You’ve probably heard about bone broth by now. As of last year, its use as a health tonic is officially a phenomenon. And it’s easy to understand why. It’s an effective remedy for countless issues we seem to be plagued with in the 21st century! Poor immunity and gut health. Joint problems and tooth decay. And most importantly (apparently), premature aging of the skin.
And while most omnivores seem be adopting this new habit, something that’s not so clear to many, is which type of bones are the best to use. This post is a collection of my tips and advice around choosing bones for bone broth, taken from week 6 of my What To Eat program.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the types of bones to use for your broth. Different bones just offer different things. For example, marrow bones provide immune boosting fats that support fertility, growth and development in children and act as a potent healer for the sick.
Joint and knuckle bones offer lots of gelatin, so it’s ideal to include at least some of these in your bone broth. The feet (eg. chicken feet and pork trotters) offer the most gelatin of all and are very cheap. Adding a few feet to your broth will almost guarantee a good outcome. (There’s no better indicator of success than a nicely gelled broth!)
Note: during processing, most feet are soaked in bleach for health and safety reasons. Therefore, it’s imperative that you boil them in a separate pot of water, first. Discard the water, then add the feet to your broth pot.
Poultry carcasses, either purchased fresh or saved from roast chicken, are a great base for broth. However, they don’t contain as much gelatin as the necks and wings. For this reason, you should try and include a mix if you can. (Or add some feet if you dare!)
If you’re making fish broth then fish heads offer the most nutrition. They are abundant in bioavailable iodine and other nutrients for thyroid health. The bony carcass tends to add more gelatin. Where possible, choose non-oily fish for broth (or skim and discard the resulting fat). The unsaturated oils aren’t stable when cooked for long periods. Also, ask your fishmonger to remove the gills as they can make the broth bitter.
New to fish broth? Try my beginners guide.
If you’re going to bother making bone broth for its health benefits, it’s essential to source bones from healthy animals. In other words, animals that ate a natural diet. And the only way to guarantee this is to find grass-fed and finished bones.
How do you do this? Well, for starters – don’t just go by the label! The only thing the ‘grass-fed’ label tells us is that the animal ate grass at one point in its life. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of grass-fed meat on the market is finished on grain. This means that the animal is fattened up in intensive feedlots prior to slaughter. During this time, stores of omega-3 and other nutrients begin to diminish and the overall quality decreases. At 2 months, omega-3’s are halved and at 6 months they are virtually non-existent.
Organic bones are preferable, because they guarantee the feed is free from genetically modified ingredients. However, this comes second to choosing grass-fed/finished. A key benefit to using organic, grass-fed bones for your bone broth is that they tend to provide much more gelatin. And gelatin is one of the key nutrients in broth! It helps with nutrient absorption and also ensures that your broth will set as it’s supposed to.
Tip: Failing accurate labelling, the best way to determine the quality of the bones, is to observe the amount of impurities or ‘scum’ they produce. This is the foam that forms in the first 20 minutes as you bring the water to boiling point. You’ll notice a stark difference between bones from organic / grass-fed and conventional. (In fact, a day of recent recipe testing using the latter had me appalled at the brown scum they produced!)
This yardstick can be applied to any bones, including chicken and fish. In fact, it’s a great way to determine the freshness of fish carcasses.
In terms of cost, beef, veal and lamb bones are more expensive than chicken or fish bones. However, remember that broth itself is a protein. And at $5-10 per kilo of bones – it’s still an incredibly cheap option. Especially compared with the fancier cuts of meat. The other thing is that gelatin has a ‘protein sparing’ effect. This means that when we eat meat and broth together, our bodies can make do with less meat overall. So, you can see why broth is such an economical health food!
The labelling system in Australia leaves a lot to be desired. (As is the case in the US/UK.) There is one easy way to ensure quality. Buy straight from the farm or from a butcher who knows exactly how they were raised.
Unfortunately, the free range label only guarantees access to the outdoors. Because of the unnaturally fast growing breeds that are common today, most chickens are too lethargic to venture outside. Therefore, it’s important to opt for ‘pastured’ chicken if possible. Or even better: pastured and organic. The organic label holds more weight when it comes to chicken, compared with other animals. It guarantees the birds have actually spent time outside and enforces lower stocking densities.
Fish should be fresh and ideally wild and sustainable. There are some great online guides such as this one to help with finding something in your area. Given how inexpensive fish heads and frames are, this is the best value for money when it comes to broth and arguably the most nutritious as well.
Like the types of bones, the age of the animal will offer different benefits to your broth. Younger animals (such as lamb and veal) will offer much more gelatin, whereas older animals like beef have accumulated more minerals over their lifespan.
Ask your butcher to cut the bones into fairly small pieces – the higher surface area means that more nutrients will leach into your broth. From a practical standpoint, small bones are easier to transfer from roasting tray to pot, plus you can fit more into your pot.
A great way to get ‘free’ broth is to save the bones from other dishes. For example, pop leftover bones from roast chicken or beef and lamb cutlets into the freezer. Save them up and make a batch of broth with all the bones combined.
And it can’t hurt to befriend your local fish monger. Depending on how popular fish carcasses are in your local area, it’s not uncommon for them to be given away for free.
Phew, I think I’ve covered everything! Let me know if I didn’t and I will answer your questions below. :-)