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

Cooking with Bones

Bones2Marrow is great and all, but what about the bones that aren’t blessed enough to bear the sacred gel in easily extractable amounts? We can’t forget about those. Chicken backs, beef knuckles, ham hocks, chicken feet, lamb necks, hooves and any other animal-derived matrices of calcium phosphate and collagen fibers are all worth saving, cooking, and perhaps even eating. Hell, I bet elk antlers would make a fine, mineral-rich soup. The best part is that bones, feet, hooves, heads, and connective tissues are all pretty inexpensive, sometimes even free, parts of the animal. They also represent an entirely different realm of nutritional content than basic muscle meat, being complex organs playing multiple roles in the body.

You see, bone is living tissue, rather than inert structure. It is rigid, true, but it’s actually an organ, in fact, placing it squarely in the nutritional all-star camp of liver, heart, brain, kidney, and sweetbreads. Bone is also slightly elastic, owing to the collagen, which combines with the calcium phosphate to lend “elastic rigidity.” (If it weren’t for the collagen, bones would simply be hard with no give, and thus brittle.) Bone is full of minerals, mostly calcium and phosphorus (seeing as how the “bone” part of bone is calcium phosphate, this is no surprise), along with sodium, magnesium, and other trace minerals. If the connective tissue – and most animal scraps and bones you use will have tendons, ligaments, and cartilage – is still attached, bones also include stuff like chondroitin and glucosamine, popular joint supplements that are the raw materials for bone and cartilage formation.

Let’s do a quick rundown of all the other good stuff found in bones and, therefore, well-made bone stock:

  • Bone marrow – We went over this last week, but I’ll say it again: bone marrow is one of the first “superfoods” (for lack of a better term – I actually slightly cringe using it) our ancestors enjoyed. It’s fatty, with a bit of protein and loads of minerals. Even if you’re cooking spindly chicken bones, there’s going to be marrow, and that marrow will make it into your stock.
  • Collagen and gelatin – Most commercial gelatin comes from animal collagen already, so why not cut out the middle man and get your gelatin directly from bone and cartilage? The more collagen your bones have, the more gelatinous, rich, and viscous your stock will be – important qualities, especially if you intend to reduce your stock into sauces. Gelatin may even reduce joint pain in athletes, as one (admittedly small) study appeared to show. Another showed benefits for ulcer patients.
  • Glycine – Although our bodies already produce plenty of glycine, rendering it a non-essential amino acid, there’s some evidence that supplementation can help mitigate free-radical oxidative damage in rats with alcohol-induced hepatotoxicity. Bone broth is rich in glycine. It probably doesn’t mean much, but it can’t hurt. And hey – it may even improve sleep quality, as one Japanese study showed in human subjects. Drink a warm cup of broth before bed, perhaps?
  • Proline – Proline is another non-essential amino acid found in bone stock, but supplementation has shown promise in patients suffering from vision loss due to gyrate atrophy. It’s also an important precursor for the formation of collagen, though it’s not clear whether eating proline has any affect on the body’s ability to make collagen.
  • Hyaluronic acid – Hyaluronic acid, also known as hyaluronan, is one of cartilage’s three glycosaminoglycans. It helps broth gel, and it’s been used for years to treat race horses with osteoarthritis, usually as an intra-articular injection or IV fluid. Recent studies on oral administration have been promising, though, meaning oral administration of quality bone stock (as opposed to, um, what other method of administration?) might help us with our joint issues, too. According to Wikipedia, human studies are underway and showing promise, but I wasn’t able to dig up much beyond this small study. Still, it’s compelling, and I’ll continue to drink broth regardless.
  • Chondroitin sulfate – Chondroitin sulfate is another glycosaminoglycan present in bone stock. It’s also a popular supplement for the treatment of osteoarthritis the efficacy of which has come under question. One recent review concludes that chondroitin sulfate “may interfere with progression of osteoarthritis”. I’d say it’s worth a shot.
  • Calcium – I’ve downplayed the importance of large amounts of supplementary calcium in the past, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It’s the raw material for bone production and fortification, and bone stock might be one of the best sources of calcium around, especially for those who avoid dairy and don’t eat enough leafy greens.
  • Phosphorus – There’s also a good amount of phosphorus in bone stock, though I doubt Primal eaters lack adequate dietary phosphorus (there’s plenty in meat). Still, it’s a nice buffer.
  • Magnesium – Magnesium is pretty lacking in the modern diet. Fatty fish like mackerel offer good amounts, as do leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, but most people, Primal folks included, could stand to take in more magnesium. Dr. Michael Eades says if he had to recommend just one supplement, it’d be magnesium; Dr. Stephan Guyenet over at Whole Health Source recently posted a couple great pieces, one on magnesium and insulin sensitivity (short version: the former improves the latter) and another on magnesium and vitamin D metabolism (short version: the former affects the latter). Bone stock is just another way to obtain this valuable mineral.
  • Sulfur, potassium, and sodium – Stock has these minerals in mostly trace amounts, but they’re all important for health. Sodium isn’t really an issue for most people, but potassium is undoubtedly important and often lacking. Both are crucial electrolytes (bone broth – possible new sports drink?). Sulfur is the “S” in MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane, the popular joint supplement that has shown some promising results in humans.

The best way to extract all that boney goodness from the bones is to cook with them, and that means making stock (or broth; from here on out, I’ll just say stock, but the two are pretty similar, with broth technically being derived from meat and bones, and stock from just bones). I mentioned a basic chicken stock recipe last year, but we can do better than that. Besides, different bones require different considerations. A few tips:

  • Add a couple shots of apple cider vinegar to your stock. This aids in the extraction of minerals without really altering the flavor.
  • Roast your bones beforehand. This adds color and flavor. For big bones like beef, 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes usually works. For chicken, just use roasted carcasses.
  • Don’t throw bones away. Even if you just ate a couple bone-in chicken thighs, save those measly little bones! Freeze them and keep adding to your collection until you’ve got a respectable amount.
  • Don’t be afraid to simmer long and slow. Smaller animals require less cooking time to extract nutrients, so chicken can probably go for twenty hours and produce a quality stock, but beef or lamb bones can go for several days, provided you keep the heat low and watch the water level to prevent burning.
  • Add feet, especially chicken feet, for added collagen – and more gelatin.
  • If it’s a delicious joint supplement you’re after, look for actual animal joints to throw in. Knuckles, especially, have tons of cartilaginous material and snappy ligament that will break down in the water.
  • When dealing with the bigger bones from ungulates, sometimes the heat and the water need a little assistance. To really get the good stuff, stick the bones in a sturdy bag and smash them with your sledgehammer (you do have a sledgehammer, right?). Then put the shards in the stockpot. Native Americans used to do this to buffalo bones to get at the little grease pockets lurking within the bone latticework; why shouldn’t we do the same? Another option is to remove the bones after half a day or so and go to work with a smaller hammer, a chef’s knife, or even the food processor. They’ll have softened considerably, and you’ll be able to chop them up into bits for quicker, more thorough extraction. Last week, I took a 10-inch chef’s knife to some cow knuckles and cow necks that’d been simmering for a day and returned the pieces for another few hours of cooking. That stock was the thickest, richest, most gelatinized stock I’ve ever made. Correlation, causation? I lean toward the latter. In fact, going forward, I plan on doing this every single time I make stock. The difference was just that huge.
  • You can eat bone, technically. Now, if you’ve made a proper stock and gotten all you can out of your bones, eating them may not confer many benefits. Still, it’s an interesting thought. Chicken bones in particular become pretty delectable after a day of stewing, and I’ll confess to sifting through the stock solids for snacks. I haven’t eaten an entire carcass or anything (yet), but I may try a few of the smaller, softer bones as an experiment. Anyone else?
  • Once your stock has cooled in the fridge, only skim the fat if you’re prepared to store or use the stock right away. That layer of fat is protecting your broth from adulterants, whether they’re random fridge flavors or bacteria.
  • Speaking of fat, I’d toss poultry fat. It’s a relatively high-PUFA animal fat, and a day of simmering has probably damaged it beyond repair. If you’re stewing bones with more saturated animal fat, though, you should absolutely save the fat layer.
  • Veggies are optional, but tasty. They add flavor, and the classic mirepoix blend of carrots, onions, and celery is always a welcome addition. Herbs work well, too. I’m partial to thyme, bay leaf, and whole peppercorns, with maybe a sprig or two of rosemary added. If you’re doing herbs and veggies, add them toward the end of cooking, especially if you’re doing a marathon two-day stock making session.

Divining the nutritional details of traditional foods like bone stock and bone marrow is difficult, if not impossible altogether. We know stock contains gelatin, calcium, phosphate, magnesium, glucosamine, chondroitin, and other trace minerals, but what are the numbers? We’re a numbers generation; we expect to have accurate info at the tips of our fingers at all times, but that’s unrealistic. Bone composition isn’t set in stone. What the animal ate, how it lived, where it lived, the mineral content of whatever it ate, the nutrient density of whatever it ate – these all factor into the composition and content of the bones, joints, and cartilage. The nutrition facts of commercial bone meal marketed as a calcium supplement gives us a general idea of the mineral content (900 mg calcium, 360 mg phosphorus, 9 mg magnesium per serving) of bone stock. That stuff comes from powdered “cattle raised in the United States,” which undoubtedly means corn-fed, nutritionally-deficient cows. We don’t know exactly how an animal’s diet affects its bone composition, but we know that it matters. Diet plays a huge role in everything, and I’d bet that grass-fed (again, as always) results in better, more nutritious stock. Regardless of the numbers, bone stock is good for you, damn good, and being somewhat in the dark about the precise nutrient count shouldn’t dissuade you from making and using your own bone stock on a regular basis.

Even if you don’t (or are unable to) seek out bones specifically for cooking, you’ll end up with plenty as leftovers. In fact, I’d suggest opting for whole animals or bone-in segments; the meat tastes better, it stays fresher longer, and you get some cooking bones when it’s all done. When you roast a chicken, you’ve got an entire skeleton to work with. When you cook a bone-in leg of lamb on the barbecue, you’ve got a big femur left over. What does a skinless breast offer after it’s been eaten, or an endless parade of steaks? I love a good steak as much as the next man, but a Primal eater shouldn’t live on muscle meat alone. I highly recommend giving homemade stock a try. If you eat animals, you should have access to their bones, and you should never throw those bones away.

Have I missed anything? Anyone have any good stock-making tips?

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. I’m a bit skeptical on the whole apple cider vinegar in the bone broth thing. It seems to me that by adding vinegar, you are certainly removing calcium from the bones, but are you regaining it in a useful form?

    I’m not a chemist, so if someone more knowledgeable than myself would like to clear this up, I’d appreciate it. It seems to me that 6 vinegar + calcium phosphate = 3 calcium acetate and 2 phosphoric acid.

    Ca3(PO4)2 + 6 CH3CO2H = 3 Ca(C2H3OO)2 + 2 H3PO4

    Now if I wanted phosphoric acid, I’d just drink a Pepsi, and calcium acetate is given out as a way to remove phosphate from the system. So much for your buffer and your bioavailable calcium.

    Steel Phoenix wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • I am curious about this as well. Has anyone ever tested this? If so, I’d love to know about the findings.
      I suppose that’s the problem with our current medical system-there’s no interest in researching more traditional nutrition because there’s no money in it.

      Kat wrote on March 9th, 2013
  2. I also just wanted to point out that gelatin in bone broths has been known to help with digestion (for anyone with problems…)

    “…homemade stock attracts digestive juices to itself in a manner similar to raw foods. Foods that attract digestive juices are much more easily digested and assimilated by the body.

    Homemade stock also contains natural gelatin which not only aids digestion but also assists with the healing of many chronic intestinal disorders such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and others”

    (See WAPF for more info: http://www.westonaprice.org/beginner-videos/stocks-and-soups-video-by-sarah-pope)

    Maggie wrote on August 12th, 2012
  3. Would it be a good idea to add chicken fat that hasn’t been cooked for long in to the soup when it is almost finished? I find that when I take away the fat it doesn’t taste nearly as good.

    Jason wrote on August 28th, 2012
  4. Hello,

    I’m cooking chicken bones for the first time today. I am a little concerned about it though because they have the small slivers.

    I’ve read a page of comments and no one has mentioned it as a problem, so I think I,ll assume it’s okay.

    I’ll check back and see if there are any hints re: this. I figure after I cook the bone stock/broth, I can always strain it if I’m still not sure.

    TY for all the information here.

    Deborah wrote on October 24th, 2012
    • You can always strain the broth to get slivers out, that’s what I do.

      I’ve been making my own broths for a while. I don’t cook them for as long as people do here; I’ve found that 6-8 hours is sufficient (I’ve tried 24 hours, including breaking up bones, and really didn’t notice a difference). In any case you couldn’t pay me to use or drink commercial broth anymore.

      Trish wrote on November 1st, 2012
  5. kot wrote on December 17th, 2012
    • who paid for this study?

      Mary Anne wrote on December 17th, 2012
  6. is it OK to add red wine to the broth .. following on from reading the redwine and chocolate article :)

    have the bones from one of my own grass fed steers and a couple of chooks browing in the oven as we speak.

    Helen B wrote on January 4th, 2013
  7. Would using a pressure cooker make sense for making stock?
    Thanks

    scott wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  8. I made beef bone broth for the first time. It is completely gelatinous after putting it in the refrigerator, which I assume is a good thing? I refrigerated it first so that I could remove the hardened fat, but now my question is whether it is fine put the gelatin in the freezer or if I need to heat it back to a liquid first and then freeze. There is more than I will use in a week, so I definitely want to freeze some of it, but am wondering if freezing the gelatin will destroy the valuable components of it. thanks.

    birdy wrote on January 30th, 2013
  9. after I make stock I take chicken bones and grind them in my vitamix, then I spread this mixture on toast and eat it. nummy.

    Lisa wrote on March 4th, 2013
  10. I have a question for you all. Well two actually. I follow the Nourishing Traditions method of preparing bone broth, as found on Sarah Wilson’s blog, which entails simmering things for up to 72 hours. Now…I like to think I am getting the full compliment of nutrients this way, but I am freaked out about letting it cook overnight, so I generally turn the gas off, leave it out at room temp, (because just chucking extremely hot stock in the fridge can breed bacteria due to the temp difference), and then boil it for 5-10 minutes in the morning to get rid of any harmful bacteria which may have appeared overnight. I’ve never gotten sick from this method, so I’m going to assume that the bacteria situation is not an issue. Am I endangering myself? Please feel free to tell me so.

    My other question has to do with nutrient loss. By boiling everything to sterilize the broth the next morning, am I destroying all of the nutrients that I’ve managed to leach out of the bones? If so, how can I mitigate this? How do you all deal with the possibility of bacteria over marathon broth-making sessions? I suppose I could just cook it on low in the oven so as to not interrupt the cooking process, but I am curious as to your personal methods of broth-making.

    Kat wrote on March 9th, 2013
  11. Hi, thanks for the brilliant info on bone benefits! May I ask, with the white fat layer that forms on beef-bone broth that’s been refrigerated, should one consume this? Or is it just good as a protective layer for the darker stock underneath? Thanks

    Beverley wrote on March 15th, 2013
  12. Fasinating article Mark! I am a culinary skills teacher but train freelance these days. However, could you perhaps help me with the legality of Stock cooking? Does the law allow 20 hours? or did it not change to 6 hours? I know that demi glance was made exactly as you have mentioned in the article, however, I suspect that one are not allowed to do this in commercial kitchens anymore. Would be pleased if you could shine a light on this.

    Juffrou wrote on March 29th, 2013
  13. I generally simmer bones for 2/3 hours after browning off in the oven and after allowing then to soak for half an hour in a couple of tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar. After that I sieve of the stock and fill with new water and boil again. I keep simmering the bones until the bones become soft and break. This saves doing one long boil and it saves buying new bones each time. I have good bones as even after a couple of hours the stock produced when refrigerated is like a thick jelly. I do use the Nourishing traditions book for advice. It is very useful.

    Anne McCauley wrote on May 3rd, 2013
  14. Hi,

    I just cooked some chicken bones in my old Presto steel pressure cooker for two hours. The bones are now really soft–like the bones in canned salmon. I just ate an entire leg bone and it was like eating a brazil nut–it was that soft. What a surprise!

    Teresa wrote on May 12th, 2013
  15. Does it make any difference if you use a pressure cooker? Are you losing nutrients? Also, what’s left in those bones at the end, would they still be good to be turned into bone meal and tossed in the garden?

    Jon wrote on May 20th, 2013
  16. Hi,

    I made a large batch of beef stock using bones. Cooked it so long (a couple of days) it turned bitter. Non-reactive pot. No herbs in the stock, no vinegar, no salt, and hadn’t roasted the bones so long they burned. Those are all the commonly given reasons for bitter stock, but they don’t apply here.

    Since it took a lot of work and money, I really want to know if it’s just bitter because it’s super-concentrated nutrient-wise, or for some other reason? Is it edible? (Even if in small quantities.) Does anyone have any experience with this? Don’t want to waste it but also don’t want to poison self or family.

    Stock Maker wrote on May 31st, 2013
  17. What bones are best (assuming you use beef or smth similar like bison or yak)? And what is better, yellow or red marrow? The yellow is in the middle of long bones and red is in flat bones and the ends of long bones. Yellow has more fat. Red has stem cells.

    I was thinking joints and flat bones would give the highest concentration of red marrow, cartilage and ligaments so it would be best. But yellow has important fats.

    Perhaps a mix of both is best?

    Ak wrote on August 17th, 2013
  18. how much mg calcium is in 1 cup of bone broth that has been cooked for 12 hours?
    Thank you

    maryam wrote on October 17th, 2013
  19. Thanks for that! I have an important question. Hope it’s not addressed above but i just can’t read all comments now, apologies if so.

    You talk about simmering for hours and days actually. Now, that can be very demanding and is certainly a huge electricity consumption/loss (I’m quite green in general). Is it possible/good idea to use a pressure cooker and, if so, how long would it have to cook? I mean good idea – is it possible to extract all the good stuff out of the bones, that’s the most important?
    I tried ones (still new in this adventure) and cooked in the pressure cooker for about 1h. The broth became tasty and rich (fairly fat as well) and the links between the bones were falling apart, the bones themselves remained still hard though.
    Would you have any views on that? i really want to make it work this way but also do something sensible and get the benefits out of it. Thanks!

    Kallina wrote on December 1st, 2013
  20. Hi, I’m from Alabama. Deer hunting is a normal thing and many will process the animal themselves, But my father normally has his processed (he has a bad shoulder and hip). As I read this I started thinking about all those deer bones that are left with the processer. I assume I could get some free and do a deer stock. Has anyone done this? I usually do Chicken/turkey stock(omg smoked turkey makes an awesome stock!!). I figure that Deer will be the most economical choice for me (free) since they are grass feed/wild :) . I’m also going to ask the local University about bones left from the livestock they sell at their market, the animals they have are mostly grass fed, but not certified organic they just follow organic principals and closely as can be. I hope I can get some beef bone from there market. thank for the great stock makeing advice! I think I will venture out of poltury bones!

    Lisa wrote on December 17th, 2013
  21. I tried to make some bone broth and it was horrible! I bought some beef bones (no hormones or chemicals, etc) and followed one of the recipes here. After 3 days in the slow cooker it smelled so bad and stunk up my house. The smell made me so nauseous I had to throw it out. It tasted like drinking fat. Gross!

    Rachel wrote on December 31st, 2013
  22. Thank you for this awesome article Mark! I linked to it in my recipe for roasted bone broth! I use tons of bone broth all the time, for the family and for our dogs!
    I am so lucky to have a wood stove, so in winter there is always a pot of stock simmering away!

    Vivica Menegaz CTWFN wrote on December 31st, 2013
  23. G’day! GREAT post!
    What to do with the meat attached to the outside of the bone marrow?
    Bone marrow newbie but made Chinese Natural Tradition Soup Base today!

    Joanne T Ferguson wrote on January 9th, 2014
  24. Hey Mark great article.

    I’m from Germany, I need the advice of you bone broth experts.

    I made a 9 hour bone broth from bone marrow and other bone parts of pure grass-fed galloway cattle.

    Now i’ve got a lot white bones left.
    Can I put the bones in the freezer and make another bone broth maybe
    a week later?

    Steffen Paulson wrote on January 22nd, 2014
  25. A question about beef fat: I’m trying my first batch of beef bone broth at the moment. I’ve got two organic grass-fed (lucky to live in Ireland!) knuckle bones in there and some non-organic meaty rib bones. There’s so much fat from the knuckle bones, so I’ve been scooping it off every so often, to put in a jar and keep. I’m confused about whether the fat from a slow cooked beef stock is good to use – in Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon says it will have deteriorated from cooking for so long, but many people say use it. And I thought beef fat can well withstand heat…confused! So to hedge my bets I decided to start skimming it off the top after about 10-12hrs, in the hope that it will be a good quality fat at this stage. The stock has been on a very low simmer all the time. Any advice/thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Also, does anyone know the difference in composition between tallow and regular beef fat? Thanks!

    Iseult wrote on January 27th, 2014
  26. Hi Mark or anyone who may know. What about fish stock? Chock full of PUFA omega 3 which is highly unstable when heated yet I see plenty of recipes in WAPF and the like for long cooked fish broths. I see these are not from oily fish like mackerel or salmon, but cod and other white fish also have plenty of PUFAs. Any thoughts?

    Wilson wrote on March 15th, 2014
  27. Thanks!
    I’m completely converted to the marrowbone stock breakfast as an antidote for getting hungry mid morning…Not only that, the butcher’s only customers for bones normally have a large pet at home.
    “Cuid ah hae a dug bane please?”
    “We’ve nae dug banes here, yi mean a bane for a dug?”
    “Aye ok ok… If yi waant’ tae be pedantic aboot it!”

    Cadmanwells wrote on May 4th, 2014
    • Nice 😄 Glasgow?

      I found the smell of boiled bones SERIOUSLY off-putting. Still, I got lots of jars of jellied broth which I use as base for soups and crockpot stews. Once I got over the initial stink, it tastes great!

      Marion wrote on September 10th, 2014

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