Remember when you were a kid and got sick and your grandmother would spend all day slaving over a hot stove cooking up a batch of homemade chicken soup? And as you sipped from the savory nutritious broth you not only felt your strength returning, but a genuine sense that you were truly loved and all was right with the world?
Neither do we. But apparently, while the rest of us were trying to unpack the mystifying plot lines of Days of Our Lives over a bowl of the kind of instant soup seen on commercials that largely feature cats, the rest of the world was being nourished by grandma’s cooking. And it turns out that this cliché of a Granny was on to something.
Bone broth has been around as long as humans have been cooking meat. The first “just add water” recipe in human history, bone broth is made with bones, water and a dash of vinegar if you’re feeling fancy. Simmer for up to 48 hours and you’re good to go. A key component in Chinese medicine for the past 2,500 years to aid digestion and strengthen kidneys, bone broth was also prescribed in the 12th century by the Egyptian doctor/rabbi/man-about-town, Moses Miamonides for colds and asthma, giving birth to that stickiest of brands, Jewish Penicillin.
In the past few years, bone broth, the true OG of the health and wellness world, has enjoyed quite a resurgence, and the reasoning is as simple as it is astonishing: somewhere around 85% of your immune system is in your gut. Now we’re no mathematicians here, but one could deduce that if you’re taking care of your gut, your odds of getting sick are drastically reduced. If you think about the mind-body connection, taking care of your gut could theoretically cure ailments typically thought of residing in the brain including depression, mania, ADHD, and autism. (Side note: studies have shown that up to 70% of people living with autism also suffer from poor digestive health.)
Sharon Brown, founder of the number one selling frozen bone broth company in the U.S., Bonafide Provisions, explained the mind-gut connection as starting in utero. Back when we were all brewing in our mama’s tummies a piece of tissue split; one part became the brain, the other the gut. Like separated Siamese twins, the brain and the gut live on together yet apart, which, Brown says, is why even thinking about speaking in public can give birth to a swarm of butterflies in your stomach.
So what’s in bone broth that makes it so great? Amino acids, for one. Arginine dilates blood vessels, allowing nutrients to flow easier through the body, building muscle while reducing body mass. Glycine produces glutathione, helping to get rid of toxins, aid in sleep and give your skin that ever so sexy glow. Proline, Ms. Bossypants, tells the collagen where to go, (To the cellulite, at once!) And finally, glutamine, a superhero of an amino acid if there ever was one, sews the torn cell lining of the gut back together, reversing the consequences of leaky gut syndrome.
So if bone broth is the magic medicine that’s literally been under our red, runny noses all along, why haven’t our doctors told us about it? It probably has something to do with the fact that Western physicians have less than 40 hours devoted to nutrition in their entire education; food therapies simply aren’t in their wheelhouse. Not to mention the fact that you can’t patent bone broth like you can a pill, so how’s anyone supposed to get rich off that?
A few companies are finding a way.
A few years ago, bone broth was nothing more than a chef’s tool, the basis on which to build a soup or stew. Fast-forward to 2018 and its approaching green juice-esque cult status, served at gyms, spas, restaurants and farmers markets. Global Market Insights project the global bone broth market to exceed 2.8 billion by 2024.
While true bone broth is an excellent source of amino acids, imitators abound. Many of your “basic broth” companies, hoping to capitalize on the craze, have simply renamed their beef broth bone broth, offering the consumer little more than a shelf-stable sodium bomb. For the good stuff, read your labels and head to the freezer section.
Are you vegetarian or just feeling like bone broth isn’t your cup of…broth? No worries, you can still find collagen and all the amino acids you need in the plant kingdom. And for the bone broth haters out there you can take delight in a 2013 UK study that found that bone broth had lead levels ten times higher than the water alone. The researchers deduced this was due to the fact that heavy metals, including lead, are stored in bones. But don’t freak out broth lovers, turns out the levels were lower than the EPA lead limit for a cup of tap water.
We love the stuff. Zoe, who hasn’t eaten meat in over twenty years, was given the gateway drug from her doula after her second child was born and became an instant believer. Erica, who has suffered from stomach ailments of her own, sips the savory stock in place of an afternoon coffee. With so many ready-made options on the market we haven’t tried making it ourselves yet, but who knows, maybe we’ll become the grandmothers we never had.