Meet the healthy, New Age sipping tea: bone broth.
It might sound unusual to drink a beverage made from stewing bones, but it's become popular around the world. New York, London, Vancouver and Sydney are all home to bone broth bars. And last fall, Christine Ruch, chef-owner of Boulder restaurant Fresh Thymes, added three bone-based soups to the menu.
I learned this while researching a column about making your own bone broth in order to elevate the flavors in home cooking to restaurant quality. I can't begin to tell you the number of chef-led cooking classes I've attended where the teacher pulls out a quart of homemade broth to start a recipe. It doesn't look like typical thin broth though. Instead, it's a thick, congealed brown goo that's a demi-glace - basically a beef bone broth that has been reduced by half. Chefs all say it's worth the 48 hours-plus that it takes to simmer the gelatin, minerals and flavors from the bones.
That's all you do, by the way - simmer the bones in water, along with some select vegetables, herbs and seasonings. You can do it on the stove, in a slow cooker or in a pressure cooker. But before reducing the broth to make demi-glace, some health enthusiasts drink the broth for its nutrients.
For sipping broth, use the bone broth after 48 hours of simmering; for demi-glaze, continue cooking to reduce by half.
"We do sell bone broth at Progressive Paleo," said Pete Moreno, one of three owners and chef at the Colorado Springs-based company, which prepares food for "primal eating" known as the Paleo diet. He's also executive chef at MacKenzie's Chop House Downtown. "We use it because of all the benefits from nutrients to aid in rebuilding of connective tissues and joints."
Another reason to drink bone broth, according to Moreno, is to build your immune system.
"If you were doing a detox, bone broth helps remove toxins from the liver," he said. "Gelatin helps improve your skin and hair. It is a great anti-inflammatory and helps reduce the pain of arthritis."
Moreno also noted that bone broth is a good source of protein and other nutrients such as collagen, glucosamine and gelatin - all of which help maintain a healthy stomach.
At MacKenzie's and Progressive Paleo, he uses bone broth to enhance the flavor of recipes. "It's great for soups, pho dishes and pasta recipes."
Bone broth has been included in the diets of athletes for some time now. For the Los Angeles Lakers, a professional basketball franchise, bone broth is one of three pillars of the official team diet; the other two are butter and bacon. The idea behind this type of diet is to get as much good fat into the players as possible for optimum energy. And the reason for bone broth is to help fortify tendons and ligaments, according to an article at grantland.com.
For Boulder-based dietitian Amanda Archibald, bone broth is a way to support sustainability.
"Traditional societies made bone broth as a means to extend the use of all parts of the animal, essentially recycling nutrients," she said. "Not only is it delicious and an important base to cuisine, but it is also an honorable and sustainable act. In Western society, we throw away animal parts that other cultures and ethnicities would never dream of doing: ears, kidney, liver, brains and hoofs. I think by default we have learned that these products, including bone broth, may have nutritional value."
But Archibald suggests that more research needs to be done.
"Bone broth can an excellent source of glycosaminoglycans, which is critical to the collagen cross matrix and integrity," she said. "But you need more than just bone broth to build healthy bones and cartilage. This does not mean that bone broth is not healthful; it means that we need peer-reviewed studies to illustrate exactly what those properties are and the mechanisms for how they work in the body."
Heather Mitchell, a Boulder-based certified natural chef and owner of Change Personal Chef Services, likes to make bone broth for help in alkalinizing the body's pH balance.
"Most of the foods in our diets push our pH to the acidic side, increasing inflammation, so it's always helpful to include mineral-rich foods in our meals (bones, leafy greens, colorful vegetables)," she said.
I discovered the broth-making process to be easy during a culinary trip to France. The first class at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon involved making three broths that would be the bases for some of the cooking we'd be doing over the next four days. After experiencing the wonderful boost it gave to those foods, I decided this would be something I'd be doing regularly. And now, with new knowledge about potential health benefits, I'll be making bone broth for sipping too.
Mitchell offers these tips for getting started:
"When making broth, I stick to fish or chicken," she said. "Beef broth is great but very time-consuming, needing more than a day for simmering. Fish stock is quick and can be done in about an hour."
Buy whole fish from the market and ask the monger to piece out the fillets but also wrap up the head and back bones to add to the broth. One 3-pound fish will make about 2 quarts of stock.
"The quality of the bones matter," Mitchell said. "If we are trying to optimize mineral content, grass-fed or pastured animals are going to be better because these animals get more minerals from the grasses and weeds they graze on."
For chicken broth, purchase whole chickens and keep the back and wings for broth.
And don't fuss with the veggies.
"There's no need to peel vegetables," she said. "Keep the onion and garlic skin on for ease and a little extra flavor."
Here are recipes for basic beef and chicken bone broths. Buy beef soup bones at Ranch Foods Direct or Whole Foods Market. You can simmer beef bones twice to extract the marrow and minerals. The first batch will produce more broth than the second batch. Both, however, will be nutrient-dense and flavorful.