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 love marrow! I used to be a vegetarian, but i recently gave it up. A little while ago i remembered cracking open the bones and eating the marrow as a kid, so I tried it again and it’s really good. I generally only eat marrow from small chicken bones, but I’ll have to try a bigger marrow bone sometime.

    C wrote on September 9th, 2011
  2. very god stuff and filling—and the dogs love the bones when i am finished —is greasy —

    tom wrote on October 18th, 2011
  3. This rat study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18287355 shows that bone-marrow (in rats anyway) is a great source of Vitamin K2-MK4. If that applies to larger animals too then that might be why both animals and so many hunter gatherers go/went for it.

    Rob wrote on October 20th, 2011
  4. I always pick up bones at the butchers which are from organic, local beef. Amazing! Spread the marrow on toast. It’s like butter, but 10000x better!

    Ashley wrote on October 25th, 2011
  5. just had for first time, in a beef shank simmered with white win for a few hours. dipped some roasted sweet potato wedges in it like french fries and it tasted like delicious dutch french fries and mayo. just 100x healthier. stoked

    Max@flavortogofast wrote on November 2nd, 2011
  6. Gross, I’ll pass.

    linda wrote on November 29th, 2011
  7. Here’s a question: does beef bone marrow contain tyramines the way muscle meat does? I had to give up meat because aged proteins get me sick-i’m guessing tyramines. would the same apply to marrow? all beef is intentionally aged (unlike chicken which i’m still able to eat). I too ate it as a kid-and loved it. ditto chicken livers which weren’t a treat like marrow but we ate all the time. people who didn’t grow up with it seem to find its texture weird. my mother ate brains and sheeps head.

    still stuck on carbs wrote on January 3rd, 2012
  8. I love bone marrow, im mexican american and we call it “tuetano” . We make soup with veggies and beef. We smear the “tuetano” on a tortilla with salt, limon, and some salsita, mmmm delicious. I actually just ate this right now.

    Cristy wrote on January 13th, 2012
  9. Years ago I had a trapline for beaver. They were flooding pastures and needed to be thinned out. I always had a Dutch oven in my pickup. One day I decided to try roasting a haunch of young beaver. I made biscuits, then found I had no butter.
    I opened the leg bones of the haunch and drizzled hot marrow over biscuits.
    Lord amighty that was good ! 40 yrs ago and I can still taste that sweet beaver meat and biscuits with marrow.

    falconer wrote on January 25th, 2012
  10. I’m actually chewing a big marrow bone I got from the butcher yesterday. roasted it with herbs and garlic cloves mmmmm

    yummymarrow wrote on February 25th, 2012
  11. Anyone know if can be unhealthy to eat some bone marrow every day?

    Adrian wrote on May 6th, 2012
  12. My son always raves on about the taste of marrow when he chews up his bones. As I am of caribbean heritage it is not strange to enjoy the taste of this treat. I am glad to learn that it is of high nutritional value…although my true spirit told me so without thinking. Mmm if only some of you could taste my cooking and then enjoy the marrow of oxtail, chicken bone marrow afterwards…l :)

    Chellexxx wrote on May 12th, 2012
  13. Natural paleo food vs. prepared nasty packaged food some people buy and serve to their children, has MEDICINAL properties.
    See what Dr. Terry Wahls, M.D. http://www.terrywahls.com) says about it.
    http://www.terrywahls.com/_blog/Terry_Wahls%27_Blog/post/Do_You_Have_an_Autoimmune_Problem/

    “Anyone suffering from a ‘leaky gut’ will likely benefit greatly from having bone broth several times a day as part of a healing regimen.”

    Now, I cook all (beef, chicken, turkey and shrimp and other bony creatures) bones for days and remove some broth for day’s dinner and I am sure I will fix my low calcium problem that I’ve had for years! Why did not I think about it before? My grandfather in Poland ate all his marrow but I forgot!
    Thanks people to remind me!
    Let us go to the basics!

    Eva Putnam wrote on May 20th, 2012
  14. one of my fondest memories as a kid was slurping marrow from beef shin and lamb leg

    Osteo Josh wrote on May 23rd, 2012
  15. one of the most-loved filipino comfort foods is bulalo — basically just stewed beef and bone marrow with lots of fried garlic, pepper and vegetables. it’s sort of a guilty pleasure because of its perceived fatty content but after reading this, my trips to our local restaurant will definitely be more frequent! i just had bulalo 30mins. ago (which led me to search online to settle the nagging dispute) after months of avoiding it. guess i was missing out

    rene suarez wrote on June 3rd, 2012
  16. Any body knows of a commercial (farm or other) source for: hare liver, lamb and goat brain, in New jersey area?
    Tried the specialty store, halal (knowing they have goat meat). I can find calf brain in my Shoprite, but nothing else, not to mention, duck and goose liver. I don’t think even Wegman’s carries it.

    aurora wrote on June 9th, 2012
    • Try the Dey Farm in Cranbury, NJ.

      If you go up Route 130 and make a turn onto Dey Road, the farm is less than a mile or so to your right.

      Reasonable prices too! I got a 85 pound pig for a pig roast last year for $170.

      It’s a live market. They have animals (guinea hens, rabbits, capons, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs etc.) that they slaughter onsite and clean and ress for you.

      There’s a guy who make really great pork tacos with the liver and tongue!

      BillHoo wrote on July 26th, 2012
  17. I am glad I brought this bone and marrow at the farmers market last weekend because if I had not I may have never found your amazingly written and interesting blog post! I only wish I had the skill you have in writing, well done and I will follow you on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else.

    Thanks so much for making my marrow bone meal even more exited that it was going to be!!

    Tristan

    Tristan Titeux wrote on June 29th, 2012
  18. Marrow spoons are nice for getting at the marrow. But they are pricey! I’ve seen them between $30 and $100.

    A disposable wooden chopstick like the kind you get at a takeout restaurant is good to use.

    But I prefer a lobster pick. The kind that has a long thin scoop on one end and a little fork on the other. It’s thinner than a marrow spoon, so you can get into even smaller bones!

    BillHoo wrote on July 26th, 2012
    • Forget the spoons, use a tooth pick or go primal all the way, turn the bone down and bang it on the plate, the marrow will fall off.

      Jarold wrote on July 1st, 2013
  19. Beef bone marrow is absolutely delicious. I have been eating it since I was a child. Father asked us kids if we would like to try it, sorry he ever did. I will make pot roast with a huge beef bone, mainly just for the marrow.Try it. You will love it.

    Lisa wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • I eat beef bone marrow three times a week for dinner after my long runs. I make a soup with the bones, organic tomatoe pure, egg plants, garlic and onions. Afterwards I remove the bones and eat the marrow as the main dish and the soup on the side. Also when I am over stressed after a long working day I eat bone marrow and inmediately my brain feels fed and calm. I cured myself through strict primal eating and sport from and anxiety disorder I had and was able to drop the meds and move forward with my life and never looked back, so however thinks this is not the right lifestyle to follow they can come talk to me!

      Helena wrote on November 16th, 2012
  20. I love bone marrow! Also like connective tissue, arteries/veins and spinal cord. My husband thinks I am weird. But I think scociety has lead us to believe those types of foods are uncivilized to consume. Such a shame too, they are delicious!

    Leonore wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • Seriously thinking……anything! with that much blood flow……….
      would be delicious!

      Mountaingirl wrote on September 27th, 2013
  21. Anyone eat the softened bones from their bone broth? After 2 or 3 days in the crock my grass fed beef bones are soft and very easy to chew. I’m wondering if there is any nutritional value left in them? I figure that my taste for them indicates my body approves so there must be something positive.
    Greg

    Greg wrote on October 23rd, 2012
  22. Hello everyone, we are looking for any help suggestion : We have a 12 lb female pom. She is off & on very ill. She bleeds internally. Vets around here say no known cause or cure, for ITP. & just give prednisone & arent very knowledgeable. The longest span she has went this yr, without purpura is 70 days. In that time we gave her 300 mg papaya Leaf extract, & beet juice in her chicken & candidae meal. Now she is bleeding again. We just put her on prednisone again. My question is regarding bone marrow. There are many possibilities humans or dogs get ITP, vaccines,poisons,bone issues, nutrient deficiency, cancers,etc Does bone marrow help to develop blood platelets? Or does anyone have any expierience with foods that have helped family or friend with ITP. In the medical Drug world, the solution for humans is the same for dogs. Give them prednisone. But this is Not an acceptable lifelong choice, without Trying…………….Thank you for any suggestions

    Bella wrote on October 23rd, 2012

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