It’s an old secret that’s been around since our hunter-gathering ancestors discovered fire. And while they may not have correlated the health benefits of bone broth, in ancient folklore, it was believed that the spirit of an animal lay hidden in the marrow of its bones, and when we consumed it, its anima lived on through us. Perhaps in a way it does, in the form of life force energy. As Einstein said, “Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be transferred from one form to another.”
Here are a few good reasons to transform soup bones into broth.
Essential vitamins and minerals.
Animal bones [beef, poultry, bison, lamb] contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, and other trace minerals used to build our own bones. In contrast, fishbones contain iodine, essential for healthy thyroid function, brain health, and metabolism, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, the astaxanthin antioxidant found in fish from algae is currently under review as a therapeutic agent for cardiovascular disease.
May help combat inflammation and improve bone health.
Another element is the connective tissue, which gives us glucosamine and chondroitin that has shown to lessen the symptoms of osteoarthritis and proven beneficial for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Marrow brings a host of vitamins and minerals to the pot like vitamin A, vitamin K, zinc, boron, manganese, and selenium, including collagen protein, which yields amino acids like proline and glycine that our bodies use to build tendons and ligaments. Adding vinegar helps extract these vitamins, minerals, and amino acids from the bones into the broth as it simmers, making it easy for our bodies to absorb their bioavailable nutrients. Since most people don’t get enough of these nutrients in their diet, having a daily cup of bone broth provides a delicious, naturally nourishing supplement.
While we’re on the subject of bone health, I’d like to reemphasize how much the body needs vitamin-K for bone metabolism. At my age or any age, whenever I can improve my body’s calcium synthesis, I’m all ears. In observational studies, they found a relationship between phylloquinone [vitamin-K-1 found abundantly in leafy greens] and age-related bone loss [osteoporosous]. Over a ten year study, they followed 72,000 women and determined that those whose phylloquinone intake met or exceeded 250mg a day, had a 65% lower risk of hip fractures than those consuming less than 100mg per day. And I’m happy to report, my daily intake is north of 750mg thanks to my electrolyte green smoothie. While there are no adverse side effects to taking vitamin-K supplements, it’s equally important to note that anyone on blooding thinning medication should consult their doctor before taking them or increasing their intake of leafy greens.
Aids in weight loss and muscle growth.
Bone broth is naturally low in calories and has been shown to promote feelings of fullness due to the gelatin content extracted from the bone marrow. In fact, one study showed it was more effective in reducing hunger than casein protein found in dairy products. Other studies showed that when eating broth-based soups regularly, increased fullness and reduced calorie intake, thus leading to sustained weight loss. Another study conducted on patients with sarcopenia [loss of muscle tone] revealed that the same active nutrient of gelatin from collagen that reduced hunger helped increased muscle mass in those who consumed bone broth regularly in combination with resistance training.
May improve sleep, mental function, and memory.
Studies have shown that the amino acid glycine found in bone broth may stimulate the onset of sleepiness when taken before bedtime. However, it’s important to note that these studies were based on 3mg of glycine supplement, and the amount contained in a cup of broth might be negligible. The study further examined its effect on brain cognition during the day and found substantial improvement, which may be attributed to a restful night’s sleep. Either way, adding a daily cup of bone broth to your diet appears to have overall health benefits beyond its mere culinary application. At only 31 calories, zero fat, five grams of protein, and three grams of carbs per cup, it’s a win-win. You can use any type of animal bones: beef, poultry, fish, pork, lamb, including other connective tissue like feet, hooves, beaks, gizzards, or fins, but the best bones for marrow are found in the femur and knucklebones of beef and lamb.
Can I get the same benefits from store-bought bone broths?
Canned and box versions of stock have always been around. But now that bone broths have stimulated a buzz in the health and wellness industry, food manufacturers have simply repackaged the old standbys. While purchasing them seems like a convenient option there’s something to be said about making your own; you control the ingredients because store-bought broths are typically laden with salt, sometimes as much as 900mg in one cup, which for the average adult is three-quarters of their RDI, so read the labels. Bone broths are surprisingly easy to make; they practically make themselves in a slow-cooker. Just be sure to par-boil the bones first, then roast them off, add water, some root vegetables, a bay leaf, and a few peppercorns, set it, and forget it.
Stocks and broths are not created equal.
Stock is a combination of various bones, and vegetables simmered for a few hours, while bone broth is made primarily from the knuckle and leg bones and simmered from 10-12 hrs, sometimes as much as 24-hrs depending on the bones and connective tissue. The longer it simmers, the richer the broth. Since chicken bones are softer, they need only cook 2-4 hrs—six at the most before they turn mushy. The same applies to wild-caught fish bones and crustacean tails and shells: shrimp, lobster, and crab. Fish broth takes less than an hour. Add garlic, onion, white wine, lemon juice, chopped tomatoes, a few herbs, and within minutes you’ll have a healthy, satisfying broth that can be used to make chowders, cioppinos, and classic Boulabaise. But whichever way you choose to apply your broth, keep it simple with quality bones, a few root vegetables, and aromatics.
Here’s an easy preparation for a classic beef broth. If electing to make chicken broth, follow the same recipe, except choose wings and legs, which contain the most marrow and collagen. Since broth only lasts a few days in the fridge, whatever I don’t use right away, I freeze.
Ingredients for broth:
- 4-5lbs beef leg or knucklebones par-boiled*
- 2-yellow onions unpeeled and quartered
- 3 carrots quartered
- 3-stalks of celery quartered
- 4-garlic cloves
- 4-inch piece of ginger unpeeled, halved horizontally
- 2-tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2-bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
- Fresh thyme sprigs
- Fresh parsley sprigs
*Why par-boil the bones?
The picture on the right illustrates what you don’t want in your broth. SCUM. That’s right. Bone scum! Globs of blood, cartilage particles, and fat. Eewww. Gross. It’s ruined many a good broth, making it as mucky and murky as swamp water, and just about as tasty, too. Yummy, yuck! That said, don’t skip the process. It only takes a couple of minutes to blanch them.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Place bones in a 6-qt pot, add enough water to cover bones, bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 3-minutes.
- Remove pot from heat, strain through a colander, and rinse bones with cold water.
- On a foil-lined sheet pan, arrange onion, carrots, celery, garlic, and ginger, then lay blanched bones atop and roast for 1-2hrs until caramelized, but not charred [charring will make the broth bitter]. If any charring occurs, remove those bits before continuing with the next step.
- Place roasted bones, aromatics, and herbs in a 5-6qt pot of a slow-cooker, add vinegar, fill with water, and cover.
- Let simmer 10-12 hrs or until bones are entirely stripped of connective tissue and marrow. Depending on bone density, in my slow-cooker, it takes 18-24 hrs.
- Strain into a clean, shallow pot and discard bones and aromatics. To clarify the broth of additional sediment, strain again through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.
Cool and degrease broth
Add 2-cups of ice to quickly cool broth. DON’T skip this step. Your broth needs to cool. But you don’t want to leave it out or put a steaming pot of broth in the refrigerator; you’ll run the risk of inviting bacteria to the pot and contaminating the contents of the fridge. And don’t worry, a couple of cups of ice won’t dilute your broth.
After a few hours, a cap of fat will develop. Rendered beef tallow is hard, while chicken fat [schmaltz] is soft. Skim fat and discard. Some people save their schmaltz for frying.
Now that your broth is clean and pure, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze for later use as a soup base or just simply pour into a cup and sip it.
Spice sachets are an excellent way to season your bone broths. Here is a versatile one I use for both beef and chicken, but feel to create your own.
- 1-Tbsp whole coriander seeds
- 1-Tbsp fennel seeds
- 1-Tbsp dry thyme
- 1-tsp whole cumin
- 1-tsp mustard seeds
- In a dry skillet, lightly toast spices over medium heat to release their oils until they begin to smell fragrant. DO NOT brown spices as they will become bitter. Place spices in the sachet or bundle and tie in cheesecloth.
- After you’ve cooled and degreased your broth, transfer pot to the stovetop, add the sachet, cover, and simmer for 1-hour. Turn off heat and let steep for another hour. Remove and discard sachet.