It seems that bone broth is everywhere these days. Is the appeal just another foodie trend, or are there really benefits?
Bone broth has been basking in the food spotlight lately. It has been heralded as a miracle cure for a variety of ailments, including the common cold and other infections caused by a weak immune system. Oh, and it may make your hair shiny and clear up your complexion, too.
When it comes down to it, bone broth is the trendy moniker attached to something that’s far from new. “Bone broth” has been around since the Stone Age in some form or another. Historically speaking, bone broth is poor people’s food. It evolved as a way to try and squeeze something nourishing from scraps of meat and bones and maybe some roots or flavorful plants when there was little else to eat.
That’s a far cry from the popular concoctions that can cost upwards of $4 a cup in some places. But what exactly is it? Often, the terms broth and stock are used interchangeably. But there is a difference, although definitions vary depending on where you look.
Broth. Traditionally, water, aromatics (vegetables — classically onions, carrots, and celery — herbs and spices added for their aroma and flavor), some kind of meat, and possibly bones cooked together for up to a couple of hours and then strained. Broth has a lighter flavor and is typically enjoyed on its own or used as the base for a soup. Broth stays fluid when chilled.
Stock. This is a more involved version of a broth. Stock starts with water simmered with vegetables, aromatics, and bones, possibly with some meat still attached and sometimes roasted ahead of time. Stock is typically cooked for 4 to 6 hours. The longer cooking time extracts collagen from the bones and cartilage. When chilled, stock has the texture of jelly. It is used as the base for soups, sauces, and gravies.
Bone broth. According to the cooking and recipe website Epicurious, bone broth is basically stock on steroids. As the name implies, it’s all about the bones, usually roasted first, sometimes with meat still attached, but once water and aromatics are added the mixture is cooked much longer, even up to 24 hours. The goal is to extract not only the collagen, but also the minerals and other nutrients in the bones.
Theoretically, these nutrients are what gives bone broth its super-healthful qualities. But there’s very little scientific evidence that nutrients extracted in this manner are any more beneficial that what your body would absorb from some other protein.
Some of the hype may stem from a study investigating the claim that chicken soup is an effective remedy for upper respiratory tract infections and the common cold. The authors found that chicken soup — both homemade and store-bought varieties — had mild anti-inflammatory effects.
Some words of caution
On the flip side, another study found that there may actually be a risk for lead contamination in bone broth diets because lead and other heavy metals are isolated to bones, and are then released when bones are cooked. The study’s authors used organic chicken, so it doesn’t appear to matter how “clean” your bones are.
The study only looked at broth made from chicken. More research is needed to determine whether the same is true for broth made with other animal bones. Although the amount of lead or other heavy metals you might ingest from drinking bone broth is likely to be small, it’s worth noting that these contaminants are also stored in human bones.
If you decide the potential benefits of an occasional cup of bone broth outweigh the risks, use bones from animals that have been raised organically without antibiotics, steroids, or other growth hormones.
More research is needed to fully understand what bone broth may or may not deliver. Until then, its perks may be better explained by the fact that you’re consuming something homemade, not processed. Plus, if you are substituting a steaming cup of bone broth for — fill in the blank with your go-to unhealthy snack — you’re making a (relatively) healthy food swap, and the benefit may actually come from what you are eliminating from your diet.
It’s also an effective way to squeeze the maximum use out of your pricey, organic meat and produce. Store the carcass of that premium, free-range chicken or other bones in your freezer. In another container collect your usually discarded vegetable trimmings — think celery leaves, carrot peels, onion tops — and freeze those as well.
If you’re feeling chicken
Once you’ve collected a two or three chicken carcasses and some vegetable scraps, dump them into a large stock pot. Some recipes recommend the addition of chicken wings, which are inexpensive and will add some “meatiness” to your stock. Necks are good, too, and you can add those giblets that came inside your chicken that you don’t know what to do with.
Add an onion or two, quartered, some whole, smashed garlic cloves (don’t bother peeling them), whole peppercorns, celery, carrots, and whatever dried or fresh herbs tickle your fancy, like Italian parsley, cilantro, sage, thyme, whatever you have growing in your garden (or is about to go bad in the bottom of your produce drawer).
Add enough water to cover what’s in your pot with an inch or two of water, set it on the stove, and bring it to a boil, uncovered. Once boiling, turn the heat to low so the contents are just simmering and cover. Let your mixture bubble away for at least two hours (longer is fine), stirring occasionally, and adding more water if necessary.
If you’re going to use the stock as a soup or drink by itself, add salt to taste. If you’re going to use it as an ingredient in something else, consider that the recipe will probably call for salt and adjust accordingly.
Some recipes recommend adding a couple tablespoons of vinegar to your stockpot. The vinegar draws more nutritious minerals from the bones. See the above discussion about lead and then be your own judge.
If you have a bone to pick
Beef bones are most common, but you can make bone stock from pork or lamb bones, too. Seek out or ask your butcher for larger bones that have some meat, marrow, and cartilage left on them. Contributors in the Bon Appétit test kitchen recommend covering the bones with cold water and blanching them by bringing the contents to an “aggressive simmer” for about 20 minutes to remove “impurities” before roasting.
While the bones are simmering, crank up your oven to 450 degrees. Drain the bones and roast in a large pan until they are dark brown and caramelized, but not burned. Return bones to your stockpot. Drain off any rendered fat and loosen any stuck bits from the roasting pan, adding them to the pot. Add onion, garlic, and some peppercorns. Larger bones produce more flavorful stock so little else is needed.
Cover the contents with water, bring to a boil, reduce to a steady simmer, and cover. Larger bones will hold up longer — up to 24 hours — which will extract the maximum amount of flavor.
Allow the stock to cool slightly, then pour it through a fine-meshed strainer or colander lined with cheesecloth. Refrigerate overnight. Remove and discard the solid fat cap that forms on top. Your now have a low-fat, low-sodium, homemade stock ready to use as a base for soup or as a wholesome addition to anything you’re cooking. Use your imagination!
December 22, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN