You can pick up the season’s hottest new drink from a pop-up shop in New York City’s East Village or even order it by subscription service for $15 a quart. No, it’s not green juice or Bulletproof Coffee. It’s bone broth — the warm brew that enthusiasts claim will soothe everything from joint pain to digestive problems. Oh, and did we mention it’s supposed to give you glowing skin, hair and nails, too?
Find out if this emerging trend has meat on its bones…or if it’s just a bunch of hot water.
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The Age-Old Benefits of Bone Broth
The newest health elixir is anything but new. Bone broth has been around for centuries in cultures around the world, and it’s known for its healing properties. It’s often prescribed in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a multitude of symptoms including digestive, endocrine and fertility issues. Recently, broth has reemerged as the go-to brew for foodies, as well as among Paleo followers, for its rich nutritional profile.
“The broth carries the vitamins and minerals into your body in a way that your body can easily absorb and use.”
It’s the cooking method that differentiates bone broth from regular chicken or beef stock that you might make at home or buy in the store. “Regular stock is made at really high temperatures, and it isn’t cooked for an extended period of time,” says Carolyn Brown, R.D. at FoodTrainers. “It’s like putting a tea bag in hot water for two seconds versus five minutes. Bone broth has to simmer in stock with an acid, like vinegar, for 24 to 48 hours, depending on the type of bone used, in order to get the good stuff out.”
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You can make broth with bones from cows, chicken, lamb and even fish, but the nutritional composition of the broth differs based on the type of bone used. “Since chicken bones are smaller and weaker, they are less nutrient dense,” says Brown.
While interest in bone broth has been increasing, not many people actually want to make it at home — it’s both time-consuming and messy. Taylor Chen and Lya Mojica, of New York City, had been stewing their own bones (and reaping the health benefits of broth) for years. When friends found out, they began asking if they could buy from the pair. Soon, their kitchen endeavors turned into a full-blown broth-selling business, called Bone Deep and Harmony. They’ve doubled their number of quarts sold per week since the summer.
Super Food or Souper Hyped?
When you simmer bones, they start to break down, releasing the vitamins and minerals stored inside. “The broth then carries the vitamins and minerals into your body in a way that your body can easily absorb and use,” says Chen. Most people sip on one to three cups of broth a day, according to Chen. You can also cook with it, incorporating it into other recipes like soups or stews.
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“High-quality ingredients completely change the nutritional content of food. You always want to go organic with something like this.”
According to Brown, there are a number of nutritional superstars in the warm tonic. Collagen is the most abundant protein in animals, comprising our bones, cartilage and connective tissue. “The collagen in bones breaks down into gelatin, which is great for your skin, bones and immune system,” says Brown. “Since our digestive tract is largely made of collagen and gelatin, bone broth can help repair [that area] by restoring the intestinal barrier.”
Bone broth is also a good source of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are important for maintaining healthy connective tissue and cartilage, as well as phosphorus and calcium, the minerals that make up our bones. Increasing our intake of these elements can help improve joint health, according to Brown. Broth made from the bones of pasture-fed animals is also rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which is said to help reduce inflammation in the body.
To reap the full benefits of bone broth, the quality of the bone is crucial. “High-quality ingredients completely change the nutritional content of food,” says Brown. “You always want to go organic with something like this.”
One recent study found that there might be a risk of lead contamination in bone broth. For that reason, Chen recommends bones from grass-fed cattle. “If an animal eats a diet full of hormones and grains treated with pesticides, those chemicals end up in the animal’s bones,” says Chen. “When you use those bones to make a broth, you’re taking in that toxicity, too.” Brown also recommends using a cast iron or ceramic pot, not a metal slow cooker, to further reduce the risk of lead leaching into the broth.
And if you’re making broth at home, don’t go overboard on salt when seasoning your batch. If you’re buying it at the grocery store, you’ll want to watch for high sodium content and preservatives like MSG, advises Brown.
To Sip or Not to Sip
While many sing the praises of bone broth, it’s important to note that there are no scientific studies on its nutritional and health benefits, and most evidence is anecdotal. “It’s a tricky situation because there’s a lot of confusion about bone broth,” says Kim Hoban, R.D. “It does have components that offer some health benefits,” she says. But the nutritional profile of bone broth can depend on how the broth is prepared: If it’s made at home or store-bought, the type of bone, and how long the bones are cooked. “I’m not sure that drinking it is a better way to get amino acids and nutrients than how we get it from other protein sources,” she says. “But, it’s budget-friendly and probably has some benefits, so why not?”
Will this trend cool to a simmer over time? Brown doesn’t think so. “There’s going to be a continued movement even if bone broth is just the base for other foods and recipes,” she says.
Chen says they are growing their business, and including new products such as chicken and lamb broth. They are also expanding with a new pick-up location in Midtown Manhattan, a delivery service and an e-commerce site.
“People want something that’s tried and true and sustainable. There are all sorts of fad diets and most of the time, people are thinking, ‘How will this make me skinnier?’ It’s a vain pursuit,” says Chen. “People are starting to see that what they want is happiness and that comes from a body and mind that works in harmony. Broth is an easy access point.”