The good, the bad and the delicious.
Bone broth is an ancient food that has been swept up in a modern day fad.
Over the past five years, bone broth has been touted as a “super food” for arthritis, immune function, skin and more. Celebrities and health enthusiasts eagerly endorsed the purported benefits of bone broth, and soon the shelves of health food stores were lined with various bone broth products. Unfortunately, these claims often exceed the (limited) evidence.
We wanted to take the opportunity to talk honestly and accurately about the supported benefits of consuming broth, the unsupported health claims, and why we still incorporate it in our diet.
What is bone broth?
Bone broth is not new. In fact, it is a key ingredient that is indispensable in numerous cuisines, spanning cultures across the world. In Mexico, traditional tripe soup is made with a broth from simmering marrow bones, tripe and cow’s feet with onion and seasoning; in China, a broth made from chicken carcasses is crucial for soups, stir fries and braises; the First Nations in Canada have a long history of making broths from boiled bones.1
Broth, also known as bouillon, is a soup base made from simmering bones in water along with vegetables and herbs. It serves as the flavourful base for soups and stews, and is a method of using otherwise inedible animal products.
Is bone broth healthy?
Apart from being a crucial ingredient, bone broth is alleged to be high in nutrients, such as collagen, potassium, magnesium and iron. Based on this nutritional profile, it has been generalized that bone broth is beneficial for ailments such as bone health, brain health and joint health.
Unfortunately, many of these claims are not backed by research. In fact, despite its popularity, there is actually little research on the nutritional qualities of bone broth.
Elsie Widdowson and Professor Robert McCance conducted one of the first studies on bone broth in 1934.2 They analysed the nutritional composition of both bone and bone/vegetable broth. They discovered that both broths did not have a lot of great nutritional value. However, adding vegetables to the bone broth did increase the content of certain nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and iron.2
Another study published in 2019, analysed the amount of collagen found in various preparations of bone broth. They discovered that there is a lot of discrepancy among various recipes, and thus bone broth cannot be touted as a reliable source of amino acids.3
Bone broth (particularly chicken broth) has been used traditionally when you’re feeling sick. One study in 1978 found that chicken soup was better than cold or hot water at thinning nasal mucus (sinus congestion).4 Another small study conducted in 2000 found that “chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity. A mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections.” It’s unknown whether this effect is due in part to the various ingredients included in chicken soup, the broth itself, or the social setting in which the soup is ingested.5
One study in 1978 found that chicken soup was better than cold or hot water at thinning nasal mucus (sinus congestion).
Is bone broth harmful?
In 2013 a group of UK researchers conducted a study looking at the heavy metals concentration in bone broth (chicken broth). Bones are known to store heavy metals, particularly lead, and when heated, they can release the metals into the water. The broth contained 10 times more lead compared to tap water; the broth made with the skin, cartilage and bone produced the highest lead concentration compared to the broth made with bones only.6 Another study in 2017, determined that the ingested lead and cadmium present in bone broth was low, albeit present.7 Both of these studies suggest that while the occasional ingestion of bone broth poses minimal risks, consumptions of large volumes may not be advisable. More research is required to determine which livestock are at a higher risk of heavy metal exposure.
Why do we still make bone broth?
We’re very aware that bone broth is likely not everything it’s made out to be. The claims that it can help various ailments and conditions are unfounded, and we don’t suggest you drink bone broth every morning.
Yet, while bone broth may be a fad, we also acknowledge that it is a traditional and key food ingredient for so many cuisines and cultures. It is the foundational ingredient for creating nourishing, delicious soups. It provides the opportunity to use vegetables, herbs, and meat products in your kitchen that would otherwise go to waste. It increases hydration, and it provides a food that is easier to digest.
Bone broth may not deserve all the accolades, but it is delicious. It is also adaptable: you can use ingredients in your soups that are anti-inflammatory, rich in calcium and magnesium, and high in protein. We love to use various culinary herbs in our broths, both to enhance the flavour and to use food as medicine. If anything, the research has shown us that vegetables and herbs are an important source of nutrients in broths. Making a vegetable broth from leftover vegetable scraps may very well be as beneficial as one that includes bones.
Check out our Bone and Vegetable Broth Recipe – our take on a bone/vegetable broth, and some of the ways we reduce food waste and utilize culinary herbs while making delicious, nourishing and fabulous broths and soups.
- Saint-Germain, C. (1997). The production of bone broth: a study in nutritional exploitation. Anthropozoologica, 25(26), 153-156.
- McCance, R. A., Sheldon, W., & Widdowson, E. M. (1934). Bone and vegetable broth. Archives of disease in childhood, 9(52), 251.
- Alcock, R. D., Shaw, G. C., & Burke, L. M. (2019). Bone broth unlikely to provide reliable concentrations of collagen precursors compared with supplemental sources of collagen used in collagen research. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 29(3), 265-272.
- Saketkhoo, K., Januszkiewicz, A., & Sackner, M. A. (1978). Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. Chest, 74(4), 408-410.
- Rennard, B. O., Ertl, R. F., Gossman, G. L., Robbins, R. A., & Rennard, S. I. (2000). Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro. Chest, 118(4), 1150-1157.
- Monro, J. A., Leon, R., & Puri, B. K. (2013). The risk of lead contamination in bone broth diets. Medical hypotheses, 80(4), 389-390.
- Hsu, D. J., Lee, C. W., Tsai, W. C., & Chien, Y. C. (2017). Essential and toxic metals in animal bone broths. Food & Nutrition Research, 61(1), 1347478.
COVID-19 has illuminated many of the existing problems in our society, including food insecurity. We wanted to learn more about who is most affected, and discuss why these conversations are necessary, especially in the health and wellness world.
Ariel and Jess Reyes Barton are the creators of Palenke Greens, which is a burlap sack gardening initiative aimed at assisting people of African descent facing food insecurity. Not only do they provide all of the supplies to create a burlap sack garden, they also help to install it, and have exciting ideas for the future.
Nathan Smith is the photographer behind most of the portraits on Fare & Flourish, and many other interesting photo projects besides. We are so grateful to be able to showcase his beautiful visions on our website.