Bone Broth: What’s up with that?

Bone broth has popped up as one of the latest ‘superfoods,’ and while I try not to elevate any one food too highly, there isn’t much to dislike about it.

Bone broth is made by simmering bones and meat for an extended period of time, and leads to a liquid higher in protein and minerals than traditional broth or stock. While all three liquids are good sources of protein, they do differ slightly in preparation and nutritional value.

Think of them in this order, which also reflects the cooking time and ‘intensity’ of the finished product: broth, stock, and then bone broth. Broth is made by simmering meat and may include some bones, and is cooked for 1-2 hours. Stock is made primarily of bones, but may contain some bits of meat stuck to the bones, and is simmered for closer to 4 hours. Bone broth is made of the same ingredients as stock (bones and some small scraps of meat), but is simmered for at least 8 hours and sometimes for more than 24 hours. Cooking for that long allows the bones to soften and release minerals and produce gelatin from the tough collagen found in the animal’s tendons and ligaments, which is what differentiates bone broth from traditional broths and stocks. For both stock and bone broth, it’s recommended to roast the bones prior to simmering to improve the flavor of the liquid.

Bone broth is high glycine, a nonessential amino acid (which means our bodies can synthesize it from other nutrients, unlike essential amino acids, which must be consumed in our diets) that promotes digestion, helps regulate blood sugar levels, provides antioxidant protection and may even aid in promoting better sleep. Proline is another nonessential amino acid found in bone broth that is required for the production of collagen in our bodies, which is important for the health of our joints. Additionally, proline plays a role in strengthening the muscles of our heart. Both proline and gelatin (found in bone broths) may improve our skin health as well, as collagen is what gives our skin its elasticity and ‘youthfulness.’ Gelatin may also be beneficial for those trying to improve their gut health, as it coats the intestinal lining.

Collagen and gelatin are essentially the same thing, as they both contain the same amino acid (i.e. protein) profile; collagen (sometimes called ‘collagen peptides’) is simply a more processed version of gelatin. When bones are simmered for long periods of time, as is the case with bone broth, gelatin is released. Both gelatin and collagen are produced by drying, and can be purchased in the form of powders and added to liquids. The biggest difference between the two is that gelatin gels, and collagen does not. For example, gelatin can be used to thicken soups or stews or to make homemade jello, while collagen powder will simply dissolve and remain a liquid, making it a better choice for adding to hot beverages or smoothies. Because collagen is broken down further than gelatin, it may be easier for some to digest.

Making bone broth is as simple as saving up some bones and then popping them into your Instant Pot. Bone broth can be made with beef, chicken, turkey and even fish bones. We often grab a rotisserie chicken for busy weeknight meals, and I always save the bones in a plastic bag and pop it into the freezer. Once I have a few of them, I make my own broth! If using a slow cooker, place bones into the ceramic insert and cover with water (about 4 cups for each carcass) and cook on low for 24 hours. If using an Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker), place bones into metal insert, cover with water and set for 120 minutes using the ‘manual’ setting. Adding aromatics (carrot, onion, herbs, etc…) is optional; aromatics will add flavor to your broth but could also add bitterness due to prolonged cooking, or compete with the flavor you desire when using your broth in the future. Also, roasting bones prior to simmering is recommended but optional as well. Once the cooking time is finished, allow the Instant Pot to release the pressure gradually and strain the liquid before pouring into containers. Broth can be refrigerated up to one week, or frozen.


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