Like many buzzed-about health foods—cold-pressed juices, avocado oil, kefir—bone broth has been lauded with adjectives such as “magical” and “healing,” as though it possesses some grandiose powers beyond just hydration.
Which is pretty much the only accolade Toronto registered dietitian Abby Langer will give the stuff.
“There’s no real magic to bone broth,” she says. “If you’re dehydrated, it could hydrate you. Otherwise, it just makes people feel good.”
That sound is the collective gasp of bone broth devotees around the world. Is it possible that the only real magic behind the warm, comforting broth is that it’s just a cup of joy on a blustery day?
Made of roasted and boiled-down bones, the thicker-than-your-average-stock broth is mostly salty, meat-flavored water, but with a good dose of protein, some collagen and a smattering of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. While certainly a healthy option for sipping, dietitians like Nicole Osinga, RD argue that the minerals, at least, are not anything you couldn’t get from other healthy food choices like a glass of milk, cooked spinach or green beans, and that the concentrations in bone broth just aren’t high enough to make a huge difference.
Still, bone broth is trending as much as cold brew coffee and kimchi. As a result, many home cooks are saving their leftover rotisserie chicken carcasses and beef bones, or paying butchers for the discarded scraps over which dogs used to have a monopoly. The bones are typically roasted first, for flavor, and then simmered in a pot of water or a slow cooker for 12 to 24 hours or more, along with a few cut up vegetables and fresh herbs. The broth is then strained and, when set, will take on a thick consistency—that’s the “healing” collagen and gelatin extracted from the bones.
Made at home, bone broth can be quite affordable, if not slightly time-consuming. However, the prepackaged stuff can run you about $2.50 to $3 a cup — more than your average soup but less than a cappuccino, which some people say they’ve nixed in favor of this trending liquid.
So, which is better—a morning latte or a cup of dissolved beef bones? Langer says the benefit of bone broth is that it does contain more protein than, say, water or coffee.
“Some people don’t like to drink water, and bone broth doesn’t have a lot of calories,” she says.
Myth vs. Fact
If bone broth isn’t, in fact, a miracle food, does it hold any claims to health fame? We asked around and here’s what we found:
Bone broth isn’t “gut-healing”
According to Harvard Health researchers, bone broth doesn’t improve digestion. While it does contain gelatin, studies have yet to prove that this is an effective way to heal a leaky gut. “There’s nothing about bone broth that would ever heal your gut,” Langer says.
Bone broth doesn’t give you an energy boost
“There’s nothing in it to provide energy,” says Langer. But those who swear by replacing their coffee with broth might feel more awake because they’re skipping the crash that can come with caffeine. Your morning cup of Joe stimulates your system to produce more adrenaline and dopamine which feels good at first, but as the caffeine works through your system, the decrease in those chemicals can feel like a “crash” (hence, the second and third cups of java).
Bone broth won’t decrease inflammation
It’s true that an increase in cartilage will help with inflammatory diseases in the body, and that an important component for the synthesis of cartilage is collagen. But, says Osinga, “We don’t absorb collagen whole, so the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is untrue.” What the digestive system will do with the collagen in bone broth is break it down into amino acids, which your body then uses as building blocks wherever needed.
Bone broth won’t help you look younger
Some attest that the collagen in bone broth will make your skin look firmer and smoother. So far, no dice on this one. The body decides where the collagen goes and, as much as you will it to with your mind, won’t transfer it directly to the crow’s feet around your eyes. Sorry.
However, says Langer, “If you’re dehydrated, bone broth could make you a little bit glowy.” So, there’s that.
Bone broth might help you when you’re sick
Shockingly, scientists have not spent a lot of time studying bone broth. But a 1978 study found that chicken soup was better at removing nasal mucus than drinking cold or hot water. And a 2000 study found that people eating chicken soup seemed to experience a mild reduction in the symptoms of a respiratory infection. However, that was with vegetables included, not just the clear liquid left over.
Bone broth might help you eat less
A study done on water intake in foods found that participants who had a bowl of chicken rice soup ate one-third fewer calories at their next meal than other participants who ate a chicken rice casserole with the same number of calories before a meal. Another study found that participants on a calorie-restrictive diet lost 50 percent more weight over time when their diets incorporated two servings a day of low-calorie soup, as compared to those who incorporated a higher calorie snack food every day, but still consumed the same total calories overall.
Bone broth might help you recover after a workout
According to Osinga, the amino acids in bone broth can help provide your body with the building blocks it needs to build muscle, especially helpful after a soul-crushing workout. The sodium and electrolyte content of bone broth can be useful in hydrating your body after intense exercise as well.
Conclusion: Whether or not bone broth is actually as magical as some claim, it’s still decidedly delicious, says most everyone I know who covets a cup of it daily. After all, do we all really believe dark chocolate can lower our blood pressure, or do we just really want this to be true?
Read on for an easy way to make your own slow cooker bone broth, ready in just a short 24 hours.
Homemade Slow Cooker Bone Broth
- 2-3 chicken carcasses or a minimum of 2 lbs of other bones*
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks of celery
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 bunch fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary – whatever you have on hand)
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 tsp coarse salt
*Tip: Save the carcasses from your roast chickens or bones from short ribs, hams or other bone-in meats. You can freeze them and put them into the slow cooker frozen. The bones don’t have to be clean—bits of meat or fat still attached are fine and will strain off after cooking. Combining bones from different meats is OK, just know that it will change the flavor. You can also ask your local butcher if you can purchase bones.
The super-simple method: Stack all of the above ingredients into your slow cooker and cover with water. Turn on slow cooker to low and let cook for a minimum of 12 hours, but ideally 24 or more. Discard the solids and strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer. Once cool, scrape off the top layer of fat and store in your fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for three months.
The roasting-first method: Before putting in the slow cooker, you can also first roast the bones for more flavor. Spread the bones on a sheet pan and roast at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Cool quickly. Be warned that not cooling your broth quickly can mean bacteria might move in. Don’t put your boiling hot broth directly into the fridge. After straining the broth, let it cool in a shallow, wide dish, and add ice cubes to speed up the process (a few won’t dilute the broth if you’ve cooked it long enough).
Beyond sipping. It doesn’t get much better than a cup of broth on a cold morning, but you can also use bone broth as a base for soups and stews, or use it in place of water for cooking quinoa or rice. You can also freeze the broth in ice cube trays and add a cube to just about any dish that needs a little liquid and a dash of flavor.