While you are unlikely to gnaw on a bone for a snack, bones are excellent sources of nutrients, as long as they are prepared in a way that favors human digestion.
The best way to release the nutrients found in bones is to make a bone broth. This is done by boiling bones in water for long periods of time (6-24 hours), until most of the nourishing compounds have been extracted into the water, creating a nutrient-dense broth.
Bones, depending on what type of bone and what animal they come from, are wonderful sources of minerals, amino acids, vitamins, healthy fats, collagen, gelatin, and nourishing compounds called glycosaminoglycans (also known as GAGs – which include chondroitin, glucosamine, and hyaluronic acid).
The combination of these health-promoting compounds makes bone broth a very healing food for the joints, skin, and gut. It is an excellent, easy-to-digest food for those with compromised digestion, as well anyone looking to generally increase their nutrition.
Depending on the type of bone and the animal it comes from, bones will look quite different, with some unifying characteristics.
Bones come in different shapes and sizes, but most are whitish in color, often blushing with pink or red from meat, cartilage, or skin still attached. In some cases, like chicken feet, the skin still encases the bones entirely.
Once cooked, bones lose their pink color and the nutrients within them are released into the cooking water, turning it golden brown. The cooking water also becomes very flavorful. If you are using bones with a high gelatin content to make your broth (such as joint bones like chicken feet, wings, and necks, or beef knuckles and oxtail), the broth will gel into a wiggly solid when it cools. (Once heated, this solid will melt again into a liquid.)
Bones from beef, lamb, and pork can be classified into a few categories: neck bones, knuckles (which describes any joint bone), feet, and other (includes shoulder, rib, leg, and breast bones).
Marrow bones from beef are also excellent bones from which to make broth. Marrow bones are large, tubular bones filled with a solid, pink-tinged, vitamin-rich fat (marrow) and add an excellent richness to a broth.
From poultry, good bones to use include necks, backs, and cages (which are the bones of the carcass minus the bones from parts that are usually sold separately, such as breast, leg, thigh, and wing bones).
The nutritional and caloric content of bone broth will vary widely depending on the bones used, and how the broth is prepared.
A broth with a healthy proportion of marrow bones and bones with fatty meat and skin attached will have a higher calorie count due to its fat content, whereas as broth made with clean joint bones may be higher in protein and lower in calories.
Bone broth is a unique source of the following compounds:
Collagen: Collagen is a gluey, elastic protein that holds together healthy bones, skin, joints, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues, and keeps us feeling limber, supple, and juicy. Collagen is also a rich source of amino acids including glycine, proline, and glutamine. The cooked form of collagen is called gelatin, and rich sources of this protein include joint bones like knuckle bones and chicken feet.
Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs): GAGs are found in cartilage and include compounds like chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. Glucosamine, which is a precursor to GAGs, is also found in cartilage. You may have heard of these compounds due to their use in the treatment of osteoarthritis, where they can be helpful in the growth and repair of joint tissue. Bones rich in cartilage include joint bones like knuckle bones and chicken feet.
Minerals: Bones are rich in minerals, particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. All bones are dense storehouses of these minerals, and longer-simmered broths will usually have the highest mineral content.
Fats: Marrow bones are an excellent source of healthy fats, particularly if they come from grass-fed animals. These animals will have marrow with higher amounts of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, as well as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another healthy fat.
While bones may not always be on display for purchase, most places that sell fresh meat, be they grocery stores, butcher shops, or farmers’ markets, will also have bones available. You might have to ask for them, but most places that do in-house butchering can fetch you a varied collection of bones, and will sometimes even give them away for free. Even if you have to pay for them, bones are generally very affordable.
Some stores, usually those that that cater to either progressive or very traditional practices of cooking, may have bones on display for purchase. Most bone broth enthusiasts would recommend making broth from a mix of cartilage-rich bones for collagen, marrow bones for fat and flavor, as well other bones with some meat still attached, also for flavor. If you have the choice, choose a mix of joint bones, marrow bones, and meatier bones.
Shop at stores you trust where the products look fresh; bones should be whitish, often with pink or red streaks where meat is still attached. Avoid any bones that show any signs of greying or browning.
An alternative way to obtain bones is to start buying bone-in cuts of meat, and saving up the bones in the freezer until you have enough to make a stock.
Like all animal products, the way the animal was raised and what it was fed will translate to the quality of the final product. Bones of animals who were grass-fed, grass-finished and / or pastured will likely result in a more nutritious bone broth.
After butchering, raw bones will keep in the fridge for about five days, or in the freezer for up to six months. The only exception is marrow bones, which you will want to cook within a few days, as the fat can go rancid relatively quickly.
Meat and poultry bone broths will keep in the fridge for about five to seven days. Broth also freezes well, and can be stored either in large containers or in single serving sizes for up to six months. Muffin tins and ice cube trays make great molds for smaller servings; freeze the broth in the tins / tray and then pop them out of their molds into a Ziploc bag for future use.
Once you have obtained your bones and you’ve sequestered an oven burner you won’t need for the next six to 24 hours, you’re ready to make your broth.
The first step, which is optional, is to roast your bones. This step is purely for flavor. It will not alter the nutritional content of your broth, but it will give it a more pleasant, roastier, richer taste, and will also make your broth darker and more amber colored.
To roast your bones, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 195 degrees Celsius), and lay your bones on a baking tray, being careful not to crowd them too much. Depending on the size of your bones, you will want to roast them between 20 and 30 minutes, or until the bones are nicely browned at the edges.
When your bones are roasted (or raw if you choose to start your broth that way), place them in a large, sturdy pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the bones by about two to three inches. You can always add more water if the level gets too low during the simmering process, but if you add too much water your broth will taste weak and / or not gel.
Bring your bone water to a simmer gradually, over low heat. The ideal simmer is a gentle one, and depending on how much you are supervising this process and how much you want to concentrate your broth, you can choose to simmer it uncovered or sealed with a lid. For poultry bones, simmer for 6 to 12 hours; for beef, lamb, or pork bones, simmer for at least 12 to 24 hours.
Once your broth has simmered long enough, you will want to separate the liquid from the solid pieces. You can do this using either a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, or by pouring the liquid over a strainer into another container, or by using a combination of both methods. If you have used bones with meat attached, you may want to pick this meat off and either add it back to the broth or just have a spontaneous snack.
At this point (and only this point!) you can add salt if needed. Don’t add it at the beginning as during the simmering process your liquid may concentrate too much and you may be left with an over-salted broth. You can, however, add herbs, spices, or aromatic vegetables to your broth at any point to add flavor and dimension to the finished product.
Bone broth can be consumed as is, or used anywhere broth or stock is used: as a base for soups and stews, in risotto, or in stir-fry.
Recipe: ROSEMARY & ROASTED GARLIC CHICKEN BONE BROTH
When you’ve tasted soup made from traditionally-prepared broth, it’s hard to go back. This nutrient-rich and aromatic broth is a wonderful and versatile base for soups, and is even delicious on its own for sipping.
- 3-4 lbs. chicken bones
- 3 springs rosemary, fresh
- 4 teaspoons CLEANDETOX™ organic herbal tea
- 2 heads garlic
- 1 gallon filtered water
- ½ lemon, juiced
- roast in sesame seed oil or melted ghee
- season with sea salt
Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 720 minutes Yield: 2-3 liters of broth
Put chicken bones, CLEANDETOX™ organic herbal tea, and fresh rosemary in a very large pot. Be sure to include some joint bones, like chicken feet, wings, and neck. Pour about a gallon of cold water over top. Turn the heat to low, and slowly bring to a simmer.
Once you have gotten your broth base started, roast your garlic: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (approx. 205 degrees Celsius). Slice the very tip off each garlic head, so that the cross-section of cloves is open and partially exposed. Place your garlic heads on a pan, and drizzle a little bit of melted ghee over top of the cut portion, so the oil seeps into the sections of garlic. Place the pan in the oven, and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the tops of your garlic cloves are dark brown and caramelized, and the heads are soft and squishy. Add both whole roasted garlic heads, plus the juice of half a lemon, to your broth.
After about 30 minutes of simmering on low, you may notice that some foam has begun to form at the surface of your broth. There is nothing harmful about this foam; it’s composed of a mix of fat and amino acids. Some people choose to skim it off, and some choose to stir it back in. You can choose to skim or not, although skimming does result in a clearer broth.
The next six to 12 hours is pretty low-maintenance. If you are making your broth during the day and you will be checking on it frequently, you may choose to let it simmer uncovered. Evaporation will occur and concentrate the flavors with delicious results. If your liquid gets too low, add more water as desired. If you are making your broth overnight or will be leaving the house, cover your pot. And, if you are making broth for the first time, it is best to make it during a window of time when you can check on it regularly, until you get a sense of regulating the simmer / water level.
Once this time is up, and you have allowed your broth to cool slightly, filter your broth: Place a large colander or sieve over a large bowl and pour the bone broth over top. The colander should catch all of the bones as well as the garlic and rosemary solids, and your filtered broth will be in the bowl. Discard the solids.
Taste your broth, and season with salt, or other desired herbs or spices, if desired.
Transfer the filtered broth to containers of your choice, or use immediately as a base for soup. The broth will keep in the fridge for about five to seven days, or can be frozen for up to six months. Muffin tins and ice cube trays also make great molds for smaller servings; freeze the broth in the tins / tray / mason jars and then pop them out of their molds into a Ziploc bag for future use. If you refrigerate your broth and you’ve used a good proportion of joint bones, your broth should gel into a solid form. When you want to eat it, just scoop out the desired amount and heat over stove-top, which will re-liquefy it.
In Good Health,
- Belinda Kǒkóèkà Bassey Ephraim
Founder, CEO, and Certified Functional Medicine Nutritionist