Bone Broth: A Super-Cheap Superfood

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What on earth is that clearish, goopy stuff in my crock pot? Only one of the cheapest, easiest superfoods known to man, of course! Why is it so amazing? What can you use it for? And how do you make it? I’ll answer all of these questions and more in this post.

Like many “new” health fads, bone broth is actually an age-old tradition aimed at extracting as many nutrients as possible from every portion of an animal’s body, allowing nothing to go to waste. It is made by boiling the bones and/or carcass of an animal in an acidic medium for hours or even days at a time. As the bones stew, the minerals, amino acids, and collagen that comprise the bones leach out into the water, creating a nutritious beverage or base for other dishes.

Collagen is essential for healthy bones, tissues, joint, skin, hair, and nails. When cooked, collagen turns into gelatin, which is why the bone broth pictured above looks so jiggly. If your bone broth turns into a bowl of jelly once refrigerated, you know you have a collagen-rich supplement to consume! Note that your broth won’t always turn out this way: it depends on the amount of collagen in the bones you’ve used as well as on the length of time you’ve boiled them. I always source my bones from the same ranch yet sometimes the broth is jiggly and sometimes it’s simply a thick liquid; even as a thick liquid, it contains a beneficial amount of gelatin and other nutrients.

So what can you use this stuff for? Almost anything! I use it instead of water when I boil rice, beans, lentils, or veggies, adding extra nutrition to my dishes. I also use it as a base for soups and as a hot drink when someone isn’t feeling well. When my girls were infants, I used it along with veggies, squash, sweet potatoes, and/or meats to puree homemade baby foods. Now that they’re older, I add several ounces of bone broth to their milk or water as a natural supplement–and they don’t even know it! (Note that this will only work with bone broth made from beef bones–chicken bones lend too strong a flavor to blend with other beverages, at least in my experience).

When you make your own bone broth, you’ll also be able to scrape off the layer of fat that forms on the top once refrigerated. Since only saturated fats are stable at high temperatures, I use this fat to grease my pans when frying eggs, tortillas, or stir-frying meats and veggies; unsaturated fats such as vegetables and olive oils shouldn’t be heated (for more on this topic, see this post and related links from the Healthy Home Economist).

Unless you live in New York City or one of the other metropolitan areas where trendy bone broth shops are popping up (check out NYC’s Brodo Broth Company), you’ll need to make your own broth. Fortunately, doing so is super simple and cheap. The hardest part will likely be sourcing your bones if you’re not already familiar with a place to procure organic, grass-fed animals. If you’re wondering why the way the animal was raised matters, see my post on non-pastured meat and eggs.

I purchase my bones from my local food cooperative for $2.29/lb, meaning I get about 5 quarts of broth for $4-$5. I’ve also found them at health food stores and butcher shops (just make sure to inquire about the way the animals were raised). During hunting season, our local meat market will give away deer and elk bones for free. You’ll want to ask your grocer or butcher for the bones to be cut into sections that will fit into a large pot (ask for cuts that weigh 1-3 pounds). If you have no idea where to find bones for your broth, you can visit eatlocalgrown.com or contact your local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation for suggestions.

Once you’ve sourced your bones, you’ll want to place approximately 2 pounds in a 6-quart crock pot (or similar size). For instructions on chicken broth, see my earlier post on utilizing a chicken carcass. For bone broth from beef or game bones, follow the instructions below.

Once the bones are in your slow cooker, add a few tablespoons of vinegar along with enough water to fill the pot within two inches of the top (or whatever your max fill line is). Allow the bones to soak for 30-60 minutes before turning your cooker on low; this will help to maximize the amount of nutrients released from your bones. Once on, leave your cooker on low for 24-48 hours, adding water as needed to keep the pot filled to the max. After 12 hours, you can begin using the broth for cooking or consumption, making sure to replace the amount you consume with an equal amount of fresh water (I try to time my broth-making for days when I’ll be making the dishes mentioned earlier).

During the first few hours, you may need to skim off any scum that forms along the top of the pot (it will be dark and foamy). The bones I use rarely produce much scum, if any; if your bones produce large amounts of scum that you’re constantly having to skim off, consider sourcing your bones from elsewhere.

At the end of your 24-48 hour period, turn off your crock and allow the pot to cool for an hour or two before handling (unless you have a pair of oven mitts with really good grips). Pour the broth through a strainer into another large pot or bowl to remove the bones and any pieces of meat and marrow that have fallen off of them (eat these–just like the broth, they are full of nutrients!). Then store the broth in your refrigerator overnight to allow any fat to rise to the top and solidify.

Once the fat solidifies, skim it off using a slotted spoon to drain off excess liquid (it’s okay if some liquid remains); store it in a container in your fridge for up to a week or in your freezer indefinitely. Pour the broth into glass containers and likewise store it in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer indefinitely. In my experience, Mason jars are more likely to crack if used for freezing; I’ve found that using glass jelly jars, peanut butter jars, coconut oil jars, etcetera, works better (you could also use plastic jars, but I am wary of the plastics leaching into the broth). In either case, place the jars in the fridge for several hours before moving to the freezer, which will help prevent cracking; when defrosting, do so in the fridge as well rather than on the counter (faster temperature changes are more likely to induce cracking).

With so many uses for bone broth, I almost always use up a full pot of broth within a week. Once you get used to substituting water with broth every chance you get, you likely will do so, too!