by Laurel Blair, NTP
"Good broth will resurrect the dead."
~South American proverb
Real homemade bone broth is one of the most magical foods in existence. For starters, it is the secret to gourmet cooking made easy and affordable! The richness of flavor that can be achieved using real bone broth in your soups, stews, gravies, and sauces is unparalleled, and that alone is enough reason to make it a part of your diet. The first time I used bone broth to make a reduction sauce to go with my roasted chicken, I was in absolute culinary heaven! I could hardly believe that a person with my limited cooking experience had produced something so tasty.
More importantly, bone broth is a truly nourishing traditional food. It is rich in all of the minerals in bone, especially calcium and phosphorus, and also magnesium, sodium, potassium, and sulfur. For this reason, broth is an excellent supplement to the diet to support bone health. These minerals are present in a highly absorbable form. Anytime one or more of these minerals is deficient in the body, as is incredibly common nowadays, broth should be made a staple of the diet.
When broth is made in the traditional way (a long, slow simmering) it contains ample gelatin, which has many unique properties. It increases the digestibility of beans and meat, and has been used in the past to decrease the incidence of allergies, respiratory problems, and colic. Gelatin is also very soothing to the intestinal lining, and is good for anyone with digestive problems. Some of the many therapeutic uses of gelatin include support for peptic ulcers, diabetes, muscle disease, bone problems, infectious disease, and even cancer. It is nourishing and soothing for people who are sick, and homemade chicken stock has a reputation for being the "Jewish Penicillin". Gelatinous broth is considered a "protein-sparer", meaning that one can get by with less protein when broth is used, because it enhances the body's utilization of protein. For this reason, one can make an economical and nutritious soup with bone broth, a small amount of meat or fish, and lots of vegetables.
Bone broth is rich in the amino acids glycine and proline. Glycine is very important for liver detoxification. In some cases glycine availability is the limiting factor for the rate of detoxification. It is also important for wound healing and any other condition that requires rapid growth, such as pregnancy. Proline is incorporated into the connective tissue, making it an important amino acid for those with joint problems.
Bone broth contains a substance called hyaluronic acid, which is a hydrophilic colloid. This means that it attracts gastric juices to the surface of food it is eaten with. All other cooked foods are hydrophobic, so they repel the gastric juices, impairing digestion. This problem can be eliminated with the addition of raw and fermented condiments to cooked meals, or with the addition of homemade bone broth in soups and sauces. The wisdom of the ages is seen in the traditional practices of serving soup or salad as an appetizer, and the use of lacto-fermented salsas, chutneys, and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kim-chee with meals consisting entirely of cooked food.
Properly made broth also contains all of the components that make up connective tissue. This includes chondroitin sulfate, a popular supplement for those with joint problems such as arthritis. Chondroitin sulfate in supplement form is quite expensive, but it can be had for free by making broth from the bones of animals. Anyone with arthritis should consider adding homemade bone broth to their diet.
The most important key word here is "homemade". Store-bought broth has clearly not been simmered for long enough to extract all the components that make broth such a healthful food. This is evidenced by the fact that store-bought broth does not gel when refrigerated. Any broth containing ample gelatin will thicken and gel when it is cold. The important step of soaking the bones in water with a splash of vinegar before cooking (to pull the calcium from the bones) has been skipped, so the mineral content will be lessened. Commercial “beef” broths usually do not even contain any beef, but rather beef flavoring.
Even worse than the things missing from store-bought broth are the things that are added to it. All commercial broth and bullion cubes I have ever seen, including the organic "free-range" versions, contain a form of MSG. It is usually listed as yeast extract or autolyzed yeast extract, or sometimes even as "spices" or "natural flavors". It is necessary to add these hidden forms of MSG to commercial broth because the broth lacks the rich flavor that it should have. When broth is made carefully and slowly at home in the traditional way, it has that amazing flavor that gourmet chefs covet for their fancy sauces. Commercial broth has been made quickly and carelessly to save money, and the addition of MSG is what makes this kind of broth taste good. So, not only does the broth lack the many healing properties we have just reviewed, but it contains potent neurotoxins that are used to induce obesity in lab animals! Do your body a favor and avoid commercial broth at all costs!
Fortunately, making homemade broth is incredibly easy and inexpensive. All you need is some cooked or raw animal bones (preferably with some meat still attached), a stainless steel pot or a slow cooker large enough to hold your bones, purified water to cover the bones, and a small amount of vinegar. Any type of vinegar can be used except white vinegar. A good rule of thumb is 2 tablespoons vinegar per quart of water, but the exact amount is not that important. The best bones to use are knuckle and joint bones, because these parts contain the most connective tissue. Raw bones will generally contain more gelatin than cooked bones, although this is not always the case. Optional ingredients include animal heads and feet (these parts of the animal contain the most gelatin), vegetable scraps, and herbs.
To make the broth, simply place the bones, cold water, and vinegar together in a pot, and allow to sit at room temperature for about an hour to pull out the calcium. Next, heat to a very slow simmer, and skim off any scum that should rise to the surface. The scum contains impurities that can give the broth an off-flavor. Cover the broth and continue to simmer, never letting the broth boil. Fish broth will be finished after about 2 hours of slow simmering. Chicken broth should be simmered for at least 6 hours and as long as 24 hours, with the longer cooking times yielding a richer tasting broth. Beef bones need to be simmered for at least 24 hours up to 48 hours. For these longer-cooking broths, a slow cooker set to low is incredibly helpful. If you are adding vegetables and herbs, add them an hour or two before the broth will be finished.
When the broth is done, allow to cool slightly, strain, and pour into containers. I always use glass mason jars and other glass jars that I have saved, because plastic containers can leach hormone-disrupting chemicals into your stock. If you are planning to serve the broth to children, storing it in non-plastic containers is essential, because growing children are especially sensitive to exogenous hormones. Some people skim the fat off the top of the stock after it has been refrigerated. Personally, I always leave the fat on my broth when I'm making chicken, lamb, or pork broth, because it adds so much flavor to soups and sauces and makes them more filling and nourishing. The fat is where the fat-soluble vitamins are located. With beef broth sometimes there is so much fat that I skim off at least part of it so as not to overwhelm my recipes. The skimmed fat can be used to roast potatoes and other root veggies - very economical!
Refrigerated broth will keep for about 3-4 days, and up to a week if the fat cap on top is left intact. For longer storage, freeze the broth. If you are freezing glass jars, be absolutely sure to leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar to allow for expansion, or your jars will break.
One last tip... if you make broth from a chicken carcass left over from roasting a chicken or other piece of bone-in meat, it may not gel when refrigerated because much of the gelatin will be in the drippings. The broth is still good and is a great source of nutrients, but if you want a gelatinous stock, add the drippings to your broth. You can also use the drippings to make a delicious reduction sauce for your chicken, and in this way you will still receive all the benefits of the gelatin. Simply add a splash of dry white wine or vermouth to the drippings, scraping up any browned bits, and pour into a small pot. Add a cup or two of homemade broth, some thyme or tarragon (or other seasonings - be creative!), and bring to a boil. Boil down until reduced by about half, check the seasoning, and serve over the roasted meat or mashed potatoes.
About Laurel: I'm very passionate about food and nutrition, partly because changing my diet has had a profound impact on my own health, and partly because I love to eat great food! Cooking is one of my favorite things to do - I see food preparation as a form of creative expression and something that brings people together. I'm here to spread awareness of the amazing healing powers of whole foods and traditional diets. My insatiable appetite for learning about nutrition led to my recent certification as a Nutritional Therapist Practitioner. My intention is to share my knowledge with the community and support others in improving their health with real food. Visit my website (www.dynamicbalancenutrition.com) for more information. Blessings to all!