Making bone broth from scratch is a time-consuming process; time that most of us don’t necessarily have to spare. You must collect the correct bones and tendons from your local shop, the proper vegetables and spices, the right equipment to mix it all in… And most time-consuming of all, the 20+ hours of simmering and surveillance to make sure the bone broth is cooked suitably.
One of the benefits to cooking your own bone broth is that you know exactly what goes into it. But the majority of us don’t have the time and resources to make our own bone broth from scratch. And that’s why buying bone broth has become such a popular option.
The savory, nutrient-dense liquid that we all know and love as bone broth has a melting pot of benefits associated with it. The observed benefits range from improvements in joint health and inflammation, to skin revitalization, to gut health and digestion, and much more. Simmering the bones and connective tissues for hours and hours helps extract all the nutrients like collagen, minerals and vitamins.
With its meteoric rise in popularity, many “bone broth” products have hit the market. And with no regulated standard of identity, anything can be labeled as bone broth these days. Our goal in this article is to arm you with a list of questions to ask before spending your hard-earned dollars on something that may not really be what it says it is.
Many packaged “bone broths” are cutting corners, using stock and broth concentrates, artificial flavors and colors, and even sugar — the very thing Bare Bones was trying to solve for when we created our bone broths. Why would some brands do this? If it’s trendy, companies will find the cheapest way to capture share of the market. And when the majority of shoppers don’t really know any better, it’s very easy. This is exactly what happened with “stock” decades ago; changing what real stock used to be to a nutrient-absent imposter that was marketed as “stock”. Most bone broth products come with a premium price tag, so if you’re spending more with the assumption that you’re getting what you pay for, these questions will help you make the best decision for your health and your pocketbook.
Next time you’re looking to buy bone broth, run through this 9-question checklist before handing over your hard-earned dollars.
Questions You Should Be Asking
Is It Made With Bones?
This one may seem obvious, but not all bone broth is made with bones. Given that you want to buy bone broth, it should be safe to assume that anything you see with the words “bone broth” is what you’re looking for, right? Unfortunately, there isn’t a legal standard of identity that defines what bone broth is, so that means that truly anything can be labeled as bone broth.
To make sure that what you are getting is real bone broth, take a second to look at the ingredient list. Make sure that “bone broth” or “bones” is on that list to ensure you’re getting the real deal. If you see “beef stock” or “chicken stock”, these are “stock” concentrates that do contain protein, but lack collagen and gelatin.
How Are The Bones Sourced?
After making sure the bone broth was made with actual bones, it’s important to learn more about the bones themselves. Figuring out what types of bones were used and how they were sourced is key to making sure you’re getting a high-quality product. After all, we are what we eat. And when it comes to animals, it’s not always clear as to whether they were raised on hormones, fed grains, etc. Anything the animals ate can end up concentrating in their bones, marrow, and connective tissues, and subsequently end up in the finished bone broth.
The best sourced bones are those that come from organically farmed, pasture-raised, grass-fed and finished animals. This means that the animals were allowed space to roam and not be confined to a small cage. It also means that they were fed organically and given access to forage on pastures, as nature intended, throughout their lives. All of these measures ensure that your bone broth was made using the cleanest, best possible bones, resulting in the cleanest, best possible bone broth.
Was It Made With Apple Cider Vinegar?
While apple cider vinegar, or ACV, isn’t necessarily required to make bone broth, it helps. The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar helps break down bone, cartilage and other connective tissues, which helps speed up the nutrient extraction process and the formation of gelatin.
When reading bone broth labels, check to make sure you see acidic ingredients like apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or even tomato paste. If the bone broth contains some of those ingredients, there’s a much higher chance it will contain all the collagen-rich goodness you want in a bone broth.
Are There Any Preservatives or Additives?
When brands cut corners, it doesn’t always mean they’re leaving something out; it can also mean they’ve added unnecessary stuff in. Sometimes ingredients like caramel color, sugar, and artificial flavors are mixed in to create a specific color or flavor. These ingredients add no nutritive value; if anything, they can be harmful to your health.
However, these things are unnecessary if the bone broth is real, and made with integrity. Make sure the ingredients list is free of any preservatives, additives and artificial flavors. This will ensure that what you are consuming is natural and authentic.
Were Any Hormones Used?
Making sure that the bones were sourced from organically farmed, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals is just the first step. Another crucial point to look out for is the use of hormones in the raising of the animals. Some farms use hormones to fatten up their livestock. However, these chemicals aren’t well-regulated, and consumption of their byproducts raises certain health concerns (2, 4, 6, 7).
Residues from these growth hormones used on these animals are shown to be present in their meat, milk, etc. (3). When we consume these things, an increase in toxicity and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be found in our own bodies. For those reasons, it’s crucial to make sure that no hormones were used in raising the animals from which the bones were sourced.
Be on the lookout for labels such as “no added hormones”. If that label is missing from the packaging, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve used hormones, but you should be skeptical and do your research.
What Is The Protein Content?
A good measure of a properly made bone broth is the protein content. A high-quality bone broth will contain between 7-10 grams of protein per serving. If there are less than 7-10 grams per serving, it could be an indicator of an imposter bone broth.
It could mean the bone broth was diluted, was made using “stock” or “broth” concentrates, wasn’t made using the right type of bones, or wasn’t cooked long enough. High protein is a good sign because it likely means there are also adequate amounts amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other compounds bone broth is known for.
Is It Gelatinous When Cold?
Beyond ingredients, the best way to check the quality of bone broth is by sticking it in the refrigerator. After waiting for a few hours, take a look at the viscosity of the bone broth. If it has started to change into a gelatinous texture, then you’ve got a bone broth that’s full of collagen and gelatin. If it’s watery and thin, this is a sign it doesn’t contain an effective amount of collagen and gelatin.
The reason this occurs is due to the gelatin that is present in bone broth. Gelatin, which is the cooked form of collagen, coagulates (thickens) when it gets cold, transforming into a jelly-like substance. The presence of gelatin assures you that the bone broth was made with a high ratio of collagen-rich bones to water, and simmered for a long period of time. This means that the bone broth contains the nutrients to deliver on the many health benefits bone broth is known for.
Don’t let the gelatin scare you, this is truly the good stuff. A gelatinous bone broth can be liquefied easily by heating it up.
How Long Was It Simmered?
When talking about bone broth, the duration and temperature of the simmer is crucial to extracting and preserving all of the goodness hidden within. Low temperatures and long simmer times allow for the proper extraction and protection of all of the nutrients that are locked away in the bones.
The proper simmer times depend on the bones being used. Beef bones, for example, are much larger and require a substantially longer cook time than chicken — sometimes more than 24 hours. Chicken bones, on the other hand, are much smaller and require less time to extract all the goodness — around 15 hours or so. Anything less doesn’t truly allow for all of the nutrients like collagen, minerals and vitamins, to be extracted from the bones and vegetables.
What Color Is It?
As we’ve mentioned before, some brands might try to cut corners by diluting their bone broth. Diluting their bone broth makes it cheaper to produce. However, by diluting the bone broth, you’re losing out on a number of health benefits associated with it.
On top of all of the other ways we’ve mentioned above, you can take a look at the actual color of the bone broth. A well-made, nutrient-packed bone broth will have a darker color and be rather opaque. Watch out for bone broths that are light in color and see-through, as that can be a sign of dilution. Additionally, cloudiness could be a sign that the broth was rapidly boiled at high temperatures, which could compromise the integrity of the very benefits you’re hoping to get from the product.
Your Bone Broth, Your Way
You’ve already taken steps towards a healthier lifestyle, by being mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Adding high-quality bone broth into your daily routine is a great way to stay nourished and energized throughout your day.
Armed with this checklist, you are well prepared to avoid bone broth imposters and choose a real bone broth, made from real bones, without hormones. You shouldn’t have to make compromises or settle for anything less than the best.