Why Bone Broth Is So Hot Right Now

The scoop on this Paleo-inspired trend, plus 8 places to try it out
March 25, 2015
by Megan O. Steintrager

Over the past six months, a simple, plain-tasting beverage has made the leap from fringe health-food circles to foodie fad to lifestyle accessory, and now, mainstream acceptance. Bone broth — a sort of super-stock (or just plain stock, depending on whom you ask) served straight-up, to be sipped like coffee or tea — started as a darling of the Paleo movement, but now has spread from boutique butchers and nose-to-tail restaurants to fast-casual restaurants. For example, Panera recently added several "Broth Bowls" — broth with add-ins, such as chicken, noodles and quinoa — to its menu. The bowls are based on a miso broth, rather than bone broth, and a company spokesperson says there are no plans to sell the broths as a stand-alone menu item, but many still see the mere use of "broth" in the name as an indication that "bone broth has jumped the shark," as Presidio Social Club chef-owner Ray Tang put it after spotting a Panera broth bowl billboard while driving between LA and San Francisco. But perhaps the clearest sign that bone broth has arrived is that a backlash against it has begun, with a growing chorus of chefs and nutritionists sniffing that the drink has indeed jumped the shark and is nothing more than old-fashioned stock — warming and tasty, yes, but hardly a dollar-an-ounce alternative to vaccination.

So, What Is Bone Broth?

Most broth-ers agree that bone broth is similar to stock — simmered bones with optional meat and aromatics — but it's generally cooked much longer than typical stock. Often the bones are roasted before being used for broth — not always the case with stock — and vinegar or another acidic ingredient may be added to the mix (this is believed to help extract nutrients from the bones). Bone broth is also frequently served with condiments, such as ginger juice, grated turmeric, chile oil, bone marrow and fermented vegetables, that are meant to provide a hit of flavor and boost the healthfulness. For example, at Blackbelly Market in Boulder, chef Hosea Rosenberg simmers various bones, along with vegetables, herbs, filtered water and apple cider vinegar, for 48 hours. The resulting broths — beef broth, "bird broth" (with chicken, turkey and duck bones) and "barnyard broth" (a combo of the two broths) — are served with a condiment bar that includes vinegars, mushroom "tea" and fermented vegetables.

At Proposition Chicken in San Francisco, where you can get to-go cups of herbaceous chicken broth with condiments such as lemongrass, truffle salt and fresh herbs, co-owner Elizabeth Wells says there are four things that set the restaurant's bone broth apart from stock: the broth is made with roasted rather than raw bones; it's simmered longer; apple cider vinegar is added to extract nutrients; and chicken feet are included to up the gelatin content. "I started reading about the benefits of bone broth last year, and my boyfriend and I began making it at home," says Wells, who drinks the broth daily. "We had these amazing roasted bones from the rotisserie chicken at the restaurant, and we started playing with the recipe. It was delicious. We thought it would be a nutritious and fun addition to the menu." 

NYC chef Seamus Mullen, who just opened El Colmado Butcher in the Meatpacking District, plans on selling bone broth. "We have A LOT of excellent-quality pastured bones. I think bone broth is a very healthy hot beverage and is most definitely not just a trendy rebranding of stock. Unlike stock, which should be somewhat neutral in flavor, broth is simmered with aromatics and spices to add flavor and nutritional value."

Stock vs. Broth

Not everyone makes such a strong distinction between bone broth and stock. In fact, even chef Marco Canora, whose broth kiosk Brodo kicked off the trend in New York, says he regards stock and broth as "interchangeable," though he adds that broth is typically made with meatier bones. At Fleisher's butcher shop in Brooklyn, where piping hot cups of bacony broth are sold ungarnished in to-go cups, a counter-person said the shop's bone broth is the same as its stock. Ditto for the Penn Quarter location of DC's Red Apron where broths are made from a mixture of bones from sustainably raised pigs, cows and chickens, and optional spice sachets with combinations such as lemon and thyme or basil, ginger, jalapeño and lime can be added. "We use the terms interchangeably because for us both our stock and our broth simmer with bones for 36 hours and have very little mirepoix," says owner Nathan Anda. "That might not be the case for everyone."

That lack of distinction is one of the things that has many chefs and nutritionists rolling their eyes about miraculous claims being made about bone broth. While broth believers see the current popularity of bone broth as a sign of consumers' growing desire to return to wholesome, whole foods that our ancestors might have eaten, others aren't so sure. "It is a trend and there is no significant scientific data to support the claims," says Terrance Brennan of NYC's Picholine. Presidio Social Club's chef Tang says he's been "pummeled" with what he sarcastically calls the "sound business advice" that he should start making bone broth. "Bone broth is a trend and a fad that noncooks love," he adds. "I've tasted several versions — all of them were expensive and they all tasted like watered-down stock."

Adds chef Tim Graham of Chicago's
Travelle: "Honestly, I find it to be a new trendy name for stock." His suggestion: turn that bone broth into French onion soup and accompany it with cheese and croutons.

"Chefs have been making 'bone broths' for hundreds of years — they are called consommé!" quips chef Joe Heppe of Oak + Char, another Chicago restaurant.

"It's wonderfully ironic to me that it's become the latest trend, as making stock is what we chefs have always done!" adds chef Bruce Sherman of North Pond, also in Chicago.

"I think the difference [between bone broth and stock] is in the eye of the beholder," says Monica Reinagel, chief nutritionist for the ReViVer restaurant group. "Bone broth is made with the same ingredients and procedures as are used to make stock. The ratio of bones to meat to liquid, how long you cook varies from cook to cook. So,whether you call it stock or bone broth, your results will depend on what you put in and how you cook it." Reinagel does say that the more bones you use and the longer you cook broth, the more protein and certain minerals it's likely to contain. One catch: Reinagel says that roasting bones rather than starting with raw bones actually results in a broth with less collagen -- one of the ingredients brothers believe is beneficial. Not to worry, though, since Reinagel adds that "the evidence that eating collagen will help your joints or your skin is pretty weak" anyway.

Taste the Trend

Okay, so bone broth may not be a cure-all, but there's another reason it's worth giving it a try: it can be really delicious and satisfying. "I think bone broth offers what good stock offers — it's warming, wholesome and tasty," says Reinagel. "It can be a nice additional source of protein and other nutrients, and it's a great ingredient to cook with." Chef-partner Doug Psaltis of Chicago's Ramen-san agrees: "We love our broths and think they're tasty, even on their own. They're a good sipping alternative to the standard coffee or tea, too — it's nice to have something that's warm and nutritious on the go that isn't full of caffeine."

Read on to learn more about various versions of bone broth being offered up around the country, and watch below for a video report straight from the country's first-ever bone-broth festival:

Belcampo Meat Co., various locations in California

Bone broth made from the bones and skin of beef, pork, lamb and poultry can be ordered to stay and to go, as well as frozen in quarts, at the San Francisco, Palo Alto, Downtown LA and Santa Barbara locations of this California butcher shop/restaurant. The key to a good broth is "using good quality, healthy bones from healthy animals," says president Bronwen Hanna-Korpi, who adds that they've been selling bone broth since the first Belcampo opened a few years ago. "At Belcampo, we practice whole-animal butchery and have a lot of leftover bones that we need to find creative uses for — with those bones, we make all sorts of stocks, and our bone broth is an extension of our existing product line," she says. "Not only is bone broth an age-old tradition but it's also one of the best examples of whole-animal usage." In the San Francisco location, customers can opt for a ginger add-in that Hanna-Korpi says is great for colds, as well as a chile-rosemary add-in that makes for a "traditional Italian grandma-style broth." (Add-ins are planned for the other locations, as well.) Hanna-Korpi personally drinks the broth about once a week. "I would drink it more but I need to save some for our customers," she says. "I feel more energetic after a cup — like Superwoman! It's a great pick-me-up during the day."

Blackbelly Market, Boulder, CO

Top Chef season five winner Hosea Rosenberg says he recently added bone broth to the to-go and dine-in breakfast and lunch menu at his Boulder market and restaurant after reading about how popular it's getting in NYC. "We have a lot of bones all the time, so I thought, why not?" says the chef. "The best thing about our broth is that it comes from the whole animals that we break down daily in our butcher shop/restaurant. All of the animals are local, well raised and pastured — 100% happy animals." A 48-hour simmer results in two rich broths: "bird broth" (with chicken, turkey and duck bones) and beef broth. You can also order a combo of the two called "barnyard broth." Free, self-serve toppings (pictured above) include mushroom tea made from dried mushrooms, fermented vegetables, apple cider vinegar and Bragg liquid aminos. Though Rosenberg says he's still hooked on coffee for a picker-upper, he does think that bone broth is nutritious choice: "I have traveled in Asia and I am a full believer that broth with or without noodles and meatballs and fresh herbs is definitely a healthier way to go than bacon and eggs."

Brodo, NYC

There are three main broths — chicken, beef and Hearth (made with beef shins, chicken and turkey) — plus rotating specials such as pork broth at Marco Canora's walk-up window attached to his East Village restaurant Hearth. Add-ins (75 cents apiece) include ginger juice, mushroom tea, kvass (fermented beet juice), bone marrow, chile oil, turmeric and garlic purée. In addition to being served in coffee cups for immediate sipping, the broth is also available in 32-ounce jars to go, as an appetizer at Hearth, as well as in bowls with grains, meat and veggies at the chef's wine bar Fifty Paces. Like many other broth aficionados, Canora says one of they keys to good broth is the quality of the bones that go into it, which is why he opts for grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken. Canora says he's been sipping broth all his life but now he drinks "many, many ounces" every day. "I find that I have a lot more energy and for a longer period of time, too. It warms the soul and just makes me feel good."

To see Brodo in action, check out the Zagat video of the broth hot spot

Indie Fresh in Gotham West Market, NYC

In addition to soups and juices, this outpost in Gotham West Market sells various kinds of broth (served in coffee cups for immediate drinking and also delivered in mason jars throughout the country), including two bone broths: ginger chicken, which is pumped up with carrots, onions, fennel and ginger juice, and pho beef, which takes two days to make and is seasoned with garlic, star anise, cinnamon, black cardamom and — in the last hour — mint and basil. Lots of bones, a long cooking time and and the addition of plenty of seasonings make Indie Fresh's bone broth different from traditional stock, says chef Akhtar Nawab (Choza Taqueria). "Our bone-based stocks are all heavy on bones and then get refortified for more body and flavor," says the chefs. "Our bone broths take twice as long to cook as our stocks." Nawab says he's gone from drinking broth a couple of times a week to drinking it daily. "I have had a history of knee and lower back problems and neither seem to be bothering me anymore," he adds.

Pistola, Los Angeles

If your definition of clean eating comes with a side of booze, LA's meat-centric Italian restaurant Pistola has a drink-meets-soup for you: "From the Kitchen with Love" is made with a long-simmered lamb bone broth that's spiked with 15-year-old scotch. Sounds like a concoction that could simultaneously cause and cure a hangover. Bar manager Aaron Melendrez says the cocktail addresses the desires of an increasingly health-conscious society. "I believe in purpose behind cocktails," says Melendrez. "If we can get some health benefits out of going out for a drink then it's a win-win situation."

Proposition Chicken, San Francisco

Roasted bones from rotisserie chicken ("flipped chicken" on the menu) are the starting point for the long-simmered bone broth at San Francisco's casual Proposition Chicken. Free-range chickens are butchered on-site at the restaurant, and co-owner Elizabeth Wells says serving bone broth is great way to reduce kitchen waste. "We use our raw bones to make our matzo-ball soup, but were composting the roasted bones from our flipped chicken," she explains. "We were searching for ways to further use these nutrient-rich bones in our food and divert them from waste." She had also been reading about the purported health benefits of broth, so decided to give it a try, first at home and then for the restaurant. She says roasted bones (which are simmered for 24 hours along with aromatics and chicken feet) give the broth an especially rich flavor. The broth, which is served in to-go cups, is garnished with Italian parsley and thyme just before serving, and there's a free bar with rotating add-ins, such as herbs, lemongrass, truffle salt and nori and sesame seeds for customers to choose from. Not content with anecdotal evidence of broth's healing powers, the restaurant owners are having the nutritional content of the broth lab-tested. "While we've read a lot of research on the benefits of bone broth from nutritionists and doctors, we're also really curious to see what the results will be from nutritional testing," says Wells, who drinks broth every day. "I generally drink it in the afternoon. It's a great pick-me-up instead of a tea or coffee."

Ramen-san, Chicago

Originally the rich chicken-bone broth at Chicago's Ramen-San was just served in bowls of ramen — until customers started asking for the broth straight-up. "It all began when we had people asking just for our broths during the freezing-cold weather here in Chicago," says chef-partner Doug Psaltis. "The broth is warm and inviting and another opportunity to drink something other than coffee." So Ramen-San began serving to-go cups of the shio chicken broth (as well as a shiitake broth). Psaltis says he now drinks the broth several times a week. "It's a nice alternative to caffeine and great pick-me-up."

Red Apron, Washington, DC

At the Penn Quarter location of the DC-area butcher shop/restaurant Red Apron, chef, owner and whole-animal butchery expert Nathan Anda turns bones — including cartilage-rich femurs, kneecaps and knuckles — from sustainably raised pigs, chickens and cows into beef, pork and smoked chicken broths that are simmered for 36 hours and sold in eight- and 12-ounce to-go cups. Anda, who uses the terms "stock" and "broth" interchangeably, says he's been making broth since Red Apron opened in 2007, and then started selling stock three years ago. "That recently evolved into the hot broth to-go program we have today," he adds. That program includes optional teabaglike spice sachets in combinations such as lemon and thyme; turmeric, orange and cinnamon;  basil, ginger, jalapeño and lime; and fennel pollen, oregano, lemon, garlic and chile flakes. Anda says he's been trying to replace his afternoon coffee with bone broth. "I'm definitely sleeping better having replaced the caffeine with a protein-rich drink."

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bone broth