Is bone broth the carnivore’s cure-all?
Dante Disalvo holds up a mammoth-sized bone—the hind leg of a cow, it turns out—and I give him the nod. “Looks great,” I say, as if I do this all the time. The Staff of Life meat department is sold out of chicken necks, backs and feet, which had somehow seemed a little more benign. But Disalvo, who is now lovingly sawing the leg into two-inch segments, is enthusiastic that this bone will make a killer bone broth. He and head cook Jodi Gerstner make it all the time, he says.
“Just remember to pour some apple cider vinegar over them when you add them to the pot. That will loosen up the calcium and draw out all the nutrients,” he says, handing over the morsels of cro-magnon familiarity ($10).
Later that night, the smells coming out of my kitchen teeter between a grandma’s house in rural Kansas and something more noxious—and unapologetically cow bone—that permeates the walls of my one-room apartment, probably forever, and makes me question my resolve to not take the easy way out. (Staff of Life began selling its housemade batches of high quality chicken, fish, beef and pork bone broth about a year ago, not long after local company Kitchen Witch Bone Broth fired up the same ingenious cauldrons.)
I follow Disalvo’s instructions, roasting the bones (for a deeper flavor) in the oven for an hour, which sends dark rivulets of red marrow dripping down their sides. Then transfer the nutrient-dense animal parts to a pot containing vinegar, water, and the meager renderings of my fridge: celery ends, half an onion, one bendy carrot. (Whole vegetables are best, otherwise they’ll disintegrate and cloud the broth). Set to simmer “low and slow” for 24 hours, minimum.
My bone experimentation began a few weeks ago, when flu-like symptoms sparked a googling session on whether chicken broth can really make us better when we’re sick. According to a 2000 study published in the journal Chest, it inhibits the movement of neutrophils, or white blood cells, to mucous membrane surfaces, resulting in an anti-inflammatory effect and reduction of upper respiratory cold symptoms. What really hooked me, though, was the South American proverb “a good broth will resurrect the dead.”
Though it remains a flavorful base in many gourmet and traditional cuisines, bone broths seem to have faded from the American diet with the rise of the meat industry and the end of butchers’ common practice of selling meat on the bone. But like fermented foods, the pre-industrial, Old World tradition is now being embraced for its medicinal properties in treating ailments from anemia to diabetes, digestive problems and even cancer. “Stock contains minerals in a form the body can absorb easily—not just magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals. [Calcium and potassium are also on that list.] It contains the broken down material from cartilage and tendons—stuff like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, now sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain,” writes Sally Fallon Morell, founding president of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of the book Nourishing Traditions. (She later went on to write a book entirely about broth.)
Fish broth, embraced by Chinese medicine for centuries, is also loaded with minerals, including iodine, and if made with fish heads can nourish the thyroid gland—which, according to Dr. Broda Barnes, is deficient in at least 40 percent of Americans, causing symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, frequent colds and flu, an inability to concentrate, depression, heart disease and cancer.
At the height of my flu, I purchased a 32-ounce jar of chicken bone broth made by Kitchen Witch ($15.99 at New Leaf). I sipped it like it was a warm hug. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. It soothed my distress, went down and stayed down, and softened the daggers behind my eyes.
“Gelatin, which is a form of collagen, is the magic ingredient in bone broth that cures what ails you,” says Missy Woolstenhulme of Kitchen Witch. It gives your body the materials it needs to heal achy, worn down joints, she adds.
“Chicken feet and knuckle bones are key to getting a high gel content in bone broth. Drinking bone broth before a meal stimulates your digestive system and allows you to absorb more nutrients from your food,” she says, adding that it repairs the lining of the gut, which can improve inflammatory disease.
This digestive boost, according to Morell, comes from gelatin’s hydrophilic colloids, which attract digestive juices for rapid and effective digestion—a process that doesn’t happen with other heated proteins—helping to aid intestinal disorders including hyperacidity, colitis and Crohn’s disease.
After 24 hours, the bones in my DIY batch of broth have fallen apart, exposing their porous insides (trypophobics beware). Nevertheless, I strain some of the golden liquid over a bowl of soba noodles, ginger, green onions, and a dash of salt. While I’ll never order a hamburger with the same dissociated nonchalance again, it was, in the end, worth all of the queasy details.
Visit Staff of Life’s meat counter or kitchenwitchbroth.com for more.
DEM BONES, DEM BONES Bone broth is nourishing in a way that many foods aren’t, enhancing immunity with vital nutrients, minerals and amino acids from cartilage and collagen.