The keto diet has been making serious headway into health and fitness circles in recent years, and I’m sure you’ve heard a little about it; perhaps enough to know that in one way or another keto involves (more or less) eating as our ancestors did, with a heavy bias towards fat, then protein. The goal of keto is to consume as few carbohydrates a day as possible, and the daily carb limit you’ll most often see online is 20g.
What is Bone Broth?
Bone broth has been used in cooking for probably as long as humans have existed as hunter-gatherers. Once all the meat was gone, our ancestors were left with the bones, fat, connective tissues, and ligaments. These unpalatable items were known to be a good source of food – at least for animals – and in hard times, people will try anything. Read up on how harvesting cashews is done, remember that people have been eating them for thousands of years, and someone had to be the first taste tester.
The simplest method of creating bone broth is filling up a pot or slow cooker with water and using leftover bones or carcasses and bones bought especially for the purpose, putting the bones in the water and cooking it on a low heat for upwards of eight hours, and ideally twelve to forty-eight hours.
Why Make Bone Broth?
If you read ‘eight to forty-eight hours’ and balked at the time it takes to make bone broth, don’t worry, I did too. I was also extremely concerned about leaving the house with something on the stove, so I did the only reasonable thing: I researched the pros and cons of bone broth to see if it was worth the risk and time.
- It’s cheap to make
Bone broth can be made using the bones of any animals and supplemented with extras like apple cider vinegar to draw out nutrients, spices, and vegetables, but the simplest version is water, bones, and salt. You can pick up bones or carcasses from your local supermarket or butcher quite cheaply or use any leftovers from the bone-in meat you use in your day-to-day life.
It doesn’t take a lot of bones to make enough bone broth for a week or two, and it’s a versatile base for a lot of meals. Whether it be a cup of hot broth on its own, using it to flavour stir-fries, make soup or any other meal, it is a budget-friendly addition to your diet.
- It’s high in collagen
Some studies have found that collagen (specifically collagen hydrolysate) can help reduce the joint deterioration in high-risk groups like active sportspeople or the elderly. Bone broth is an excellent source of collagen because of the length of time you simmer the bones over low heat. They and the connective tissues are a rich source of collagen, so when you cook them, the nutrients leach into the water where they’re more available for digestion. The gelatin boosts cartilage to reduce friction between bones and helps support bone density production.
Another side effect of the collagen is that it can also increase the health of your skin and hair. Drinking bone broth provides your body with more collagen, giving your body the extra boost it needs to produce more keratin the strengthen your skin, nails, and hair.
- It helps you sleep
Bone broth contains an amino acid called glycine. While it’s non-essential, one study found that glycine improves sleep quality in patients with restricted sleep patterns. People who ingest 3g or more of glycine regularly demonstrate a reduction in fatigue and generally reduced sleepiness. Interestingly, both the objective assessment and the patient’s self-assessment showed similar results.
The study focusses explicitly on glycine taken during the evening, so for all those insomniacs out there, a regular diet or drink of bone broth could help you fall asleep.
Without going into too much detail, glycine helps regulate your body’s internal clock (it’s a part of the hypothalamus gland), and this is what helps your body maintain the usual level of alertness during the daylight hours.
- Bone broth is good for the digestion
Bone broth is easily digestible and soothing to the stomach because the gelatin in the broth helps support intestinal integrity, reducing the chances of a leaky gut by sealing the holes in the intestines. It is believed one reason for this is that gelatin both helps the growth of good bacteria in the gut and reduces the effects of food sensitivities.
- It’s a fast, tasty meal
Now, this is entirely subjective, but I find bone broth (I usually make chicken broth) to be very tasty in and of itself, or as part of egg drop soup. After an eight hour day and two hours of commuting, it can be a hassle to cook. However, heating up a bowl full of broth takes mere minutes; less if you happen to own a microwave.
Are There Any Cons?
Aside from the process being time-consuming, I only found one notable negative point, and it would be remiss for me not to mention it. Bone broth contains high levels of glutamic acid and glutamate. For a small percentage of the population, these two nutrients can provoke seizures or other neurological symptoms like brain fog and migraine headaches. If you start experiencing these effects after trying bone broth, stop immediately, and use meat stock instead.
For me, I found that making bone broth is more than worth the initial effort and learning how to make it. I’ve used bone broth to flavour all my meals, in soups, stews, and casseroles, and yes, even just as a drink. There’s something very homey and relaxing about settling down with a cup of subtly meaty, salty broth. That said, my favourite way to use bone broth is when I pan searing meat or sauteing vegetables. It adds another level of flavour without having to put any real effort into cooking.
Making Bone Broth
I’ve been living with an improvised kitchen for several years, so my way of making bone broth is based on having minimal equipment. The absolute minimum equipment needed is a hot plate, a large pot, a spoon, some Tupperware containers, and a sieve or strainer.
My personal preference for making bone broth is:
- two chicken carcasses
- one onion halved
- 7 oz./200g of button mushrooms (but any mushroom would work)
- 4 cloves of minced garlic
- the top and bottom of one small carrot
- a pinch of salt
Personally, I find that adding too much carrot creates a sweeter broth than I like, so I either add the carrot ends halfway through the cooking process or remove them after several hours. The mushrooms give it a good umami flavour, and the salt is said to draw out more nutrients. I have a preference for chicken broth because it’s mild enough to work with anything, and the carcasses were cheaper than pork of beef bones.
A word of warning on the salt. Only add a little bit because you will be reducing the broth down significantly, and this will increase the saltiness of the mix. The best way to find the right level of saltiness for you is to carefully increase the amount of salt you use each time you make another batch of broth.
I basically throw all the ingredients into the pot and fill up the pot until the water just covers the top of the carcasses or bones that I use. Set it to a low heat, put the lid on the pot and leave it for as long as you can. The longest I’ve simmered bone broth is fifteen hours or so, but I don’t have a slow cooker to regulate things for me.
The most hands-on part of making the broth comes at the very end. It’s also the most annoying part by far, especially if you’re working without a real kitchen and have limited counter space. You have to strain the entire mixture at least to get out the smaller parts of bone, cartilage, meat, and vegetables as well as the large ones that you can scoop out with a spoon. It must be left to cool properly before you put the lid on the pot and refrigerate it. Broth can be frozen as well to extend the life of it.
Bone broth is a nutrient-dense, low-calorie stock that you can use in many meals, and it has several notable positive effects on the body, including reducing sleepiness and improving digestion. While it can be bought as broth cubes or as a fully made broth straight from a supermarket, it’s considered healthier.