Bone broth has been enjoying increasing popularity of late. Recently making headlines as Kobe Bryant’s off-court secret weapon for repairing his sprained ankle, reducing inflammation and increasing energy. Far from being a new fad, broth has been enjoyed as a source of nourishment since the stone age. It has traditionally been used across cultures as a remedy for colds and flu, to treat degeneration of the connective tissue, repair problems of the gastrointestinal tract and to alleviate issues of the joints, skin and muscles.
Until recently, broth suffered a fall from grace in the home kitchen, it’s demise no doubt paralleling the rise of ‘faster’ food and an increased pace of life. But it always remained a staple in any professional kitchen where it is used as stock and as a base for sauces. As we are re-discovering the health benefits of this traditional remedy, and an emphasis on slow cooking is returning to the home cook, so is the tradition of bone broth. Importantly, utilising bones as more than a waste product also demonstrates our increasing awareness of taking a more ethical ‘nose to tail’ approach in our consumption of animals.
Therapeutically bone broth may be useful in treating any disorders of the bones or joints as well as speeding recovery from illness and improving wound healing, including post-operative. Reducing inflammation in IBS and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and strengthening the immune system. Remineralising teeth, hardening brittle nails and it may be beneficial during times of growth such as pregnancy. It is important to bear in mind though that at this stage we have no clinical trials proving these therapeutic effects.
The benefits of broth are attributed to several factors including the varying levels of minerals, gelatin and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). The nutritional profile of broth will vary depending on which type of bones you are using. Fish broth will contain the mineral idodine for healthy thyroid function and if the shells of crusteaceans are used, high levels of glycosamine may also be present. Chicken broth incorporating the feet will have higher levels of gelatin. Beef broths are wonderful as you will benefit from the marrow, as well as collagen, cartilage and minerals.
Bone is a reservoir for minerals, most importantly calcium and phosphorus, but also magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and and fluoride, these minerals account for the hardness of bone. Throughout the bone matrix runs collagen fibres which are flexible and give the bone tensile strength. Collagen is responsible for strengthening not only bone but also blood vessels and skin. Once collagen is extracted from the body and cooked it is usually referred to by its food name of gelatin. Gelatin is a protein made up with unusually high amounts of the amino acids glycine and proline which give your body the building blocks to repair your own connective tissue by supporting the formation of collagen. As we age our ability to repair our own connective tissue diminishes, we see this first hand in the sagging of our skin and slower wound healing.
Cartilage found at the end of bones, contains more collagen fibres as well as elastin. Cartilage has been used as effective treatment for gastrointestinal disease by reducing inflammation and degenerative joint diseases including arthritis. It may also stimulate the immune system, and as 70% of our immune system resides in our gastrointestinal tract, it can simultaneously nourish our gut and stimulate the immune system. The gelatin from bone and cartilage we extract as we simmer broth, together with the minerals is what makes bone broth such a nutritional powerhouse.
Making broth is incredibly inexpensive and straightforward, it just requires a little patience. It is imperative the bones are from a healthy, grass-fed, preferably organic animal as you will be extracting and consuming the contents of the bone matrix. Additional ingredients are variable but apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, carrots, celery and onions are commonly added for flavour and additional nutritional value. Once you have broth on hand you can drink it on its own or use it as a basis for soups and stews or to flavour any type of cooking.
There is something undeniably soothing about sipping on a warm cup of broth, especially when weak or ill. The aroma that fills the house as this nourishing concoction simmers away on the stove is as good for the soul as it is for the body. If you haven’t already jumped on the bone broth bandwagon, give the beef version in my recipes section a try.