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. In Mexico we eat “Caldo de res” that is a beef stew with lots of vegetables and of course bone marrow, I love to spread them in a tortilla with some salt… Just delicious.

    Wumniam Longoria wrote on January 17th, 2013
  2. Bone marrow is the key ingredient in Risotto Milanese. My family and many guests love it.

    Geoff wrote on February 1st, 2013
  3. i LOVE roasted bone marrow on fresh artisanal bread… with some fresh parsley and capers-mmmm! i’d say i like it more than meat. it is so good for you, and so easy to make. i haven’t been sick in ages, even with all these flu strains going around now- i attribute my good health to bone marrow!

    Tania wrote on February 8th, 2013
  4. Trying this for a second time tonight. This is going to be decadent.

    Mark wrote on February 8th, 2013
  5. Just cooked up marrow for the first time, my wife is trying out the GAPS diet. Thought I would look into to marrow and found this cool article. I plan on devouring some bone marrow myself after reading this article.

    I actually got to meet George Clooney when I was deployed to Turkey doing Northern watch before the Iraq war. The Ocean’s 11 crew came to visit us right before Christmas. George and Brad Pitt where pretty cool. They (leadership) weren’t going to let us have alcohol at the Clam Shell (Bar/hangout on base) but George and Brad thought that was B.S. and said bring it on. Ended up being a prett cool night. Not sure what there diet was but they were pretty cool.

    Jeffrey wrote on February 18th, 2013
  6. Veggie for 33 years and now i’m sucking the marrow out of bones. Still cant believe the transformation but thank god I found the paleo diet! Thanks for this Mark.

    Mack Parnell wrote on February 28th, 2013
  7. The local butcher shop sells lovely bone broth that is like jello when cold :) They also sell lovely pink marrow butter. I put a BIG spoon full in a hot mug of bone broth, and I tell you my body LOVES it. I was really skinny with no muscle mas, hair loss, even facial wasting (because my muscles AND fat were wasting…I have celiac disease and therefore found myself very malnourished & suffering from Leaky Gut) Bone broth and marrow butter have A) Put healthy weight back on to my body B) helped me start growing strong thick hair again and C) Put some chub back in my cheeks. Seriously, these two ancient foods are healing me, day by day 😀

    bear cary wrote on March 9th, 2013
  8. What can I say, Mark? You literally can’t help yourself, can you? All you do, day after day, week after week, is make me want to grow my claws, grab a few knives, and eat wild animals. Tempting me with shamanic like visions of bear skin, teeth necklace wearing tribes celebrating life and death cycles through fire dances. Ok, not literally. 😉

    What I am saying is that you get primal. You are primal. We are all primal. You empower the inner human in all of us. Thanks

    Nick wrote on May 13th, 2013
  9. I make my own beef broth and always ensure plenty of bones with exposed marrow are simmered in there, it’s the difference between soul food and just another soup/stew. I just made this beef and barley soup for my babies yesterday (one is 2.5 years and one is 8 months)

    Start with a few pounds of sliced shins (meat on) – brown in olive oil, place in stockpot with a few bay leaves, black peppercorns, salt, and a whole nutmeg, and let simmer in the pot with one celery rib, one leek, one onion, a few garlics, a couple of carrots, and some wine if you want. While this is simmering, brown a chopped onion in the pan in which you browned the beef, and get all the brown goodness scraped off, then add to it 5 chopped carrots, one chopped leek, and 4 chopped celery ribs.

    After the broth has simmered for a few hours, strain it into another stockpot and discard all the solids except the meat/bones. Remove the meat from the bones (very easy to do at this stage) and break into bite size pieces and put back in the stock. Take the bones and push the cooked marrow through into the stock. Add the chopped and sauteed vegetables. Commence simmering.

    In a separate pot, add one cup pearled barley and simmer for 45 minutes or until tender. Discard the water and add it to the soup mixture.


    When this cools down, put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, any unmelted marrow will be floating on the top with solidified fats. I do scrape away these fats but you may choose to leave them – but they are not as nice as a rendered fat.

    The soup will basically become a large jello block when cool.

    for my 8 month old, I grind it down for him and he eats it up like mad. Just looooves this stuff.

    Another dish I make with lots of marrow is a wheat stew with either lamb or goat bones. But that’s another story 😉 (also my 8 month old eats it up).

    Issam wrote on May 20th, 2013
  10. Just had a soup – bone marrow spread over home baked bread, with soup strained clear, followed by all the veggies and beef cooked in the soup, with horseradish sauce, with radishes just unearthed, grated and vinegar, salt and sugar added. Call it ‘the good life’.

    Judit wrote on June 13th, 2013
  11. Marrow bones on toast is quite a popular dish here in South Africa, it can be found in quite a few restaurants, I have had them since I was young, going to do them as a starter tonight, I sometimes just boil them in a veg stock also great.

    Richard wrote on June 21st, 2013
  12. My Whole Foods [Denver, Capitol Hill, Colorado] sells marrow bones [and meat] that are either 100% grass fed or grass fed and finished with grains, however, no antibiotics nor growth hormones. Bone marrow rocks! Thanks Mark… I love paleo and never look back at old “healthy” eating of too many veg and little meat. Feel great and no more constant snacking bread/cookies.

    Alexander wrote on June 24th, 2013
  13. My grandfather used to roast marrow bones, then blow the marrow out of the bones by blowing through them. He then spread the marrow on toast and put salt and pepper.

    Question: 3.5 oz = 99 grams, if this amount contains 51 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein, what constitutes the remaining 41 grams?

    John wrote on July 7th, 2013
  14. I remember as a child often watching my father suck the marrow out of a roast bone. I thought it odd and unappealing, strange in fact. Then as a teenager, I was curious and tried it myself. I couldn’t believe the soft, smooth, velvety texture and the intense, rich flavor. I’d use a fork to scrap out the inside, sometimes a teaspoon. Other times I would use my pointer finger and run it all along the inside of the bone, scooping out any last morsel. Then put it against my mouth and running my tongue all along the inside, sucking out whatever was left.

    I don’t have it very often, but it’s certainly a treat when it’s available. I’ll make sure to check out my local Asian meat market for marrow bones. There is a large variety of meat products at great prices there!

    Richard Whieland wrote on August 12th, 2013
  15. i just finished a roast chicken dinner the way i always do, shards of bone left on the plate, no marrow to be seen. delish! definitely primal wjth all the gnawing and sucking. Watched my mother do it growing up. I generally need to be alone to really enjoy the experience:)

    marychris wrote on August 31st, 2013
  16. my local butcher gave me some lovely bones full of marrow for free! I simply roasted them, scooped out the marrow using my lobster pick (ideal tool, I bought 3 silver ones off ebay for £8!) and spread the marrow on toast. The bones were then put in the slow cooker with root veg, black pepper and smoked cornish sea salt (dead cheap and lush!) and red wine and bubbled away for a few hours to make amazing stock. Not bad for free ehh?

    Lin j cassidy wrote on September 22nd, 2013
  17. Lived in Alaska since 1950 and have the benefit of wild moose caribou marrow each year. Marrow bones are highly valued by some of here. Mom cut and saved the bones for storing along with the meat. Probably to the great benefit of her eight kids. Salmon hearts – sort of triangular shaped, are delicious fried like chicken livers – only I suspect much more healthy for you. Easy to save when processing salmon. Just some thoughts. Most throw away the fish heart.

    Sher wrote on October 16th, 2013
  18. I do not know of a healthy foil. That foil seems like aluminum foil and if that is it’s not good. Aluminum foil leeches into food heavily with heat. If that is a healthy foil I do not know, please let us know what that is…

    HealthCrack wrote on November 1st, 2013
  19. I grilled up some beef shanks ($1.69/lb). About 1″ thick with 2″ dia. bones in em. The marrow is super delicious, and the meat is quite tasty as well. I think the bones really do flavor the meat nicely. Add a bit of the following to the meat and cook it right away (or marinate for even more yum): white vinegar, soy sauce, fresh black pepper, garlic powder and olive oil. Cook about 5-6min per side on high heat on grill (mine in gas). Done!

    Daniel Marzani wrote on January 22nd, 2014
  20. I was born and raised in South Africa of Russian/Polish parents. Mom made the bestest chicken barley soup EVER with “maach” (marrow) bones. My 3 bros and I each got one marrow bone, spread the marrow on a slice of rye bread, sprinkled a little salt on, and salivated over it! (I’ve been In Manhattan over 30 years now and regularly make MY version of Mom’s chicken/barley soup – except for one person, nobody in my family likes marrow – so lucky the two of us!!! And, quite honestly, it’s rather orgasmic for me, haha!!) We pig (oh, it’s not pig… ) – then we beef out, lol!. Just ordered dem bones to put in a Slow Cooker Veal Stew dish I’m going to make – first time…will be sure to remove the marrow after 20 minutes, return the bones to the stew! Also, does anyone like eating the meat & sinew (is that what it is?) from the bone? I LOVE it!!! Still, to this day, I chew chicken bones and suck out the marrow – very sensual, so I’ve been told. :)

    Shoshie wrote on February 15th, 2014
  21. Oh dear me, I just wrote a great looong post… and now it’s gone… boo hoo!
    Mark, can you retrieve it, please? Thanks ever so much.

    Shoshie wrote on February 15th, 2014

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