out of the water and cut into slices.
- Add potatoes to the broth and cook for 7-10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan. When hot, add the sausage slices and bacon. Cook for a couple of minutes over medium-high heat, until they are browned on all sides. Add the garlic and marjoram and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add some hot broth to the pan then scrape with a spatula all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the content of the pan to the pot with broth.
- Add the sour wheat starter – stir the flour with the liquid and add it to the soup. Make sure to add the starter gradually – trying the soup while you add it, to make sure it’s not too sour for you.
- Add the heavy cream and horseradish. Warm up the soup until very warm (I’m trying not to boil it only to preserve the health benefits of the wheat starter).
- Season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve with hard-boiled eggs.
- Browning cooked sausage is optional, most of the traditional recipes for barszcz bialy call only for cooking the sausage, then slicing it and adding to the soup. I personally like the sausage browned – it adds an extra layer of flavor.
- You can use raw white sausage or cooked white sausage. Raw sausage has a better flavor.
- If you’re using already cooked sausage, you don’t have to cook it in the broth, just brown it in a pan.
- If you don’t have access to Polish white sausage you can just use any smoked Polish-style sausage. You don’t have to cook it, just slice it and brown it in a pan.
- The smoked bacon is used to add some smokey flavor to the soup. If you’re using broth made from smoked pork ribs or if you’re using smoked Polish sausage instead of white sausage, you can omit it.
- Instead of chicken broth, you can use vegetable broth or pork broth made from vegetables and smoked pork ribs.
- The recipe for the sour wheat starter is here in the recipe for zurek (sour rye soup) which is very similar to the barszcz bialy soup. Substitute rye flour for whole wheat flour and prepare it as written. Sour rye starter is used to make sour rye soup (zurek) and the sour wheat starter is used to make barszcz bialy soup. The preparation of the sour starter is the same, just the type of flour is different. Please make sure to use whole wheat flour and not regular all-purpose flour.
- If you don’t want to make the homemade sour wheat starter and you can’t buy store-bought sour wheat starter, you can substitute it with sour cream and flour. Omit the heavy cream in the recipe, whisk 1 cup of cold sour cream with 1/4 cup of flour until smooth, add a couple of tablespoons of warm soup and whisk until combined. Add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Potatoes are not very traditional in this soup but I personally always add them. Calories = 1 serving (1/6 of the recipe).
- This is only an estimate!