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Bone broth is the easy (and delicious) answer to a healthier diet

Kathryn Matthews is a New York City-based lifestyles writer, editor and Certified Holistic Health Coach. She has written extensively about food, dining, nutrition, health and travel for numerous publications, including The New York Times...

So long, chicken soup! There's a better broth in town

Is it possible to one-up chicken soup — long touted to cure what ails us? Actually, yes! And bone broth is just an ancient superfood for the job.

Bone broth is an Old-World remedy (that you can make at home) used across cultures to facilitate recovery from the cold or flu. Nutrition-oriented health practitioners — including functional medicine doctors, integrative doctors, naturopathic doctors and traditional Chinese medicine doctors — also "prescribe" bone broth to optimize gut health, relieve digestive distress, reduce allergies and sensitivities and improve joint health (arthritis) and autoimmune disorders.

An overwhelming majority of Americans are mineral deficient today because of poor digestion, depleted soils, malnutrition and malabsorption. Mineral deficiencies contribute to the development of chronic diseases. Bones (in bone broth), however, impart a largesse of minerals that can be easily absorbed by the body, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur, zinc, and other trace minerals.

It is also an excellent source of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a group of compounds that play an important role in the development, repair and replacement of cells. Made with tendons and cartilage produces two naturally occurring GAGs — chondroitin sulfates and glucosamine — now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain.

Gelatin is another powerful nutrient found in bone broth. When cooled, broth congeals. This is due to the presence of gelatin, which contributes to a Jell-O-like texture. Derived from the collagen in animal bones and connective tissue, gelatin allows the body to fully utilize proteins from other foods. Gelatin aids digestion — it can also help heal a leaky gut (intestinal permeability) that manifests as diarrhea, constipation or food sensitivities. Traditionally, gelatin has been used in the treatment of peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, infectious diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Tips for sourcing bones

You can make bone broth from chicken bones, of course, but also from pork bones, lamb bones, beef bones or fish bones. Ideally, you want to use the bones from grass-fed (pasture-raised) animals. Sources for bones include your local butcher, the farmers market and Whole Foods. I initially bought 100-percent grass-fed beef bones at Whole Foods, but then discovered that a farmer at my local greenmarket sold 100-percent grass-fed beef marrow bones for $2.50 per pound (about one-third of the price I paid at Whole Foods), and I buy bones from him now every two weeks.

Simple bone broth recipe

12 to 16 8-oz (1 cup) servings

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 24-48 hours | Total time: 24-48 hours

Ingredients: 

  • 3 pounds grass-fed beef bones
  • 4 quarts filtered water
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • Celtic sea salt, to taste (after broth is finished cooking)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Rinse off the beef bones. Pat them dry with a paper towel.
  3. Arrange the bones in a glass baking dish (like Pyrex) and place them on the center rack.
  4. Roast the bones for about 40 minutes, or until browned.
  5. Place all of the roasted bones in a 6.5-quart slow cooker or the largest stockpot you have. Add 3 to 4 quarts of filtered water (water should cover the bones completely). Add an acid, like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, to draw the minerals out of the bones. Then, cover.
  6. In the slow cooker — or on the stovetop — bring the water to a boil. Skim off any impurities. Then, reduce the heat to a low setting on the slow cooker. In total, you can simmer the broth another 24 to 48 hours.
  7. When it's done, let the broth cool, remove the bones and scrape off any residual meat or fat off the bones (they should be bare).

Bonus lesson: The difference between broth and stock

Though the terms "broth," "stock," and "bone broth" are used interchangeably, there are subtle — but important — differences that distinguish each from the other.

Broth: Water simmered with meat or seafood and/or some vegetables (usually celery and carrots), aromatic herbs and a few bones. It is often simmered for a short period, up to two hours. The flavor and texture tends to be light.

Stock: Tends to be made primarily with bones, sinewy-textured meat trimmings, some vegetables (celery, carrots), aromatic herbs and water. Generally, stock simmers about three to four hours. It is a good source of minerals and gelatin, has a richer mouthfeel and flavor than broth and is often used as a base for soups and stews.

Bone broth: Typically made with bones and cartilage, and sometimes, a little meat. The bones are usually roasted first to impart greater depth of flavor. Bone broths are simmered for a long period of time, anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, ideally in a slow cooker. Properly prepared bone broth is rich in minerals, gelatin and collagen.

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