What is bone broth?
Epicureans will tell you that what we’re now calling broth is actually a form of stock: animal bones with some meat attached simmered for more than 12 hours with a splash of apple cider vinegar or another acid. The outcome is a nutrient rich, gelatin-heavy liquid perfect for drinking on its own or for using as the base for a variety of delicious soups and stews.
The bone broth craze seems to have emerged in tandem with the spike in autoimmune and other disorders plaguing personal health. While there have been few studies on the healing properties of bone broth, the natural health community has been lauding its benefits for over a decade (and your grandmother for longer than that).
For those suffering from damaged guts, bone broth is suspected to heal the stomach lining and improve nutrient absorption, leading to overall vitality. Others say it acts on skin conditions, providing beneficial inputs of collagen and vitamins.
One study conducted over a decade ago at the Nebraska Medical Center showed that chicken soup prepared with bones had anti-inflammatory properties, particularly on upper respiratory tract infections. Harvard Health reported it to be a good source of protein while questioning other claims.
Other evidence shows that people who consume bone broth before a meal will eat less overall during that sitting, making it a go-to beverage for anyone trying to lose weight. Whatever the reason you’re drawn to bone broth, you’ll probably agree: bone broth tastes good, and on a chilly fall day when seasonal colds are making the rounds, a soothing concoction of broth and vegetables clears the throat and fortifies the soul.
What kind of bones should I use?
There’s no “right” type of bone to use when making bone broth. However, if you want your broth to gel when it’s cool, a sign that it contains collagen, use a combination of marrow bones, joints, knuckles, and even feet. Feet and knuckle bones offer the most gelatin; common choices include chicken feet and pork trotters, which also happen to be very economical. Be sure to blanch your bones as instructed below when using animal feet.
For fish stock, fish heads are second to none, containing loads of nutrients and a delicate flavor. Note: fish stock cooks up quickly (1-4 hours), so recommended simmering times and recipes below don’t apply. Fish stock also works best with non-oily fish like halibut, cod, sea bass, or flounder—whose flavor won’t overpower the final product.
How to make bone broth at home
Although you can throw all your ingredients into a pot, turn on the heat, and call it a day, a few simple steps before you start will improve the flavor and quality of your bone broth.
Blanch your bones
Blanching removes impurities from the bones and helps you get the clean, clear broth you’re probably aiming for. In a large saucepan or stockpot, cover your intended bones with cold water and heat to a boil. Cook on high for 20 minutes before rinsing and transferring to a roasting pan.
Roast your bones
Roasting bones for broth helps bring out the flavor and capture all the depth that will eventually imbue your soups and stews with hearty goodness. Place your drained bones into the oven on high (400-450 F) and roast for one hour or more, depending on the size of the bone and how long they take to caramelize.
Boil your bones
Now choose your method and get cooking. While you can restrict your recipe to bones and water (with a little vinegar thrown in for good measure), you can also add herbs and vegetables to increase your broth’s nutrient content. See some different options below.
1. In a slow cooker
Fill your slow cooker about half full with your chosen bones then add water to cover. Add one whole carrot, one or two celery sticks, one onion, and a dash of apple cider vinegar. At this stage you can also add any fresh or dried herbs you have on hand. Favorites include bay leaves, parsley, rosemary, coriander seeds, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper, and set on LOW for 24 hours. Skim off any fat that has accumulated on top. Cool slightly then strain into jars.
2. In a pressure cooker
Pressure cookers substantially reduce the cooking time of bone broth because they trap steam and cook foods at higher temperatures. This works well when you’re in a hurry or when you just want to save energy and time.
Add bones, vegetables and herbs noted above, and water to your pressure cooker’s fill line, ensuring all bones are covered. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar. Heat until steaming and cook on high for about three hours. Let cool for about 15 minutes so steam releases naturally. Cool slightly then strain broth into jars for later use.
3. On your stove top
Start stovetop bone broth early in the day so you can simmer for as long as possible. Place 4-5 pounds of bones in a stockpot. Add three carrots, three celery stalks, two large onions, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Season with herbs and spices noted above. Heat on high until the pot is boiling, then reduce and simmer for 12 hours. Remove from heat overnight and then return on subsequent days until you’ve achieved 24-36 hours of simmering in total.
What about lead?
In 2013, a study published by Medical Hypotheses led to concerns about bone broth containing lead—a potent neurotoxin harmful to children and adults. The study found the highest levels of lead in broth made from chicken cartilage and skin. The second highest levels appeared in bone broth made from chicken bones and water. (The study only tested chicken broth.) Though both amounts were below the EPA limits, many feel these limits are too high.
While the study was small, it prompted a closer look at the possibility that long simmering times could leach lead from bones and other animal parts. A follow-up study conducted this year in Taiwan determined that contamination from lead and other toxic metals was too low to be of concern in bone broths tested. These included preparations made from leg and rib pig bones, and bovine leg bones.
All this scrutiny on bone broth reminds us that we live in a world where chemicals can and do end up in our food. To ensure your bone broth is the healthiest it can be, consider the following tips:
Source healthy bones from local farms that don’t have contaminated soil
Lead enters the body when we breathe in or ingest lead-containing dust. This dust comes from soil contaminated with lead or from old paints and other lead-containing substances in our environment. Select your bones carefully from a farm that has conducted the necessary soil tests to ensure its animals are lead-free. You can also test your finished broth for heavy metal toxicity by sending samples away to your local lab.
Ensure you are using lead-free cookware
With so many choices out there, finding healthy cookware can be a challenge; but as more companies become aware of heavy metal toxicity, more options arrive on the market with “lead and cadmium free” labels. Look for this guarantee when buying new cookware, or stick to options like glass and cast iron.
Filter water containing fluoride
If your tap water contains fluoride, consider filtering before adding it to your stockpot. At least one study has linked fluoridated water to an increase in lead concentrations in blood and tissue. Select water filters will remove fluoride from your water, which you can then add to your cooking worry-free.
Eat a well balanced diet high in nutrient rich vegetables
Adequate amounts of B1, B6, and C have been shown to inhibit lead uptake. Iron-rich foods can also help reduce lead toxicity.
Bone broth for health
Once you have broth in your fridge or freezer, meal preparation becomes a cinch. Add broth to sauces, use as a base for soups, or drink on its own for a quick and powerful boost.