What is Bone Broth?
Bone broth is a savory, nutrient-dense liquid that is brewed from simmering animal bones and connective tissues (usually bovine, chicken, or marine sources) in water for 20+ hours over low heat. This long, time-consuming process allows for the proper extraction of many beneficial compounds such as collagen, vitamins, minerals, etc. During the cooking process, fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices are added for a fuller flavor and additional plant-based nutrients. The final product is a broth that is great to sip on like you would with coffee or tea, or as a healthy upgrade from regular stock or broth in savory recipes.
From its many health benefits to today’s bone broth lifestyles, and its widespread history to factors that you should look out for, there’s much to talk about when it comes to bone broth.
What is bone broth, you may ask? Let’s take a deeper dive, shall we?
The History behind Bone Broth
Dating back thousands of years, bone broth has had a nutritional stronghold on diets throughout many different civilizations. Over 2,500 years ago, Chinese medicine prescribed bone broth to help detox and strengthen the kidneys. In the 12th century, Egyptian physicians would prescribe chicken broth made from chicken bones as a remedy for asthma and cough suppression. And going even further back, early humans adopted a nose-to-tail method of eating. That means nothing would go to waste, including the bones, skin, tendons, etc. They would cook these parts into a broth using a large kettle and fire in order to unlock and extract all the nutrients they could from the animal, that would have otherwise been unusable.
Bone Broth Health Benefits
Whether our ancient ancestors knew about them or not, bone broth has a vast connection to numerous health benefits. The key to these nutritional health benefits is the process of the long cooking times that are needed to make a good bone broth. While simmering, the animal bones secrete gelatin, collagen, minerals, vitamins, etc., that have been linked to these different health benefits:
One of the main benefits from simmering collagen-rich bones for such a long time is their release of gelatin, and thus collagen. Collagen is a powerhouse protein that has been linked to numerous benefits, including improvement of joint health (8, 14, 23). Bone broth also naturally contains glucosamine and chondroitin, which has also been linked to improving osteoarthritis conditions (4, 9).
In addition to gelatin, bone broth naturally contains glycine, amongst many other helpful amino acids. This combination of nutrients has been associated with anti-inflammatory properties (6, 11, 17). These nutrients are not only helpful for combatting already existing inflammatory conditions, but can also play a key role as a preventative measure against future inflammation.
Not only has glycine been shown to help with inflammation, it is also an important factor for improving sleep quality. And on top of improving sleep quality, glycine also helps with reducing daytime fatigue and regulating nighttime sleep (2, 15, 20).
Gut health, as well as digestion, can be tricky to understand, as it’s not as visible as other detriments. Whether it’s leaky gut syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or discomforting digestion, bone broth has nutrients to help with it all. From collagen to glycine content to numerous minerals, studies link these nutrients, found in bone broth, to improved gut health (3, 7, 16).
More than just collagen, bone broth naturally contains hyaluronic acid, a glycosaminoglycan (GAG). Hyaluronic acid has been linked to the promotion of skin rejuvenation, as well as relieving wrinkles in the skin (18, 21). In correspondence with hyaluronic acid, collagen has been shown to be beneficial towards different properties of skin, hair, and nails. Collagen has been linked to improvements in skin elasticity, hydration, quickening of wound healing, as well as improvements in hair growth and strengthening brittle nails (12, 19, 25).
Even though you may be drinking enough water throughout the day, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your body is retaining all of that liquid. Your body needs a good balance of minerals in order to be able to take full advantage of liquid hydration. Bone broth is a brilliant source of minerals, namely potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium, that are essential for proper hydration (26, 28).
How is Bone Broth Made
While we now know the general idea answer behind the question ‘what is bone broth’, let’s move onto how bone broth is made.
Making bone broth at home can be an epic, and lengthy, journey. This is the reason why buying well-made bone broth is such a popular option. It isn’t to say that it’s impossible to do, but getting it right can be difficult.
Here are 5 essential things to consider when making or buying a bone broth:
The quality and types of bones you use will affect the quality and potency of the bone broth. Since the goal is to extract as much as possible from the animal bones, it’s important not to use the bones of animals that are raised on a diet of antibiotics, hormone-injected feed, and inhumane living conditions. Bones from organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised animals ensures that nothing bad is entering your body from the bone broth. The best bones to use are feet, knuckles, femurs, neck, spine, joints, and rib bones. These bones, as well as any part of the animal that contains connective tissue, are great sources of treasured nutrients, such as collagen, gelatin, and amino acids.
Having a good source of water for the bone broth is as important as any other ingredient. Contaminated water could fill your bone broth with harmful compounds like chlorine or lead. Filtered water is a good source as it makes sure that there are no unnecessary contaminants floating around.
Often forgotten, adding an acid source into the bone broth is a crucial step for extracting all the nutrients possible. The most common acid source is apple cider vinegar, however lemon juice is a good alternative. Letting the animal bones soak in this acid mixture allows for all of the nutrients to be thoroughly extracted.
Aromatics: Vegetables, Herbs, and Spices
Adding vegetables, herbs, and spices to the mix adds a nice, aromatic flavor to the bone broth, plus more nutrients. Choosing fresh, organic vegetables is important for both taste and safety. Non-organic produce may have been sprayed with harmful pesticides and herbicides, which may soak into the bone broth. Before adding it to the pot, make sure to scrub clean the vegetables and herbs, as to avoid dirt contamination.
Time and Temperature
Cooking time and temperature are just as important to making a good bone broth as the type and quality of ingredients that are used. The low and slow method of cooking bone broth is the key to extracting and preserving all of the “goodness”. By allowing for a long cooking time (20-24+ hours), the gelatin and nutrients can be properly, and fully, extracted from the bones. This is where the bountiful source of collagen, amino acids, and vitamins that make bone broth a nutritional powerhouse come from.
Once you have everything, you can break out the slow cooker, pressure cooker or a good old fashioned stock pot. The easiest method to make bone broth at home is with a pressure cooker, but here we will take you through the traditional stock pot method.
Whether it’s chicken bone broth or beef bone broth, the first step is always to add the bones into the pot. Next, add just enough water to cover the bones. Place the pot over a stovetop and bring to a boil. Once it’s at a boil, lower the temperature until the broth is at a slow simmer. At this point, fat and impurities will begin to rise to the surface. Using a ladle, skim this off and discard. Continue skimming until nothing else is rising to the surface; this usually takes about 10 minutes.
Next, add the acid source. This can be apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, and it’s important to let the bones meld in this mixture for a few minutes. Afterwards, you can add any desired vegetables, herbs, and spices, for added vitamins and aromatic flavors.
At this point, the work is done. Continue to let the broth simmer for 10-24 hours (the longer the better!). just be aware that the mixture will evaporate slowly, so don’t allow for too much evaporation, as you might have nothing left for yourself!
When finished, strain your bone broth and pour into mason jars or refrigerator-safe containers for storage.
Questions to Ask when Buying Bone Broth
It’s crucial to be aware of what you might be buying when it comes to any sort of produce. Just as with many other packaged foods, sometimes manufacturers cut corners when producing bone broth. It’s important to ask these extra questions, more than just what is bone broth. While it might be easy for some to spot the obvious imposters, it’s also easy to overlook some of these small, but important, details:
Is it made with bones?
Considering the product is called “bone broth”, you would assume that it’s made using bones, right? Unfortunately, that is not always the case. There is no legal standard of identity that defines what bone broth is, and so anything can be labeled as bone broth. Looking for “bone broth” or “bones” in the ingredient list is a great way to ensure that you’re buying real bone broth.
How are the bones sourced?
One of the most important considerations is knowing what types of bones are used and how they’re sourced. After-all, we are what we eat. And when it comes to animals, it’s not always clear if they were administered antibiotics or hormones. Those antibiotics or hormones can end up being locked in their bones and marrow, and eventually in the finished broth. The best sourced bones are those from organically farmed animals, pasture-raised, grass-fed and finished. 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 healthy foods throughout their lives, free of hormones and antibiotics.
Are the ingredients non-GMO?
Making sure the ingredients are organic is a great place to start. The USDA Certified Organic symbol means that everything in that package is organically produced and free from genetically modified ingredients. That includes things like the vegetables and spices to the products used to help grow those vegetables. This provides a sense of safety, in knowing that what you are eating is as natural and pure as possible.
What is the protein content?
Another key factor to look out for is the protein content per serving. A good bone broth will contain between 8-10 grams of protein per serving. If there is less than 8-10 grams per serving, it could be an indicator that the bone broth was diluted with another liquid, wasn’t made properly, or wasn’t made using the right type of bones. This ultimately means what you’re buying may not deliver the health benefits you’re looking for in bone broth.
Is it gelatinous when cold?
To see if your bone broth has been properly made, full of collagen and nutrients, stick it in the refrigerator and wait. After several hours, if the liquid turns into a gelatinous texture, you’ve got a good one. This is because gelatin (the cooked form of collagen) thickens when cold, turning into a jelly-like substance. Don’t be worried, the presence of gelatin is necessary for bone broth to be effective and deliver on the many benefits, and can be liquified easily by heating.
Are there any preservatives or additives?
Though it might not be as clearly stated, it’s important to make sure that there are no preservatives or additives in the ingredients list. That means to make sure the product states that it has no added hormones or antibiotics, no preservatives, and is non-GMO. This confirms that what you are putting into your body is safe and natural.
Bone Broth vs. Stock vs. Broth
Some packages state ‘bone broth’, others are titled ‘stock’, and some just say ‘broth’ on the front of the box. Going past the answer to ‘what is bone broth’, we must understand the differences between these products. But what are the differences between the three?
Stock is a liquid that is made from simmering animal bones and connective tissues in water for about 2-4 hours. It can be flavored with vegetables, herbs, and spices, and has a thin, yet slightly viscous, consistency.
Broth is a liquid that is made from simmering meat, and sometimes a few bones, in water for a short amount of time, usually an hour or two. A vegetable broth can also be made purely from vegetables and herbs. Broth has a thinner consistency, due to the shorter brewing time, as well as its lack of collagen-rich animal bones.
We understand what stock and broth is, but what is bone broth? Bone broth is a liquid that is made from simmering animal bones and connective tissues in water for 20+ hours. It is also usually flavored with vegetables, herbs, and spices. However, due to the much longer cooking time and higher ratio of bones to water, it usually has a deeper color and thicker consistency. The longer cooking time allows for a fuller release of gelatin, collagen, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc., from the bones.
Between the three liquids, stock and bone broth are amongst the most similar. Regular broth is usually made mostly with meat, and is cooked for a much shorter time. Stock and bone broth are usually brewed with similar ingredients: animal bones, connective tissues, and vegetables. So, the primary difference between the two is the cooking time. Bone broth is cooked for 20, sometimes up to 48, hours. This gives enough time for the thorough extraction of gelatin, collagen, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, etc., from the bones. This is why bone broth is seen as more nutritious than regular broth and stock.
What about Bone Broth Powder?
We’ve gone through the differences between bone broth, stock, and broth, but you may have also seen ‘bone broth powder’, ‘instant bone broth’, or ‘bone broth protein’. These products are all relatively the same in that they’re made using a liquid bone broth that’s been dehydrated into a powder. They all represent the same concept and lead to the same answer when asking ‘what is bone broth’. However, different brands go about their ingredients/processing very differently.
An important detail to be wary of is the ingredients list, especially the presence of bone broth and the addition of flavorings. It’s important to make sure that bone broth is in the ingredients list, especially if it’s being marketed as “bone broth”. To help bolster collagen content, the addition of collagen protein is a welcomed add-in, but it’s key to ensure there are no unhealthy preservatives or additives such as MSG or artificial flavors.
A good bone broth powder will dissolve instantly in liquid. Many bone broth powders are prone to clumping, but a process known as agglomeration helps with that. When bone broth powder is agglomerated, it becomes “instantized”, breaking the protein into individual particles, which can easily be mixed into water, with zero clumping.
The Bone Broth Diet and Intermittent Fasting
The Bone Broth Diet has been praised by many and advocated through New York Times best-selling author Dr. Kellyann Petrucci’s book Bone Broth Diet. The Bone Broth Diet entails meals surrounded by bone broth and mini-fasting, also known as intermittent fasting. Not only does she answer ‘what is bone broth’, she talks about how to help curb cravings, lose weight and wrinkles, and fight diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and gastrointestinal disorders, all through the help of bone broth and intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting is more a lifestyle than a diet, as it dates back to prehistoric times and our early ancestors. Our ancestors would eat when food was available, which was usually after they hunted their food during the day. They wouldn’t eat three meals a day as we do today, rather they wouldn’t eat for long periods of time. These fasting periods allowed us to thrive by sharpening our mental awareness and physical performance out of necessity for survival. Nowadays, we don’t typically hunt for our food, so we don’t have these long periods without eating. However, our bodies haven’t fully adapted to this different way of life, and therefore still benefits from periods of fasting.
Some of the more widely practiced methods of intermittent fasting are:
- This method involves generally skipping breakfast and eating all of your daily calories within an 8 hour window.
- This method involves restricting any food intake for 24 hours, once or twice a week.
- This method involves eating normally 5 days a week, but consuming only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days.
Intermittent fasting is one of the world’s most popular health trends, partly due to the many benefits associated with that lifestyle. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, lowering bad cholesterol, reducing inflammation, improving heart health, improving brain function, and so on.
So how does bone broth tie into all of this information about intermittent fasting? First off, bone broth is a no-brainer when choosing a nutrient-filled meal. More importantly, bone broth is a good way to break a fast, as it contains electrolytes and collagen. During your fast, your gut is repairing itself, so consuming bone broth helps ease your gut into digestion mode.
How to Get More Bone Broth in Your Diet
Taking the first steps to adding bone broth into your diet can seem intimidating, but it’s really quite the opposite! Bone broth can be added into many well-known recipes, simply replace stock or water with bone broth in your favorite savory recipes.
Here are a few fun recipes that feature bone broth:
- Keto Chicken Soup
- Cast Iron Mashed Potatoes
- Cauliflower Bone Broth Soup
- Iced Matcha Latte with Bone Broth
On top of adding it into cooking, drinking a cup of bone broth has become a staple in many homes. You can drink a warm cup with breakfast, or at night to help put you to rest. Just like tea or coffee, a cup of bone broth is a warm, feel-good beverage, with many natural nutrients, that can be enjoyed during any part of the day.
Is Bone Broth For Me?
Wondering whether you should give bone broth a try?
The short answer: yes. The long answer: of course!
Thanks to the ever-growing popularity of bone broth, finding a nutritious snack or healthy cooking alternative couldn’t be easier. Warming up a cup of bone broth for lunch, before bed, or using it for a new take on a classic recipe.
From the numerous health benefits to the abundant nutritional content, our bodies crave something as simple, yet satisfying, as bone broth.