Bouncing along the dirt road, listening to the box full of frozen bones clanking around like I’d car-jacked Ezekiel, all I could hope was that I wouldn’t get pulled over because I didn’t want to have to explain to a cop why there was a bloody cardboard box filled with a chopped up cow skeleton in my trunk. Because of course the answer is: I’m cheap. You sure you want all these? the rancher had asked me when I went to pick up my neat little shrink-wrapped order of local, grass-fed, kissed-by-angels beef. When I nodded at the stack of bones to the side, he just shook his head. You must have a lot of dogs or something.
Dogs? Nope. Delusions of health grandeur! Something like that.
My original plan with taking the entire carcass of free bones and organs was that I could boil the extra meat off the bones and help recoup the outrageous cost of that kind of beef. But then I was introduced to the concept of bone broth. I first came across it reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. While it’s meant to be a cookbook of sorts, I’ve found I lack the skill, knowledge and cooking implements required to make most of her recipes so these days I skim through it for entertainment value (and to keep my inferiority complex alive and well). Seriously though, how fun is this recipe? 4 lbs beef marrow and knuckle bones, 1 calves foot, 3 lbs rib and neck bones, water, vinegar and then a whole bunch of veggies and herbs. Witches don’t even have this much awesome in one pot. But I didn’t try it because where would I even get knuckle bones and a calves foot? (My friendly local rancher just laughed his head off when I asked him if he had any laying around.)
The subject of bone broth came up again when I was interviewing a nutritionist about leaky gut syndrome and she told me that all of her patients drink bone broth and not only did they see vast improvements in their gut issues but she went so far as to call it The Magic Health Elixir! I love magic! I love catchy names! I love having a reason to get all those pesky bones out of my freezer!!
Plus I read that bone broth is one of the three pillars of the LA Laker’s official team diet and even though I could care less about basketball, dieting has practically been a sport to me so I was intensely interested. (For the record, it is basically Paleo/Primal.) The players could not stop singing its praises!
Bone broth apparently has been a dietary staple for centuries and used as a healing potion thanks to its many curative properties:
1. Heals and seals your gut. It’s apparently miraculous for helping with leaky gut syndrome but is also good for protecting non-leaky guts too. The gelatin in the bone broth (especially found in that poor calves foot!) helps seal up holes in intestines that have become hyperpermeable. This helps cure chronic diarrhea, constipation and even food intolerances.
2. Protects your joints. You’ve probably all heard of taking glucosamine supplements to help with joint pain but it turns out that bone broth has glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), one of which is glucosamine. But unlike supps, GAGs in broth also include a host of other goodies that help keep your joints happy and healthy and pain-free. The chondroitin sulfate in bone broth has also been shown to help impede osteoarthritis.
3. Makes you look younger. You can find collagen in all kinds of “plumping” hair and makeup products these days but why stick it on the outside when you can drink it? Not only is it cheaper but proponents say it makes your skin, hair and nails look like they were buffed with Kardashian tears.
4. Helps you need less meat/protein in your diet. This one is kind of weird but as Dr. Sarah Pope explains in her illuminating Benefits of Bone Broth video, research has shown that when the body has enough gelatin in the diet then “the body’s need for protein from meat sources can be reduced by as much as fifty-percent.” I’d like to see more follow-up studies on this but it’s an interesting theory for sure, especially since I’m always looking for ways to reduce our meat consumption.
5. Improves liver function. The glycine in bone broth helps support liver function and has even been shown in several studies to help heal damage to the liver from other causes like alcoholism and fatty liver disease. Glycine has also been shown in several studies to help people sleep better and improve memory.
6. Immune support. Mark Sisson actually calls bone marrow a “superfood” thanks to the high concentration of minerals in it. He recommends scraping it out of the bone and eating it but I’d just as soon let it dissolve into broth and drink it, myself. While the science isn’t quite there yet, there is lots of anecdotal evidence for people with auto-immune disorders experiencing a relief of symptoms when drinking bone broth.
7. Stronger bones. The phosphorus, magnesium and calcium in the bones leaches out into the broth leaving you with the essential building blocks for healthy bones.
8. More energy. I’m not sure what the mechanism is for this but if you read many accounts of bone broth drinking, the first thing you’ll notice is how everyone swears they have so much more energy. I’d prefer to see actual science backing this up but right now the research on bone broth is pretty limited. (Paging Charlotte: Study of 1?)
9. It’s very economical! What else were you doing with those chicken carcasses and the veggies on the bottom of your crisper?
I’m sure there are plenty of other benefits to drinking dead animal juice (er, angelic animal renderings?) but this was enough to convince me to try it. My first attempt was standard Charlotte: couldn’t be bothered with a recipe or fancy ingredients, so I just stuffed as many bones as would fit into a crockpot, added some chopped veggies and herbs, covered it with water and let it cook for 24ish hours.
My first thought was that it made an excellent potpourri and the perfect cover for my cooking laziness as my whole house smelled like delicious stew. Drinking it was another story though. I strained it all out and kept only the broth and when I drank it, it tasted like… watery broth. With some fat floating around on top. Not the most appetizing thing ever but I’m known for eating/drinking the most horrendous things because I think they’re good for me. (Green smoothie anyone?) It also wasn’t awful. I added some pink salt to it for some flavor and pounded the rest of the cup. The pot lasted about a week with me drinking one cup a day. I can’t say I noticed any major changes but I’m pretty sure one week is to early to draw any real conclusions from.
Also, surprising no one, apparently I did it wrong. You’re supposed to use several different types of bones, joints and appendages (necks, feet etc) to get enough gelatin and all the minerals. (And fish and chicken bone broths are also supposed to be both delish and healthy!) You’re also supposed to roast the bones first for flavor and then smash them up before putting them in. Anyhow, Mark Sisson offers a very detailed guide on how to make the perfect bone broth. I think I’ll try making another batch using his recommendations.
Edited to add: some of you in the comments are asking if I just finally discovered how to make soup. You can and should use broth to make soup but I do think there is a difference. I think that bone broth has to be boiled for a very long time – most recipes put it between 24 and 72 hours (unless you are using a pressure cooker) to get the gelatin and minerals in the marrow to release from the bones as opposed to, say, boiling a chicken carcass for an hour or two just to get the flavor and the remaining bits of meat. But I’m new to this so if any of you would like to respond to this in the comments I would love to know what you think!
So, any of you try bone broth? Do you think it’s really a magic health elixir or just the next overhyped health trend – the chia seed (snot) pudding of its day? What crazy things do you eat or drink in the name of health?