Bone broth: should you eat it and how did it become the first health food trend of 2015?

Bone broth is a deeply nourishing food that is centuries old. Now it’s having a moment in the spotlight. Jacqui Gibbons puts it under the microscope and tells the story behind the trend

In the US, bone broth has been bubbling away for some time in the wellness world but it boiled over (sorry) into public awareness and the media in November with the opening of tiny broth kitchen, Brodo, on New York’s First Avenue.

New Yorkers can now pay around $5-9 for a takeaway cup, Starbucks-style, of a choice of three broths, with add-ins such as fresh grated turmeric or fermented beet juice. It’s the slow food that’s getting a fast food-style makeover.

In January, it made it into the New York Times. Then Fay Maschler in the Evening Standard mentioned having bone broth (“or stock, as sentient adults call it”).

And now (story updated mid-February) The Wild Game Co pop-up on London’s Charlotte Street is becoming the first UK restaurant to offer it in takeout cups.

Bone broth. Brodo_Marco Canora
Marco Canora of Brodo

Brodo chef and owner Marco Canora credits broth with returning him to health after years as a stressed 80-hours-a-week chef, living on booze, fags and bread and butter, had turned him into a health wreck with gout, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.

Nutritionists, health coaches and healthy eating cooks are extolling broth for its many nutrients, such as magnesium, calcium and amino acids, and its benefits, such as healing a damaged gut, making skin look more youthful (it’s the collagen) and improving joint and bone health.

There’s even a book about it: Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World.

Bone broth is as old as the hills, long used in cultures all over the world including Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and probably by your nan, as a fortifying food, especially when ill. It’s a digestible way to pack a lot of nutrients into the body when someone can’t stomach heavier food. You could call it the original comfort food.


The UK sisters making bone broth cool

If anyone was going to make broth relevant and cool to cooks and foodies in the UK, it’s Hemsley + Hemsley, sisters Jasmine and Melissa, the health-conscious cooks and bloggers who regularly feature in mags such as Vogue and Marie Claire and have written for The Guardian.

Hemsley and Hemsley Jasmine and Melissa
The Hemsley sisters: “Boil your bones!”

They say: “Nutrient-rich bone broth is at the heart of what we do. It is the foundation of many of our meals, full of flavour and deeply nourishing.

“It is simple and cheap to make, and makes everything taste amazing. It’s a kitchen essential – we’d feel lost without it. ”

Broth (or stock) is a base for soups, stews, rice or pearl barley risotto, sauces, or any dish that you’d use stock or water in. It’s especially good to cook quinoa in (but read this first if you’re cooking quinoa), to add flavour, or couscous.

The Wild Game Co: a UK first for bone broth
Andy Waugh of The Wild Game Co
Andy Waugh, the kilt -wearing chef who’s become the latest development in the bone broth story

When we first ran this article in January, we asked: Who will be first to open a broth kitchen in the UK? Turns out, it’s The Wild Game Co, and if anyone was going to do it, it’s them. They’ve made quite a name for themselves among foodies as passionate about meat and game, and their menu depends on what they get sent each day from founder Andy Waugh’s family business in the Highlands of Scotland.

As well as using bone broth in their cooking, they will now be offering it in takeout cups and, as at Brodo, diners can have add-ons, which include shitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic and lemon thyme.

Broth is made from the bones and leftovers of meat. When it’s made with high quality bones, from organic or grass-fed animals, it contains nutrients including fats, vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin in an easily digestible form. But the bones have to come from a healthy animal if it is to provide you with these nutrients (yes, these days you even need to ask the provenance of animal bones) and, just to state the obvious, not from animals pumped full of antibiotics and hormones.

Marco warns against shop-bought or poorly made broth. He says: “A lot of cheap restaurants use bouillon cubes, so it’s important to ask where your broth is from.

“The majority of broth you buy at grocery stores is shelf-stable at room temperature. Personally, I don’t want a meat product that’s stable at room temperature. That scares the shit out of me.

“I’ve really become frustrated with the notion that food just needs to taste good. It’s misguided, because food needs to do more than that. Good bone broth, in addition to being absolutely delicious and satisfying, has a long list of health benefits.

“Eating the right foods and caring about your body creates an awareness that permeates every aspect of your life.”

The benefits of bone broth

When the bones are simmered they release several compounds and minerals that benefit our health in several ways:

Anti inflammatory thanks to amino acids such as arginine and glycine.

Healthy hair, nails and skin. The first two because of keratin and gelatin; the skin because of collagen, which helps skin renew, tighten and remain firm, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

Digestive healing. Collagen soothes the lining of the digestive tract, helping with IBS, acidity, damaged gut, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s. Gelatin also soothes the lining and can help repair leaky gut, and the autoimmune conditions that can result from that.

Cold, flu and immunity. A study by the University of Nebraska found that the amino acids produced when making chicken stock help prevent colds and flu by reducing inflammation in the respiratory system and improved digestion. Further research suggests it can boost immune system function and benefit arthritis, allergies and asthma.

Sleep and memory, due to a neurotransmitter called glycine.

Bone broth for bone health

In Ayurvedic tradition, which uses food as medicine, bone broth is traditionally eaten to strengthen a person’s bones, based on the principle of ‘like increases like’. Modern science agrees, suggesting that chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, from the bones’ boiled-down cartilage, may help arthritis and joint pain. The minerals in broth include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and glucosamine, some of which are important for bone health. Gelatin contains easily assimilated bone-building minerals that can reduce joint pain and bone loss. And a amino acid called proline regenerates cartilage to help heal joints.

Where to get animal bones for broth

Most local butchers or farmers’ markets will give you bones cheaply or free (let them know in the morning, so they don’t thrown them away as they prepare joints, and pick them up later). Or save the bones from any meat you cook until you have enough.

Abel & Cole sells organic lamb bones and organic chicken carcasses, Riverford has organic beef bones, and many online organic butchers sell bones.

How to make bone broth

Broth is a slow food, that is quick and simple to prepare but takes 12 to 24 hours to cook (ideally longer, as the longer it cooks the more nutrients are extracted from the bones), and up to 48 hours for beef bones.

You leave it to cook, though, just topping up the liquid level from time to time. It can be done overnight in a slow cooker/rice cooker, or to make the process quicker, use a pressure cooker.

You could make a big batch at the weekend to use all week, which can be frozen in small batches. (Use glass jars and don’t fill them completely to the top.)

The essential ingredients are bones, meat, fat, water and vegetables. Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (per pot) to further help leach nutrients from the bones into the broth.

After it’s cooked and cooled, a layer of fat will form. Leave this on until you are ready to heat and eat the broth.

This is the Hemsley + Hemsley recipe for bone broth. (Scroll to below their recipe as there is a lot of useful information in the comments below it.)

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