By Susan Bianchi, MS Health and Wellness Coach
It is no small coincidence that your grandmother knew the best remedy for the common cold was a bowl of chicken soup. It was less likely the chicken or the noodles but the nutrient-rich bone broth that helped make you feel better.
With more people doing cleanses and fasts or just looking for natural ways to improve their overall well-being, bone broths have become an essential component to good health. The interest in returning to ancestral and paleo-type diets has heightened awareness and raised broths to a superfood superstar status, with good reason.
Bone broth can benefit intestinal health, immune function and joint health as well as reduce inflammation. It is an easily digestible source of over 19 amino acids, essential building blocks of proteins for the body. It is also a rich source of collagen and gelatin. Collagen and gelatin contain key nutrients for supporting good bacteria growth in the intestines, reducing inflammation as well as aiding in strengthening the intestinal lining, preventing or eliminating leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is a weakening of the intestinal lining, which allows food particles to enter the bloodstream. The result is the immune system becomes hyperactive and produces autoimmune-like responses in the body.
Bone broth contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and other trace minerals that the body can more easily absorb. In addition, the cartilage and tendons break down to bioavailable nutrients like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, important for joint health. These naturally occurring nutrients are often purchased as over-the-counter supplements for arthritis and joint pain.
The bone broth rage is no new food creation or discovery, but rather a return to cooking methods used in every culture for thousands of years. The more accurate culinary term for bone broth is stock. Stock is made from the slow simmering of roasted bones in liquid for multiple hours. The result is a luxurious, rich-flavored liquid that is the base for soups, sauces and demi-glazes. It is one of the cornerstones of training in culinary schools, as flavor development in dishes begins with a well-made stock.
Once the food industry discovered flavor enhancers like MSG and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (HVP) in the early 1950s, they were able to chemically and cheaply make meat flavors from inexpensive grains and legumes. Products like bullions and bases containing MSG and HVP quickly made their way to store shelves as well as restaurant kitchens.
Instead of the long, arduous process of roasting bones, then simmering for hours, a simple spoonful of powder or paste could be added to water to instantly create a broth flavor. The result is a more profitable product but a liquid devoid of all the vital nutrients and health benefit.
Just because a restaurant touts its soups as homemade, it doesn’t mean you are getting bone broth. They may be cutting the vegetables in house, but odds are they are starting off with an inexpensive soup base plus water. The same goes for all commercially made soups and stocks; don’t count on traditional bone broth to be any part of them. Commercial bone broths have become available from organic producers like Pacific Foods; however, they are thin in flavor and may be lacking in the nutritional density of a homemade broth.
From sourcing bones from healthy pasture-raised animals to the actual roasting and cooking, it can be quite labor intensive. Obtaining the vital nutrients from the bones requires long simmering times, from 6-8 hours for chicken and 12-24 hours for beef bones. The addition of vinegar helps extract more of the nutrients from the bones as well. If you want to try your hand at making your own bone broths, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and The Bone Broth Secret by Louise Hay and Heather Dane are great resources.
If making bone stock seems daunting, a local solution is Dundore & Heister Pastured Meats Butchery at the Easton Public Market and in Wyomissing. Using artisanal butchering methods, they work intimately with local farmers in supporting sustainable practices and sourcing the healthiest pasture-raised animals. With the Pennsylvania Dutch ethos of utilizing nose to tail, or zero waste, bone broths are more than just a natural fit, but a must.
Dundore & Heister owners Todd and Chrissy Auman saw incredible demand for their broths as soon as their doors opened. “We have customers that come in every day for their eight-ounce glass of broth instead of a morning smoothie or coffee,” they say. They offer beef, chicken and pork broths as well as unique flavored broths. “Our customers are very educated and do a lot of research on their own, often requesting adding different herbs or spices like ginger and turmeric to further enhance the health benefits. We keep evolving in flavors in response to our customers’ own research and requests, as well as our own desire to incorporate and honor the traditional herbs of the region. We are excited to keep evolving with unique and varied flavors, opening up broths to an even wider audience.”
Returning to bone broth/stock is not a new culinary creation or craze, but an important return to traditional cooking methods with tremendous health and flavor benefits. If you’re looking for a nutrient-dense food, the rich flavor of good bone broth is not only a cornerstone for any good cook but also a mainstay for good health. This is something to always have in “stock” in your refrigerator or freezer.
4 pounds of beef marrow, knucklebones, bits of leftover beef
3 pounds meaty rib or neck bones
4 or more quarts cold water
1/4 cup vinegar
3 onions, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
Celtic sea salt (optional) only after broth is completed
Place all of your bones that have meaty bits on them on a large cookie sheet (with sides) or in a roasting pan and brown in the oven at 350˚F until well browned (30–60 minutes usually).
Meanwhile, throw all of your non-meaty marrow bones into a stockpot; add the water, vinegar and vegetables. Let sit while the other bones are browning.
Add the browned bones to the pot, deglaze your roasting pan with hot water and get up all of the brown bits; pour this liquid into the pot. Add additional water if needed to cover the bones.
Bring to a boil and remove the scum/foam that rises to the top. No need to remove the floating fat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least 12 hours and as long as 72 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the more rich and flavorful it will be.
After 2–3 hours you will want to “rescue” any of the meat you need for recipes or marrow that you’d like to eat. Using tongs, find your marrow bones, pop out the marrow with a small knife and return the bone to the pot.
After you simmer for 12–72 hours, Sally Fallon now says this in the recipe in Nourishing Traditions: “You will now have a pot of rather repulsive-looking brown liquid containing globs of gelatinous and fatty material. It doesn’t even smell particularly good. But don’t despair. After straining you will have a delicious and nourishing clear broth that forms the basis for many other recipes in this book.”
Remove the bones with a slotted spoon and/or tongs. Strain the stock into a large bowl, then ladle into wide-mouth Mason jars. Let the jars sit until they are pretty cool, then freeze or refrigerate. You can remove the congealed fat after refrigerating or even freezing, if you want to reduce it a step.