Skeptical of bone broth? There are lots of reasons to embrace it

Illustration for article titled Skeptical of bone broth? There are lots of reasons to embrace it
Photo: picalotta (iStock)

Bone broth is a trendy, gelatinous naked soup that you drink from a cup, and its popularity has soared in recent years in conjunction with the rise of low-carb diets. Many converts claim—based on evidence ranging from anecdotal to scientific—that drinking bone broth has improved their joint mobility, digestive health, and sleep patterns. For these reasons and more, bone broth is a consistent seller at both wellness stores and restaurants, and the broth business is booming.

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Chef Marco Canora famously attached a little broth takeout window to his long-standing East Village restaurant, Hearth, in 2014—and why not? Every chef on the planet is already making the stock anyway; broth is just a part of the job. Customers immediately bought into its clean, protein-rich composition, which is as soothing as it is flavorful. When you’re sipping hot broth out of a coffee mug, it sure feels like you’re doing something good for your body. It’s the total package for the modern age: proven health benefits and huge culinary value. So why, then, is bone broth the target of so much mockery and skepticism?

Back in 2013, restaurant menus, health magazines, foodie websites, and TV shows all fueled the BB hype machine. Every backdoor nutrition expert and “doctor” who had to legally air-quote their medical degree told us that drinking bones would be the key to immortality. Meanwhile, cynics started to call bullshit. “Twelve dollars for meat-flavored water?! Back in my day that was called SOUP, and it was free if you left a bowl of vegetables out in the rain!” It’s true that there are plenty of people who disagree about the bone broth science, and generally, celebrity health experts like Dr. Oz should be scrutinized. After all, it’s easy to prey on the health conscious, to steal from the vain and worrisome. So the side-eye is justified. But even if you don’t buy the wellness argument, chefs still continue to prove that bone broth has immeasurable culinary worth.

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To understand bone broth, we need to embrace the criticism. Bones simmered in water: that’s just stock, right? Is the difference merely a coffee mug? Is bone broth purely an aesthetic? To get some answers, I turned to Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due in Austin, Texas. Dai Due is one of the best restaurants in the country. Its menu is so meat-heavy that the refinement of the dishes might come as a surprise, but that’s exactly what happens at Jesse’s spot. The last time I was there, I ordered grilled chicken hearts with bread and butter pickled jalapeños and honey mustard. That’s like if Whataburger served drive-thru offal.

The food at Dai Due is fun, yet challenging. Jesse has gone all-in with the locavore movement. The man hunts his own boar. He won’t use onions if they’re not grown in Texas. He puts beef tallow in his fucking coffee. Bone broth encapsulates that mentality: Use the whole animal, every last bit. Preserve and yield as much as you can from a product. Show some respect, dammit. When you drink bone broth, you’re drinking something ethical.

“It is possibly one of the oldest foods known to man,” says Jesse. “It is undeniably nutritious. Maybe it’s a fad now, but I don’t really care as long as it serves our customer’s needs and gives us a great opportunity to find the highest and best use of bones, which deserve as much respect as the muscle tissue.” Besides that, he explains, it’s just a great way to supply a restaurant efficiently. “If you buy a whole carcass animal, you pay just as much for the bones as the tenderloins, so I’m happy there is currently a deserved perceived value for broth.”

“Perceived value” is a loaded term when it comes to food trends. Jesse confirms my suspicion that chefs have changed their game plan to ride the broth wave. “We originally sold ‘stock,’” he says, “but switched over to ‘bone broth’ for more market recognition. There is essentially no difference in how we prepare both items, but a bone broth should have a high volume of nutrient-dense bones and make a rich stock.”

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The bottom line: “Bone broth” just sounds more pleasant. Let’s get that out of the way right now. The difference between stock and broth is only the term. People are more apt to purchase the latter, because “bone broth” sounds like a finished product. Stock? It sounds incomplete.

But even though Dai Due might benefit from bone broth’s status as a wellness food, the broth mainly functions there as a deeply flavorful aperitif, a way to get dinner started. You can sip on a cup as you read over the menu full of pork porterhouse chops, wild boar confit, and spicy fried quail. I think bone broth is a great idea in the morning, or before a dinner party. Before a salad or rice dish, a cup of warmly refreshing bone broth served to guests is an excellent play call. If you want to start getting into broths at home, here’s my recipe, and Jesse’s also got some tips:

  • A crock pot is an excellent way to make bone broth, as it allows you to cook without a flame, safely, for long periods of time (many recipes call for 4-8 hours of continuous heat).
  • Invest in quality bones as you’d invest in quality meat.
  • Only throw in as many bones as the pot can fit, then cover with water and cook gently; you want it to simmer.
  • The only essential addition is bay leaves. Even dried bay leaves work well. If you have onions or carrots, these are great additions, as are corncobs in the summer. (Dai Due also adds foraged and cultivated herbs and citrus, to add some interest.)
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When Jesse says “add some interest,” I think he means he wants the customer to feel like they’re not just drinking soup broth. Adding some citrus and herbs really makes the drink feel more delicate, like a meat tea. It’s got finesse.

And it’s that finesse that makes bone broth much more than a health trend or dietary fad. Maybe bone broth has brought out a wave of shameless wellness profiteers, but if it’s something that gets people thinking about their health, or gets them into the kitchen to try their own hand at cooking, I’d consider that a win.

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Danny is a comedian and writer living in Los Angeles. Instagram @palumbros

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DISCUSSION

dbrians
SuperWittySmitty

I’d love to try making this in my slow cooker but this “recipe” isn’t very inspiring. To begin with, “Invest in quality bones?” I don’t even know where to begin. You can buy bones? Where?