Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
7 Apr

Bone Marrow: Delicious, Nutritious and Underappreciated

If you’re truly interested in consuming the original Primal brain food, look no further than bone marrow: perhaps the first reliable source of large, fatty animal products our scrappy ancestors were able to procure. Yes, before we became spear-using cunning tacticians surrounding, stalking, and out-maneuvering large prehistoric ungulates, we feasted on the bones of fallen prey. Or, more accurately, we feasted on what lurked inside the bones (and the skulls, for that matter). Animal fat and protein improved the quality of our diet by making digestion less energy intensive. Bone marrow, especially, was highly caloric and nutrient dense, allowing early human ancestors to divert metabolic resources away from the costly digestion of roughage and toward bigger, costlier brains. This spurred the increase in hominid brain size that we still enjoy today.

That was around two million years ago, when Homo habilis used rudimentary stone tools to strip and smash bones. He was small and relatively diminutive – too small to take down big game – but he could hoist a big smashing stone overhead once the apex predators had gone. And he could probably fend off the hyenas, the vultures, and any other scavengers dead set on sucking the marrow. In fact, we may have learned about the delicious, nourishing paste by watching vultures drop femurs from the sky and pick out the marrow.

There’s clearly something special (nutritionally) about bone marrow. Animals go for the marrow, instinctively, for example. Wolves given access to full deer carcasses gravitated toward those bones with “high marrow yields,” taking care to “destroy the epiphyses” where the marrow was most plentiful. When I toss my dog a big smorgasbord of raw bones, organs, and muscle meat, he heads straight for the marrow before anything else, every single time. It goes marrow, liver, heart, muscle meat. It’s interesting to see what the high-powered, raw senses of a nearly obligate carnivore chooses when determining which animal product is best to eat.

As for the nutritional content, consider this data (PDF) on standard “African ruminant marrow”, courtesy of Loren Cordain. Three and a half ounces of the stuff contain 488 calories, 51 grams of fat (mostly monounsaturated, as I understand), and 7 grams of protein – extremely dense. I can understand why we were driven to come up with new methods of obtaining it. The way wild animals and traditional cultures prized it as much or more so than other fatty, rich cuts suggests that there’s more to marrow than just the fat.

As we all know, meat, especially fatty meat, contains more than just a lopsided macronutrient ratio. Meat, or any animal product, really, is the best, densest source of fat-soluble vitamins around. Liver, heart, brains, ribeye are all prize cuts for their taste, their nutrition, and the various bioavailable micronutrients that come loaded in every delicious bite. Plus, marrow isn’t just static stuff inside the bones. It fulfills a role. It fulfills many roles, actually. It’s made of osteoblasts (which form bone cells using minerals), adipocytes (fat cells), fibroblasts (which form connective tissue), and osteoclasts (which are responsible for bone resorption). I was unable to obtain detailed info regarding the mineral/vitamin content of bone marrow, but if it’s involved in bone and connective tissue formation/resorption, there are probably some choice components that make consumption particularly advantageous.

There’s another reason – a big reason, actually – why animals of all stripes are drawn toward bone marrow and why you should head down to the butcher for some bones: the taste. A subtle, creamy nuttiness, sometimes a bit sweet, always extremely rich, is not to be casually disregarded. The taste is incredible, either eaten straight up with a touch of sea salt or as part of a rich, hearty stew. Its high quality fuel imbued with vitamins and minerals, but it’s delicious fuel that’d be worth eating even if it were devoid of nutrition. Luckily for us, though (and counter to what we’re taught about nutrition), what appeals to our taste buds on a basic level usually also nourishes. Marrow may be a “sinful treat” for most, but it deserves to be a kitchen staple for Primal eaters.

Bones are cheap, and most people that buy them buy them for their dogs. You’ll even see marrow bones marked as “dog bones” in shops. Personally, I’m glad they’re an underappreciated food. If people think of them as dog food, they stay inexpensive. Dogs crave them, love them, but they can’t really spur demand and constrain supply. They alone can’t drive the prices up. So, for the time being, marrow bones, even the grass-fed stuff, remain highly affordable.

Look for broad bones with big thick tubes of marrow. The bones themselves are great fun for making stock afterwards, but you’re paying for the marrow, so make sure you pick some meaty ones. I’d skip Whole Foods. They charge about four bucks a pound for marrow bones, and they’re from conventional, grain-fed cows. If you’re buying grain-fed, you might as well buy them from a local grocer for a couple bucks or, better yet, from an Asian grocer for less than a dollar per pound. Grass-fed is best, of course, and the best way to get quality grass-fed bone marrow bones is from local or online farmers. Try Eat Wild if your farmers’ market meat guy doesn’t carry any. A few of the bone-in cuts will also have a nice shot of marrow, so keep that in mind.

The simplest, best way to prepare marrow is to roast the bones upright at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Fat will leak out the bottom, and you want to eat it all, so use a pan, or at least catch the drippings with molded foil. When the marrow begins to slightly bubble, it’s ready to be eaten. Thicker bones may need a bit more time in the oven, or you could do what I do and eat it slightly pink. Buy from a trustworthy, reputable source and you’ll be fine. Use a narrow spoon or fork to scrape out the marrow (you can even use a dedicated marrow spoon, if you can find one) and top with a bit of coarse sea salt. Serve with a small parsley, shallot, and lemon juice salad to cut through the creaminess of the marrow.

Getting every last bit of marrow out can be hard for beginners. The interior of the bone isn’t smooth, but rather rutted and uneven. If your spoon or fork isn’t fulfilling its duty to your satisfaction, use a combination of applied suction and probing tongue. The suction will loosen any stubborn bits, allowing the tongue to snap ‘em right up. Another option entirely is to forgo the cutlery and apply suction directly to the loaded bone. It’s a tricky move, because you’ve got to strike a balance between warm enough to slide out and hot enough to burn your mouth, but if you’re able to master the preemptive slurp, nothing compares to a mouthful of gelatinous marrow.

If you haven’t tried it yet, get out there and buy some marrow bones. Beef is standard, but any other large mammals will work. And the next time you do a big bone-in roast, whether it’s beef, veal, random African ruminant, or lamb leg, treasure the bone. Don’t dump it into the stock pot right away. Instead, lay it out lovingly on a flat, sturdy surface. Slice it lengthwise if you’ve got the means; otherwise, take a sledgehammer or a big rock and reduce the bone to pieces. Pick the shards clean and suck them dry. Then, and only then, may you toss them in the stockpot (although seeing as how those shards went spelunking in your mouth, you may want to limit the resultant soup’s ultimate audience).

Sucking on marrow bones seems to unlock latent primal (small “p”) urges in all of us, but that’s okay (as long as you avoid it as a first date meal). If you find yourself turning progressively more feral as the marrow disappears from the bone, don’t worry. Even vegetarians have been observed scrounging, slurping, and gnawing at the remains of a bone marrow meal. When it comes to getting the last delicious bits of bone marrow, total paleo reenactment is the only justifiable course of action.

Are you a fan of bone marrow? Never tried it? Share your thoughts in the comment board. Thanks, everyone!

Sifu Renka Flickr Photo (CC)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. i would try that too.

    Vivek wrote on April 10th, 2010
  2. My Mom is from Germany, one of my favorite “Mom” dishes is bone marrow dumplings.

    Just look to regions of the world that have been through a few famines in past history, there’ll be plenty of these recipes.

    Jeff wrote on April 10th, 2010
  3. The Meat is so Toxic these days I would be super wary of your source of animal flesh…
    Since I practice compassion for all living beings and I myself would never kill an animal, I also do not pay people to do it for me.
    That being said, I do love your website. ~ The book The World Peace Diet has alot to say about animals which could help you find the highest sources of bone marrow possible.~
    peace to you!~

    Tammy wrote on April 10th, 2010
    • Tammy, what is it exactly that you eat then? It’s obviously not meat, but it couldn’t be vegetarian either since that also requires paying someone to kill living beings. You don’t think farmers just let insect and mammalian “pests” consume their crops do you? I suppose you could grow all your own food and pick the pests off by hand, but that doesn’t seem very practical.

      While I agree it is important to be as compassionate as possible towards animals, I do not think it’s realistic to think that people can survive without animals dying and being killed. Whether you consume the animals directly or they die in the production of the food you eat, they are still being killed. Personally, I cannot understand the implication that one form of killing is compassionate and the other is not.

      Agent wrote on April 27th, 2010
  4. Bone marrow can also be used, and eaten, raw. Mikael has a great recipe that I encourage everyone to try at http://www.gastroville.com/2009/10/08/paleo-style-beef-tartar/

    To pop the raw marrow out of the bones, just let the bones soak for one hour in cold water and then push with your thumb. One you have those little medals of bone marrow, they’re great in your vegetables too — I always have some in sauteed cabbage or in baked chards.

    Julot wrote on April 11th, 2010
  5. Sally Fallon wrote a great article on the merits of broth, bone marrow exaction in the process being one of the main factors for the nutrition. She argues that more ‘soup’ kitchens could ‘cure’ world hunger due to the inexpensive way to feed such pure nutrition to those without.

    SassaFrass88 wrote on April 12th, 2010
  6. I was in Sydney on vacation and I had a chance to try bone marrow at Aria Restaurant. Probably one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. The marrow tasted fatty but it also tasted good at the same time.

    I should try it again at home.

    Dillon Martin wrote on April 12th, 2010
  7. Inspired by this post, I went off to the grocery store to try bone marrow for the first time. They didn’t have any, so I decided to try something else I’ve been meaning to incorporate into my diet… beef liver! I can see why your dog prefers it over muscle meat. It is delicious and the texture is creamy and much easier to chew.

    However, I noticed one problem that I also had when I stopped cutting all the fat off meat and eating it instead… I have a psychological block due to years of living in a culture where “fat, organs, and marrow are gross!” Judging by my girlfriend’s refusal to be in the room when I ate my meal, I am far from alone.

    Does anyone else find that one of the hardest parts of transitioning to paleo-type diets is that they come up against these internal barriers even though they find the foods delicious? Does anyone have any ideas how to overcome this?

    I find it kinda hilarious that the very foods we have an innate tendency to want to eat (based on documented hunter-gatherers) are the same ones that we have been indoctrinated into thinking are disgusting.

    Darrin wrote on April 12th, 2010
    • eat the foods a little at a time. i find they are acquired tastes. liver other organs and such. Marrow is pretty ‘normal’ tasting though.

      steph wrote on December 22nd, 2010
  8. I love eating raw bone marrow. I just buy the bones and “pop” the marrow out.

    Katelyn wrote on April 15th, 2010
  9. So where is a good place to look for bone with marrow? I live in the city and only have access to Whole Foods and the like. Will the butcher counter in my super market have them? Are they advertised at the counter or should I just ask?

    Ben wrote on April 15th, 2010
  10. I dont know if has been mentioned or not but this reminds me of a korean comfort food my mom used to always make. Sullung-Tang. Not familiar with bones but I am pretty sure there is a lot of bone marrow in the bones they use for the recipe. the broth is made by boiling down the bone and marrow inside for a few hours…very tasty…but it might be an aquired taste

    http://muffintop.wordpress.com/2006/12/20/sullung-tang-korean-beef-knucklebone-soup/

    Michael Lee wrote on April 16th, 2010
  11. omigosh. WONDERFUL!

    About halfway through messin with the bones I thought of a grapefruit spoon – it was very useful!

    I will do this again. My Wegmans keeps marrowbones with the frozen turkeys.

    CrankyProfessor wrote on April 21st, 2010
  12. I went to the Mercat de la Boqueria (http://www.boqueria.info/Eng/index.php) today in Barcelona and purchased two bones with deeply imbedded marrow, some ground beef, and chicharron. On my walk back to my hostel, I could not stop thinking about the marrow. So what did I do? I stopped at a park bench and took the raw marrow out with my hands. Tasted like the best batch of fresh, creamy, homemade butter, but it was delicious MARROW!

    Ben Faber wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  13. looks interesting may be trying it out :)

    Usman wrote on April 29th, 2010
  14. You Must Be Kidding
    All that Primal stuff and nutrition about Bone Marrow … Not only is it UNHEALTHY IT IS ridiculas to suggest that just because an other amimal goes for it that it is good for humans.
    All you have done here is quote other websites from searches…a no brainer..the truth is that this stuff at the end of the day is all fat and not the good fat and is unhealthy, not as is suggested. Yea it tastes creamy cause it is animal fat PERIOD.

    urkidding wrote on July 23rd, 2010
    • Oh, and where are your citations for those “facts,” sir?
      It isn’t a suggestion that another animal goes for it… It is the truth that human beings have been “going for it” for millenia.
      Unless nature screwed up, I’d venture to say you’re wrong.

      Vince wrote on July 23rd, 2010
      • Unkidding, if it were wrong, I would have clogged arteries, heart disease and menstrual cramps and hang nails since saturated fat gets blamed for everything. I can attest that these things do NOT happen with saturated fat because I have been eating this way for years…I have been consuming even more saturated fats over the past 3 years.I have regular check-ups and it is amazing….my health gets better with each passing year.

        Yes, it tastes creamy because it’s supposed to be EATEN…Period.

        mary titus wrote on July 23rd, 2010
    • Bone marrow is NOT unhealthy – it is transplanted medically into other human beings for survival…

      The younger an animal the less fat is in the marrow – younger animals are almost entirely red marrow – ie non-fat…
      From Wikipedia: There are two types of bone marrow: red marrow (consisting mainly of hematopoietic (stem cells) ) tissue and yellow marrow (consisting mainly of fat cells). Red blood cells, platelets and most white blood cells arise in red marrow. Both types of bone marrow contain numerous blood vessels and capillaries.
      At birth, all bone marrow is red. With age, more and more of it is converted to the yellow type. About half of adult bone marrow is red.[1] Red marrow is found mainly in the flat bones, such as the hip bone, breast bone, skull, ribs, vertebrae and shoulder blades, and in the cancellous (“spongy”) material at the epiphyseal ends of the long bones such as the femur and humerus. Yellow marrow is found in the hollow interior of the middle portion of long bones.
      In cases of severe blood loss, the body can convert yellow marrow back to red marrow to increase blood cell production.

      About the stem cells in the red marrow: Bone marrow contains three types of stem cells:[2]
      Hematopoietic stem cells give rise to the three classes of blood cells that are found in the circulation: white blood cells (leukocytes), red blood cells (erythrocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes).
      Mesenchymal stem cells are found arrayed around the central sinus in the bone marrow. They have the capability to differentiate into osteoblasts, chondrocytes, myocytes, and many other types of cells. They also function as “gatekeeper” cells of the bone marrow.
      Endothelial stem cells.

      marci357 wrote on July 23rd, 2010
    • Again from wikipedia – you can look it up for their sources:

      Bone marrow as a food

      Many cultures utilize bone marrow as a food. The Vietnamese prize beef bone as the soup base for their national staple phở; Alaskan Natives eat the bone marrow of caribou and moose; Indians use slow-cooked marrow as the core ingredient of the Indian dish Nalli Nihari; Mexicans use beef bone marrow from leg bones, called tuetano, which is cooked and served as filling for tacos or tostadas; it is also considered to be the highlight of the Italian dish ossobuco (braised veal shanks); beef marrowbones are often included in the French pot-au-feu broth, the cooked marrow being traditionally eaten on toasted bread with sprinkled coarse sea salt. Though once used in various preparations, including pemmican, bone marrow has fallen out of favor as a food in the United States, though bone marrow is used in many gourmet restaurants and is popular among foodies. In the Philippines, the soup “Bulalo” is made primarily of beef stock and marrow bones, seasoned with vegetables and boiled meat. In Hungary tibia is a main ingredient of beef soup; the bone is chopped into short (10-15cm) pieces and the ends are covered with salt to prevent the marrow from leaving the bone while cooking. Upon serving the soup the marrow is usually spread on toast.
      Diners in the 18th century used a marrow scoop (or marrow spoon), often of silver and with a long thin bowl, as a table implement for removing marrow from a bone.
      Some anthropologists believe that early humans were scavengers rather than hunters. Marrow would then have been a major protein source for tool-using hominids, who were able to crack open the bones of carcasses left by top predators such as lions.[6]

      Get that: A MAJOR PROTEIN SOURCE!!!

      marci357 wrote on July 23rd, 2010
    • Fat is good for you ANIMAL fat is good for you . Wake up sheeple. Im sure you think the fat from vegetable oils and junk food is what is good for you ? right?

      Like i said WAKE UP

      steph wrote on December 22nd, 2010
    • URKIDDING:
      Fat is good for you ANIMAL fat is good for you . Wake up sheeple. Im sure you think the fat from vegetable oils and processed food is what is good for you ? right?

      Like i said WAKE UP

      steph wrote on December 22nd, 2010
  15. As a kid, I’ve always eaten bone marrow because my parents did as well. When I moved to the US, it was harder to find and it became a guilty pleasure for me. So glad marrow is finally getting it’s recognition and happy the prices have stayed low.

    Dexter wrote on October 20th, 2010
  16. Roasted beef marrow might be my single favorite thing to eat. Glad to see it get such eloquent and impassioned treatment here.

    I prefer to have a butcher saw my shank bones lengthwise. I sprinkle the cut surface with kosher salt and maybe light spices, and oven roast it on high. A couple of advantages to this configuration: 1) more surface area will get browned this way, and 2) you have unobstructed access to every crevice, so the fibrous plugs at the ends of the bone will thwart your scavenging no longer.

    Sorry to necropost but some issues transcend the months, and marrow is one of them.

    David L wrote on December 15th, 2010
  17. You friggin rock!

    THIS SOUNDS SOOO GOOD!!!

    Jer wrote on January 13th, 2011
  18. Great site! I love raw marrow! It’s the best with a little salt like you said! Keep up the great website!!

    Chris Chapin wrote on March 18th, 2011
  19. Thanks for this post! I just made my first marrow bones. Had a bit of marrow on toast and then put the bones and leftover marrow to simmer for about 18 hours. There’s still a huge chunk of marrow left – can I still eat it or use it for anything or is it pretty much best to toss it out since I just simmered it for 18 hours?

    Erin wrote on April 1st, 2011
  20. Do appreciate the timely discussion of underappreciated sources of nutrition.

    Abhishek wrote on April 10th, 2011
  21. You really have to sample some good bone marrow soup done in a slow cooker.

    The broth is very rich and tasty… it’s a meal in itself.

    Bob wrote on April 10th, 2011
  22. I LOVE marrow! I started my toddler on it too. I put it in a pressure cooker with a bag of dried chickpeas, garlic, onions red & yellow peppers, some water a a bit of salt. The flavor was amazing! she loved it immediately. I even had some of her food!

    TheNew wrote on May 5th, 2011
  23. In India, we love our chicken and mutton bones. Best way to enjoy them is to steam in a pressure cooker, and serve with warm, fluffy rice.

    Sahil wrote on May 8th, 2011
  24. When I was a little girl, I could never eat any type of meat without sucking the marrow out of the bones at the end of the meal. I was so young I didn’t even know what I was doing, or what it was, all I knew was there was tasty stuff inside there. I guess we have more animal instinct than we’re aware of :)

    Sami wrote on May 13th, 2011
  25. Can you get good bone marrow in pills rather than going to all that trouble??

    Paula wrote on June 23rd, 2011
  26. This past week I roasted beef marrow bones. I wanted to eat the marrow but the bones were thick and the marrowful middles were so thin and small. I could barely scrape anything out. I got them from Fresh Direct, from a local farm called Hardwick Beef. Grass fed. The bones were almost empty in the narrow middles where I expected to see more marrow. I did make stock with the bones and I saved all of the fat from the pan (there was a ton) but I don’t know what to do with it. Is it like tallow? Can I use it to make fries or a savory pie crust? Thanks in advance to anyone who can help.

    Nicole wrote on June 26th, 2011
  27. I just bought 5 pounds of my local farmers market, grass fed beef marrow bones ($25!!) to help my Ukrainian mother recover from surgery. She eats marrow and chicken knuckles (cartilage), liver etc. all the time. Am making the slowwwww cook beef barley soup (bones, salt, veggies at low heat to barely turning over, cooked for at least 12 hours). Pulled a bone out for Mom and thought I’d better try it myself since I never have. Pulled the marrow out. Didn’t realize it to be “all gelatinous fat” I must say, it did not look too appealing, the fat rendering out…but wow…!!!! The flavor really is divine and it literally melts in your mouth. The rest of my clan refused to try. Little do they know but I will be making a bone marrow roux and adding it back to the soup.

    Peg wrote on July 2nd, 2011
  28. I made chicken stock without first taking the marrow out of the bones. Now, they’re crumbling too easily to be able to get the marrow out without bone bits. This may sound weird, but could I mash all that up with some meat and maybe fry it up as patties? Is there any worthwhile nutritional value to be had from the marrow now that its been simmered for two days or from the bones themselves?

    Chantal wrote on July 13th, 2011
  29. I love marrow bones. Absolutely love them and eat them every week on the Sabbath in a Jewish dish called Cholent. As a nutritionist, I have been trying to find out the nutritional content of beef marrow bones for years and this is the first time I came across anything specific, so thank you! Any idea how many marrow bones would equal 3 1/2 oz. OR how many calories, etc. per peice? Would really appreciate that info — thanks!! :)

    Rebecca L. wrote on August 16th, 2011

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