Last week, I posed a question on the BenGreenfieldFitness Facebook page:
After reading the dozens of comments and questions that came through about this flavorful “lifeblood” that I personally drink almost every day, I sat down and created this FAQ for you.
So go ahead and heat up a cup of bone broth, add a pinch of sea salt, sip it just like coffee out of your favorite mug, and enjoy reading.
Q: Why Bone Broth?
Here's the deal: regular old meat that you can from, say, a steak can be pretty good stuff.
But that meat contains lots and lots of methionine, which is an amino acid found in steak, eggs, dairy, and other animal foods, and excess methionine has been shown to reduce longevity in animal trial. However, restricting methionine in an effort to live longer may not be necessary if you eat enough of another amino acid called glycine, which is the primary amino acid found in the gelatin of bone broth. As a matter of fact, adding glycine to a meat-based, methionine-rich diet has even been shown to mimic the life extension normally seen with methionine restriction.
In other words, red meat and meat in general may be a lifespan-reducing food, but only if consumed in the absence of marrow, bones, broth, and other “ancestral” parts we eat so little of these days.
Regular meat lacks significant amounts of not just glycine, but another amino acids called proline. Glycine and proline are crucial for a repairing and healing the lining of your gut and for supporting digestion, muscle repair, muscle growth, the nervous system, and the immune system. This chicken broth study at the University of Nebraska even showed that the glycine and proline produced from chicken stock can significantly reduce inflammation in your respiratory system and your digestive system.
But the benefits of bone broth don't stop with glycine and proline. Bone broth is also a good source of the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, and (particularly in bone broth made with vinegar), these minerals are in extremely absorbable form. Bone broth also contains glucosamine and chondroitin, compounds that are typically sold as nutritional supplements in spendy pill form for management of inflammation, arthritis, and joint pain, but that you can also get for far cheaper in broth. Broth also contains hyaluronic acid, which has been shown to improve quality of life and reduced pain in patients with osteoarthritis.
The bones themselves that are left over after you make broth contain a protein called collagen, and the breakdown of this collagen then produces gelatin (click here to listen to a podcast in which I thoroughly explain the differences between collagen and gelatin). Gelatin can help to heal a leaky gut, serve as a source of soothing calories for people with gut inflammation or autoimmune disorders, and may also help reduce joint pain, reduce inflammation, prevent bone loss, and build healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Finally, the glycine in gelatin is excellent for sleep, so you can curl up with a nice warm mug of bone broth before bed.
Q. How Do I Make Bone Broth?
Let's start here: don't buy bone broth from the grocery store.
Broth (often labeled as “stock”) from the grocery store is prepared using harsh, high temperatures and accelerated cooking techniques, resulting in a watery, non-nutrient-dense, non-gelatin-rich broth. Once you add in unnatural additives like MSG and other flavors, it just turns into an unhealthy, chemical soup.
But whether you use chicken bones, beef bones or fish bones, bone broth isn't hard to make. One of my favorite organizations and websites, the “Weston A. Price Foundation” has this excellent resource on bone broth, which includes the following three recipes for chicken, beef or fish:
1 whole free-range chicken or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones and wings*
gizzards from one chicken (optional)
2-4 chicken feet (optional)
4 quarts cold filtered water
2 tablespoons vinegar (Adding an acid like lemon juice or vinegar will help to extract minerals from the bones. Use a mild-flavored vinegar, like apple cider or rice wine, as white vinegar may taste too harsh in a mellow broth)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
1 bunch parsley
*Note: Farm-raised, free-range chickens give the best results. Many commercialy-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.
If you are using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and the gizzards from the cavity. Cut chicken parts into several pieces. (If you are using a whole chicken, remove the neck and wings and cut them into several pieces.) Place chicken or chicken pieces in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar and all vegetables except parsley. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour. Bring to a boil, and remove scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 8 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley. This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.
Remove whole chicken or pieces with a slotted spoon. If you are using a whole chicken, let cool and remove chicken meat from the carcass. Reserve for other uses, such as chicken salads, enchiladas, sandwiches or curries. Strain the stock into a large bowl and reserve in your refrigerator until the fat rises to the top and congeals. Skim off this fat and reserve the stock in covered containers in your refrigerator or freezer.
about 4 pounds beef marrow and knuckle bones
1 calves foot, cut into pieces (optional)
3 pounds meaty rib or neck bones
4 or more quarts cold filtered water
1/2 cup vinegar
3 onions, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
several sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together
1 teaspoon dried green peppercorns, crushed
l bunch parsley
Place the knuckle and marrow bones and optional calves foot in a very large pot with vinegar and cover with water. Let stand for one hour. Meanwhile, place the meaty bones in a roasting pan and brown at 350 degrees in the oven. When well browned, add to the pot along with the vegetables. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan, add cold water to the pan, set over a high flame and bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen up coagulated juices. Add this liquid to the pot. Add additional water, if necessary, to cover the bones; but the liquid should come no higher than within one inch of the rim of the pot, as the volume expands slightly during cooking. Bring to a boil. A large amount of scum will come to the top, and it is important to remove this with a spoon. After you have skimmed, reduce heat and add the thyme and crushed peppercorns.
Simmer stock for at least 12 and as long as 72 hours. Just before finishing, add the parsley and simmer another 10 minutes. 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.
Remove bones with tongs or a slotted spoon. Strain the stock into a large bowl. Let cool in the refrigerator and remove the congealed fat that rises to the top. Transfer to smaller containers and to the freezer for long-term storage.
3 or 4 whole carcasses, including heads, of non-oily fish such as sole, turbot, rockfish or snapper
2 tablespoons butter
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
several sprigs fresh thyme
several sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1/4 cup vinegar
about 3 quarts cold filtered water
Ideally, fish stock is made from the bones of sole or turbot. In Europe, you can buy these fish on the bone. The fish monger skins and filets the fish for you, giving you the filets for your evening meal and the bones for making the stock and final sauce. Unfortunately, in America sole arrives at the fish market preboned. But snapper, rock fish and other non-oily fish work equally well; and a good fish merchant will save the carcasses for you if you ask him. As he normally throws these carcasses away, he shouldn’t charge you for them. Be sure to take the heads as well as the body—these are especially rich in iodine and fat-soluble vitamins. Classic cooking texts advise against using oily fish such as salmon for making broth, probably because highly unsaturated fish oils become rancid during the long cooking process.
Melt butter in a large stainless steel pot. Add the vegetables and cook very gently, about 1/2 hour, until they are soft. Add wine and bring to a boil. Add the fish carcasses and cover with cold, filtered water. Add vinegar. Bring to a boil and skim off the scum and impurities as they rise to the top. Tie herbs together and add to the pot. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least 4 hours or as long as 24 hours. Remove carcasses with tongs or a slotted spoon and strain the liquid into pint-sized storage containers for refrigerator or freezer. Chill well in the refrigerator and remove any congealed fat before transferring to the freezer for long-term storage.
Even if you don’t have a slow-cooker you can still reproduce any of these recipes on a stovetop, with a large pot on low heat.
Q. How Many Calories Are In Bone Broth?
This definitely depends on your water-to-bones ratio. A super-complicated and annoying way to get an extremely accurate calculation would be to weigh the bones before you boil them, then weigh the bones again after the broth is done. The difference in weight would be how much of the marrow, fat and cartilage has melted into the broth. Then you would need to use an online calorie calculator to figure out how many calories that particular mass of fat is, and that would be how many calories are in the entire batch of broth (since water has no calories).
Oomph. Probably not worth it compared to getting a ballpark approximation.
There are nutrient profiles of various broths on the Nutrition Data website (originally derived from the USDA database), and although these almost certainly were not prepared with vinegar over the course of 24-48 hours as a traditional bone broth would be…
…it appears that around an ounce of bone broth, including fats and gelatin, comes out to around 35-40 calories.
Q. Where Do I Get Bones?
Butchers almost always have bones. You probably have a butcher near your house.
But local farms have bones too (you can ask around at a farmers market). If you know someone who hunts, they likely have access to bones they may not be using. The meat department of many stores also have bones.
However, if you want to ensure a good, organic, clean bones source (which is very important, especially if you've seen the latest scary news on lead, bones and bone broth), stick to local organic farms that have pastured chicken or 100% grass-fed beef or simply order your bones online from a website such as U.S. Wellness Meats.
You can use bones from just about any animal, including beef, veal, lamb, bison or buffalo, venison, chicken, duck, goose, turkey, or pork. Ideally, you should use a wide variety of bones, including marrow bones, oxtail bones, soup bones, and even larger bones like knuckle bones or feet (e.g. chicken feet), which contain more cartilage and more collagen. Knuckle, patella, femur, and feet bones are the bones that contain the highest concentration of white and red stem-cell marrow, as well as high levels of collagen.
And yes, you can re-use bones to make multiple batches of broth until the bones go soft (at which point, if you'd like, you can also eat the soft bony material that is left over). Just be sure to use fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices each time you make a new batch.
Finally, as “gross” as some people think this is, I take the incredibly tasty and nourishing pile of soft bones that are left over after a long bone broth simmer, I sprinkle them with sea salt and black pepper, then I saute them in a cast-iron pan with olive oil or butter and eat them with cheese, yogurt or roasted vegetables. Yes, it may sound strange, but this is one of my favorite meals each week after we make bone broth.
Q. What Do You Do With All The Fat On Top Of The Broth?
If you are 100% sure your bones are from a clean, organic source you can just keep the bits of fat in the broth and consume the fat when you drink your broth hot or make recipes from the broth.
Skimming off most of the fat is only that important if A) you’re using bones from animals that are conventionally raised (toxins tend to store mostly in fat); B) you're trying to reduce the number of calories in your broth; or C) you just don't like chewing on clumps of fat.
If you want to remove the fat, it's quite easy. After you’re done cooking, remove your broth from the heat, and strain it. Then let your broth sit in the fridge for a couple hours, at which point the fat will rise to the top and harden. You can then scrape off the fat with a spoon or spatula.
Don't confuse the fat with the gelatin. The gelatin is the Jell-O like, jiggling substance. That gelatin will return to an edible liquid state as soon as you heat your broth. In contrast, the fat is generally comprised of big clumps of white-ish chewy stuff. I personally eat both the big globs of gelatinous goodness and the fatty material too. I eat the soft leftover bones too.
If your broth doesn't contain jiggly gelatin, then you need to read this article from the Healthy Home Economist, which gives five reasons broth doesn't gel. Usually, it comes down to not using enough bones, adding too much water, or not cooking the broth for long enough (yet another reason to avoid the average broth from the grocery store). Generally, to get an adequately long cooking time, you should cook chicken bones a minimum of eight hours and up to 24 hours and beef bones a minimum of twelve hours and up to 48 hours.
Q. How Do I Use My Broth?
Whenever any recipe, whether a risotto, a casserole, a soup, etc. calls for broth or stock, you just use your broth. My #1 recommended cookbook for a plethora of mouthwatering broth recipe is “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon.
But you don't have to get all Chef Bouardi with fancy recipes. For example, during the day I also like to simply heat a cup of broth on the stove, add a sprinkling of black pepper and turmeric, and drink a mug of it the same way as I would drink coffee or tea. Occasionally, if I'm feeling too lazy to heat food or cook but I need a quick source of minerals, amino acids, or gelatin, I'll just snag a glass jar of broth out of the fridge and drink it cold.
Q. How Do I Store Broth?
You can keep broth in the fridge for no longer than 3-4 days, but it can keep in the freezer for up to a year. As I discuss in my essential kitchen tools article, we always store in some kind of BPA-free plastic or in glass mason jars. Be sure to let the broth cool down before transferring to glass, and if you're freezing, leave some space at the top, since the frozen broth will expand.
Here's a tip: for easily adding small amounts of broth to recipes, you can store some it in an ice cube tray in the freezer. One cube is about an ounce, so this means that a recipe which calls for 1/4 cup of broth would require two cubes, 1/2 a cup would be four cubes, etc.
Q. Can I Just Order Bone Broth Online?
I get it. Making your own bone broth can be a bit of a chore.
But as you learned above, getting it from the grocery store is a very bad idea.
So why not order online? The primary problem with ordering bone broth online from a place like, say, Amazon, is that you run into all the BPA-packaging, MSG, non-organic, fast cook time issues, etc. that you get from grocery store bone broth. Some sources, such as The Brothery, will ship good, organic bone broth to you in frozen form, but that can be a bit iffy if you happen to be traveling when your bone broth arrives and it sits in the sun for a couple days, if you want to consume your bone broth as soon as it arrives, or if you don't want to store your bone broth in the freezer.
One solution I've had my eyes on lately is the Kettle & Fire. Every batch of Kettle & Fire’s beef bone broth is made with bones from 100% grass fed, pasture grazed cattle that are antibiotic and hormone free. They also use all organic vegetables, sea salt and herbs.
But as you now know, this isn't super unique. You can do this yourself or you can order organic bone broths from other sources too.
However, the unique part about this stuff from Kettle & Fire is the packaging. They use a new, modern packaging technology called “hot fill asceptic packaging”. This packaging process uses $6 million worth of modern packaging equipment. This makes the broth shelf-stable, but also allows complete retention of all the nutrition of frozen broth without requiring the broth be frozen or refrigerated. The packaging process also does not add any preservatives, extra sodium or chemicals to the broth to make it shelf stable, and you can tell by looking at the ingredients label that there are no preservatives, just:
“filtered water, grass-fed beef bones from organically raised cows, organic onions, organic carrots, organic celery, organic parsley, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, black peppercorn, bay, thyme and rosemary”.
The broth is then sealed in BPA-free pouches to preserve maximum nutrition and freshness. Kettle & Fire makes their broth the traditional way – slow simmered over low heat for 24+ hours – to give the bone marrow, collagen and amino acids time to soak into the broth. To top things off, their bone broth is fresh and never frozen.
This stuff is made using bones from animals that were humanely raised on open pastures with clean diets free of antibiotics, hormones and grains. Kettle & Fire only uses organic vegetables and herbs and their water is filtered, ensuring the final product is as pure, flavorful, packed full of vitamins, minerals and gelatin, and free of gluten, dairy, soy, salt, preservatives, MSG, added flavorings and added colorings. All of the products are also made in a kitchen free of gluten, dairy and soy.
So not only is Kettle & Fire’s broth incredibly good for you, it’s incredibly tasty and incredibly portable. They worked with a team of classically trained chefs to make sure their bone broth is extremely flavorful and full of nutrients and healthy amino acids. It doesn’t get much better than that, and now, with their unique, BPA-free packaging that doesn’t need freezing or refrigeration, you can have your bone broth anytime, anyplace – on a bike ride, on an airplane, during a road trip, while camping, you name it.
To get 20% off and an exclusive deal on bone broth that only BenGreenfieldFitness readers get, you can click here to visit the Kettle & Fire portable bone broth. Enjoy!
I do believe I covered just about everything here! But if you have more questions, comments or feedback about bone broth, or your own bone broth tips or recipes to add, simply leave your thoughts below.