For centuries, people around the world have turned to broth-based soups as remedies for many ailments. Broths and stocks filled with vegetables, meats, and bones deliver an easily consumable wealth of nutrients from amino acids to absorbable minerals. When properly made from real whole foods, broths offer a warm and satisfying way to reduce inflammation and boost immunity.
Bone broth, in particular, is enjoying a revival as a restorative food. Celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kobe Bryant incorporate bone broth into their daily diets. Well-known physicians with online followings including Dr. Josh Axe and Dr. Joseph Mercola recommend the practice, and individual practitioners often recommend broths as part of integrative or holistic treatment regimens.
If you’ve heard the hype about bone broth from friends, online, or on television, you probably have questions. Is bone broth a cure-all? Will it prevent arthritis? Doesn’t it taste bad? To answer these questions and more, I’ve done the research and compiled it all in one place. While bone broth is not a magic cure-all, it is a nutrient-dense nutritional powerhouse that can add some oomph to any healthy lifestyle.
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What is Bone Broth Anyway?
Bone broth is a bone-rich stock made from the leftover skeletons, tendons, and ligaments of any animal. Historically, bone broths served as one more way to use every part of the animal from its hide to its bones. Boiling and simmering the bones with marrow, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments over low heat for a long time breaks down many nutritional elements and releases them into the surrounding broth.
Many recipes for bone broths include an array of vegetables, herbs, and spices. When completed, bone broth enthusiasts strain the resulting liquid and use it in a number of ways. While many prefer to drink the broth, it also works well as a base for soups and sauces. Popular recipes for bone broths feature the bones of beef or chicken, but cultures around the world commonly use fish, goat, lamb, venison, and more.
You’ve likely consumed bone broth at some point over the years without knowing it. Many restaurant and family recipes call for rich homemade stocks made from the boiled remains of chicken and beef bones. You or your parents may recall a time when enjoying bone marrow from the bones in the stock was a rare treat. Whether you’re trying to improve your health or enrich your cooking repertoire, bone broth imparts both umami flavors and health-boosting nutrition.
Benefits of Bone Broth
Bone broth is a nutritional choice you can feel good about, regardless of your current diet or lifestyle. The “liquid gold” can easily fit into most eating approaches including low carb, Paleo, low calorie, anti-inflammatory, and GAPS (gut and psychology syndrome) nutrition. As with all whole foods and nutrients, outcomes of consuming bone broth vary. Depending on your current gut health and nutrient needs, you may notice outcomes from feeling less hungry between meals to experiencing a drastic difference in energy levels and inflammation symptoms.
If you plan to incorporate bone broth into your diet for specific health benefits, consider speaking with a physician or nutritionist first. When combined with individualized health recommendations, bone broth may offer improved results.
Here are some of the possible benefits you may enjoy when you incorporate more bone broth into your lifestyle:
- Digestive health. As more physicians and scientists explore the human body and the effect of nutrition on health, they are making some fascinating discoveries about the gut. Sometimes referred to as a second brain, your gut influences mood and other behaviors. If you suffer from leaky gut syndrome (a common condition affecting nutrient absorption), or any other gut-related illnesses, it can manifest as irritability, upset stomach, depression, and more. Bone broth plays a central role in healing GAPS.Gelatin containing amino acids (e.g., glycine) in slowly simmered bone broth fights inflammation and supports healing inside the gut. It promotes the growth of good bacteria and breaks down easily for nutrient absorption. Over time, these internal benefits manifest as more regular and healthy bowel movements, fewer feelings of stomach irritation and upset, and better mood stability. When you heal your gut, you also promote healing in other areas of your body.
- Joint health. Many bone broth enthusiasts praise the effects of the liquid on joint health. When collagen breaks down in a simmering pot, the resulting broth contains gelatin. Gelatin contains amino acids responsible for strengthening connective tissues and reducing inflammatory responses. Bone broth is a natural source of gelatin. Regular consumption may prevent the onset of osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis and reduce the experience of pain in those who currently suffer from degenerative joint conditions.
- Immune system health. Digestive health benefits contribute to immune system health, but bone broths made from chicken may offer an added boost of immune system support. A study from 2000 suggests that chicken soups of all kinds block cytotoxic activity for improved inflammation responses.
- Hair, skin, and nails health. Some articles suggest that consuming more collagen (the stuff that contains gelatin/amino acids) promotes the development of collagen in the body. Collagen is a protein that acts as a key building block for bones, muscles, skin, hair, nails, and more. The connection between bone broth/collagen and hair, skin, and nail benefits is complex.
To produce more collagen, humans need the amino acids and other nutrients that promote production. The collagen and other nutrients in bone broth can promote internal collagen production if you do not receive the nutrients elsewhere, but eating more collagen does not always translate to producing more collagen.
- Participation in a sustainable lifestyle. When you choose to consume bone broth, you’re taking advantage of more than one part of the animal, which is highly sustainable. Save money, protect the environment, and protect your health when you use as many parts of the animal as possible, also known as whole foods.
- A placebo effect. Placebos can be just as effective as active forms of treatment, so I consider it a benefit. If you’re trying to live healthier, simply incorporating more bone broth into your diet may help you reach your goals. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips, you may find yourself pouring a glass of filling bone broth. The act of drinking bone broth may also encourage you to choose a healthier lunch or dinner and jumpstart your health goals. Sometimes, we all need a little psychological motivation to move forward and build a healthier life.
I’ve listed some of the main benefits of consuming bone broth, but the list could go on and on. Many bone broth nutrients play secondary roles supporting digestive health and fight food allergies, adrenal fatigue, autoimmune disorders, acid reflux, and muscle repair. Properly prepared stocks contain minerals including electrolytes (magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium). Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets, which can affect mood, blood sugar regulation, sleep cycles, and more. Glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, and chondroitin sulfate found in bone broths contribute to joint health, cell regeneration, and reduced inflammation.
Do not consider drinking bone broth as an alternative to taking recommended supplements or medications, but do consider adding it as a staple food in a well-balanced diet. Every person is slightly different and will respond differently to whole foods. You may notice positive and unexpected changes from drinking bone broth not listed here. Some athletes swear by the beverage as a way to recover faster from intense practices, games, and injuries. Others claim the practice boosts energy on a daily basis. All these outcomes are possible, which makes the age-old remedy a worthwhile addition to any kitchen.
Making Bone Broth at Home
Some whole foods lose their nutritional benefits when cooked. It’s different with bone broth. When simmered over low heat for long periods, nutrients transfer from inedible bones, knuckles, necks, and joints into the water. You receive all the benefits of the animal without needing to gnaw on a leftover bone – yuck! While bones can sound intimidating or unappetizing, the resulting liquid tastes savory and flavorful. Kids and adults will come back for second servings, especially when you use the broth as a base for noodle and rice soups during the coldest days of winter. Nothing warms the soul and the body quite like a savory bowl or mug of bone broth.
If you choose to make your bone broth at home, take the time to follow all recipe tips and tricks. Simply throwing ingredients into a pot and letting them boil away for an hour or two will cook meat, but it won’t yield the gelatin rich, savory broth health enthusiasts enjoy. The wrong method may yield a watery, gamey, or funky-flavored broth.
Why Make Homemade Bone Broth?
Preparing a great bone broth won’t take your constant attention, especially if you use a crockpot. When you make your own broth, you can tweak your recipe to include your favorite ingredients. Some people like to add anti-inflammatory rich spices such as turmeric to the pot for a deep yellow coloring of the resulting liquid. Others want to add vegetables including onions, garlic, carrots, and celery for balance and depth of flavor.
At home, you’re in control of the amount of salt you use and where you source your bones/carcasses. Bone broths are extremely cost effective, as you can order a cut of bone-in meat and freeze the leftover bones until you’re ready to make a big batch of broth. At restaurants, you may pay as much as $5 or $6 for a cup of bone broth, and store-bought varieties usually contain some preservatives. Set aside a few hours on the weekend to get the process started, then wait until the ingredients simmer long enough yield a concentrated bone broth.
Sourcing Your Bones
The type of animal you choose will determine how you source your bones. In some cases, you can purchase a cut of meat or an entire animal and use the meat for one meal and the bones to make your broth. For other types of broth, you may want to go to a local butcher or order free-range, grass-fed, organic bones for making broth. Use these sourcing tips to select high-quality bones for your recipe:
- Poultry. You’ll likely need two chicken/duck/turkey carcasses for a bone broth recipe. Since the bodies of birds contain little gelatin, strive to keep the necks, feet, drumstick, and wings for your recipe.
- Fish. Don’t throw out the head or the body for fish-based bone broths, although you might want to remove the gills before adding the carcass to a pot. Choose non-oily fishes for bone broths (not salmon). Cod, tilapia, and halibut all work well. To gather enough bones for your recipe, talk to your local butcher or the manager of a seafood restaurant. Most will save the carcasses for you for free or a small fee.
- Beef/lamb. Always choose grass-fed, organic red meat bones for their high gelatin content. Marrow bones, neck bones, ribs, knuckle bones, and oxtail all impart great flavor and gelatin to broths. Keep the bones from cuts of meat you purchase or talk to a butcher or local farm about purchasing bones for a small price. Some health food stores, including Whole Foods, sell bags of bones for broths.
Collect at least two pounds of bones and up to six pounds of bones to make a hearty batch of bone broth. If you make an exceptionally large pot of broth, freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays or muffin tins for single portions. Pop a few cubes into a pot or the microwave and voila! You can enjoy homemade bone broth anytime you want.
Basic Homemade Bone Broth Recipe
If you’re searching for a basic recipe you can use for most bones, try this one. To start, you’ll need a roasting pan, a large pot and/or a crockpot, and a strainer. Set out the following ingredients:
- 3 to 4 pounds of bones, cut or broken into pieces (leave some meat to enrich the broth)
- ½ cup raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1 onion, roughly chopped (optional)
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped (optional)
- 2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped (optional)
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled (optional)
- Salt, pepper, turmeric, parsley (optional)
- Water and filtered water
Some people love the added flavors of vegetables, while others prefer a purer broth. Vinegar is not an optional ingredient. It helps pull the minerals and other nutrients from the bones during cooking.
- Blanch the bones to remove impurities. Place the bones into a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. For smaller bones (e.g., chicken and fish bones), reduce blanching time to 10 minutes.
- Roast the bones. Remove the bones from the pot and place on a roasting pan in a hot oven (425 degrees Fahrenheit). Roast until you wonder if the bones are almost too done. You want a nice brown color and some caramelization for a deep broth flavor. Since ovens vary, I recommend checking the bones every 10 minutes after roasting for 30 minutes.
- Simmer the bones. The hard part is over. Either return the bones to your cleaned stockpot or add them to a crockpot on low heat. Deglaze and scrape all the browned bits from the roasting pan into the pot, too. Don’t worry about measuring the water. Simply add enough filtered water to just cover all the bones. If your bones are floating around with lots of room, you’ve added too much water. Add the vinegar and set a reminder to check on the bones after 12 hours. Check fish bones after 4 hours.
- Add vegetables. After the 12-hour mark (4-hour mark for fish), add your choice of onions, garlic, carrots, and celery to the pot. You can continue to cook fish bones for up to 8 hours, poultry bones for up to 24 hours for maximum benefits, and larger beef and lamb bones for up to 48 hours.
- Strain and store your broth. When the mixture reduces to a satisfactory concentration, cool the broth slowly, strain out the bones and vegetables, and store the resulting liquid in the refrigerator or freezer. Bone broth will keep in the refrigerator for three or four days. To capitalize on limited freezer or refrigerator space, reduce the broth into a highly concentrated mixture and reconstitute with water as needed.
- Enjoy! Reheat your broth in the microwave or on the stovetop, use as a soup base, or drink as is. Always wait to season your broth until after simmering it to avoid over-seasoning. Add salt, pepper, and other herbs and spices to your broth per recipes or to your liking right before you consume it.
Making a great bone broth takes more effort than your average roasted chicken or soup, but the resulting broth also offers a concentrated dose of highly absorbable nutrients. Luckily, you can spend most of the time doing something else while you wait for the bones, cartilage, and other pieces to break down. You’ll know you’ve created a great bone broth if the liquid turns gelatinous after it cools. While it may look like a Jell-O concoction gone wrong, that jelly-like texture will turn back into a liquid when heated and offers all of the benefits described earlier in this guide.
Homemade Bone Broth Tips
The more you make bone broths, the more you’ll learn the secrets of producing a great flavor. Here are some valuable tips to help you get more out of each batch:
- Make it low fat. As the broth cools, the fat will solidify across the top of the pot or container. If you want a lower fat version of the broth, skim off the fat before using or freezing your broth. If you use grass-fed, high-quality meat sources, feel free to leave the fat as a filling and enriching part of the broth.
- Watch the gelatin. If your broth doesn’t turn into gelatin when cooled, reduce the amount of water, add more bones, or cook the bones longer next time. Any of these factors may contribute to a more watery broth.
- Recycle your bones. You can use broth bones more than once! Once cooled, stick all hard bones back in the freezer to add to your next batch of broth. When the bones get soft after cooking, discard them.
- Don’t skip the prep process. While it’s tempting to toss bones into the crockpot and leave them for a few days, the blanching and roasting steps really improve the quality of bone broths. Blanching gets rid of the “funk” that comes from animal carcasses, while roasting brings out a depth of flavor.
- Keep leftover marrow. If you can get past the squeamishness of bone marrow, the substance contains concentrated nutrients to improve immune system health, digestive health, inflammatory responses, and more.
- Ask the butcher to cut your bones. To get more nutrients from each pot, try to increase the surface area of bones in the water. Smaller bones will also fit more compactly into your pot. If you need to reduce the size of your bones at home, strike them with a hammer (place a towel in between the bone and the hammer).
After you make your first batch of bone broth, you can tell all your friends about your commitment to health and your favorite bone broth recipe. Remember, one health-boosting habit can turn into a series of positive health choices!
Buying Premade Bone Broth
Making homemade bone broth isn’t always practical. Between work and family life, not everyone has the time or patience to monitor a pot for up to two days. You don’t have to miss out on the bone broth bandwagon if you can’t commit to making yours fresh.
Health food stores and grocers, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, sometimes carry packaged bone broths made in house. Several health food brands including Pacific Foods and Kettle and Fire also offer prepackaged bone broths made from organic meats. Health-conscious restaurants sometimes offer bone broths on the menu. Ancient Nutrition offers several flavors of bone broth protein powder for on-the-go benefits.
If you choose to purchase your bone broth from a local farm, grocer, or restaurant, keep these considerations in mind:
- Ingredients. Depending on the source, some premade broths contain artificial flavors, preservatives, and concentrated amounts of salt. While you may benefit from the convenience of premade and pre-packaged broths, you may not see the same health benefits associated with freshly made broths. Look for sellers focused on high-quality ingredients and a short shelf life (usually associated with freshness).
- Texture. Scrutinize the bone broth you purchase. When cooled, it should look the same as homemade varieties. A gelatinous texture lets you know it contains the right amount of gelatin and nutrients. If the liquid remains broth-like when cold, you may have purchased a conventional broth or stock and not a slow-cooked, rich bone broth.
- Price and availability. High-quality bone broths take time to make at home, but cost next to nothing. High-quality premade broths may cost close to $100 for eight to 10 servings, or as much as $8 per serving at a restaurant/specialty store. In some places, you may not find good bone broths. Look carefully at the ingredients and texture to avoid overpaying for a basic broth.
Premade bone broths are hit or miss. If you don’t have time to collect or make your own, consider partnering with a few friends or relatives to make a large batch. Break up the process of sourcing the bones and making the broth and share the resulting broth for a cost-effective and high-quality broth. In my opinion, the homemade stuff will always beat prepared versions in flavor and nutritional quality.
Tips for Cooking with Bone Broth
Some health enthusiasts can’t get past the idea of drinking broth as they would coffee or tea. If the idea of a savory beverage puts you off, you can still benefit from the nutritional value in bone broths. During the winter season, several recipes taste richer and more flavorful when you add bone broth instead of water or regular broths. Use these ideas to kick-start your healthy habit:
- Get creative with soups. Broth-based soups taste great year round and offer a filling alternative to junk foods. Use your bone broth as a base for Japanese mushroom soups, ramen, chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice soup, egg drop soup, vegetable soup, pho, chicken tortilla soup, minestrone soup, or another favorite broth-based soup.For a satisfying Japanese mushroom soup, you only need some soy sauce, ginger powder, scallions, and sliced mushrooms to create a delightful umami flavor.
- Add depth to starches. Replace water with bone broth when you make rice, couscous, or quinoa. The grains will absorb all the flavors of the broth. Make an excellent risotto or rice pilaf with your bone broth.
- Brighten sautéed veggies. Veggies sometimes need a few tablespoons of water to achieve the perfect consistency in a pan. Use a splash (or dollop) of bone broth to add flavor and moisture to your vegetables.
- Enrich sauces and gravies. The next time you make marinara sauce for pasta, stroganoff, or Cajun chicken pasta, use your bone broth instead of regular broth or water. The flavor-filled broth will make any sauce or gravy better without watering it down.
- Make the perfect mug. If you can drink your bone broth, start out the day with a piping hot cup of the nutrient-dense liquid. Add salt, pepper, garlic, and other seasonings to taste for a filling and savory drink/soup.
- Dehydrate it. If you have the time and patience, try dehydrating your bone broth into a homemade bullion. The process may reduce the number of health benefits, but will give you an MSG-free, reduced-salt alternative to store-bought bullion. After the initial chilling period, strain the fat from your broth and pour it back into a pot. Boil the liquid until it cooks down to 3 or 4 cups.
Keep an eye on the broth to avoid burning it at such a reduced state. Place the condensed mixture on wax paper inside a dehydrator set on high. Once dried (it may take a few days), use a food processor to grind into a powder.
Bone broth is a versatile base for all your favorite savory dishes. Keep some on hand to enjoy on its own or to give your go-to recipes some extra flavor.
Getting Started with Bone Broth
If you want to see the effects of bone broth on your own health, you will need to consume it regularly. Try one to test out the benefits and see if bone broth is something you want to permanently include in your diet:
- Drink at least one cup a day. Simply add bone broth to your daily diet in the morning or at night. Continue the practice for a month and note any changes in your mood, energy levels, aches and pains, and joint stiffness.
- Try an intermittent fast. Eat one healthy and well-balanced meal a day and replace all other meals and snacks with bone broth. Do not do this longer than a few days. After a few days, go back to drinking the bone broth at least once a day.
- Try a complete bone broth fast. For no more than three days, drink bone broth and water. Drink it at least five times a day. After the fast, go back to eating normally and drinking bone broth once a day.
I only recommend conducting a fast with the approval of a health practitioner. A fast of any kind presents certain risks. These three approaches to bone broth can help you start your journey to better health and understand how the diet change makes you feel.
Is Bone Broth Just Another Health Food Fad?
Since humans started cooking, they’ve boiled bones to make rich stocks. Almost every culture offers its own version of bone broth. In that regard, bone broth is not a fad at all. It’s a staple in human diets around the world. As a way to improve health quickly, however, bone broth does appear as a trend in a widespread movement back to whole foods and sustainable living. Along with Paleo diets and locally sourced foods, bone broth takes people back to their roots.
From a purely nutritional perspective, bone broth offers benefits similar to many other whole foods. As scientists explore the mind-gut connection and the role of nutrition on overall health, I think the case for whole, nutrient-rich foods including bone broths will only get stronger.
If you decide to incorporate bone broth into your diet, you may not see immediate changes in how you look or how you feel. Give the practice time. Like any nutrition-based change, your body needs time to adjust and heal. Consider bone broth as another tool you can use on your journey to health and happiness.
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