You've decided to add bone broth to your diet. You've heard about all the health benefits from your favorite paleo and keto bloggers, and you're ready to dive in. So, should you make it yourself or just grab a box from the shelf? Are they all the same, or does the brand make a difference?
Figuring out whether to make bone broth and where to buy bone broth are the next obstacles on your list. We've put together some pointers on how to shop for top-quality, store-bought bone broth to help you jump-start your mug-a-day habit. Next, we'll share our favorite places to shop and some great brands to look for. Then, just for safe measure, we'll leave you with a super easy recipe and strategy for making your own bone broth at home.
Why Drink Bone Broth?
You've likely already come to the realization that bone broth is a wonderful addition to your healthy diet. Whether you're doing the low-carb thing, the paleo route, the full-blown keto approach, or simply looking to improve your overall health and wellbeing, adding a mug of bone broth to your regimen is a good idea.
Why? Bone broth offers an array of beneficial nutrients that can help support gut health, skin health, digestion, and your immune system. The main ingredient in bone broth that has created the buzz around this golden elixir is collagen. Collagen is the most prevalent type of protein in the bodies of humans and animals, as it's not only part of the muscle matrix, it's also part of the skin and bone matrices as well.
There are five types of collagen, each residing in different areas of human and animal anatomy. The ones that end up in bone broth come from the bones and connective tissue that are boiled down to make the broth (1). Collagen, which when cooked down, turns to gelatin, may help reduce joint pain because it provides you with more raw materials to make your own tissue (raw materials in the form of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein) (2).
Multiple studies have shown that collagen helps improve skin elasticity and hydration, reduces signs of aging, and improves wound healing (3). While more work needs to be done in the area of collagen's effects on skin, this research has also proposed that collagen consumption could help improve skin issues like dermatitis and other skin barrier diseases.
Your skin and your gut lining are both barriers between you and the outside world. Your skin prevents external invaders, and your gut lining protects your internal body from the contents being digested in your intestines. So the issue of barriers — skin and gut — are at the forefront of bone broth health claims. Many health professionals argue that bone broth can help heal a leaky gut by sealing the gut wall. There's no direct evidence that drinking bone broth sends those nutrients to the gut wall to patch the holes.
That being said, a key nutrient found in bone broth, the amino acid L-glutamine, has been shown to help reduce inflammation and contribute to the healing and sealing of the gut lining (4). Many naturopathic doctors (NDs) will prescribe L-glutamine supplements to patients experiencing inflammatory bowel disease, IBS, and other symptoms that suggest a leaky gut.
How to Shop for Bone Broth
Not all broths are created equal. In order to get the benefits that bone broth offers, it's important to know what to look for and what to avoid. If you're walking through your grocery store aisles and you come across a wall of boxed broths, take a pause and look at those boxes in detail before making your purchase.
Avoid chemical preservatives or any unpronounceable ingredients that you wouldn't have found in your grandmother's chicken soup. That should eliminate a few right off the bat, but let's dig in for the four most important requirements.
Bare Bones Requirement #1: Organic Bone Broth
First and foremost, this is one place in your diet where you want to go organic without compromise. Bone broth is primarily an animal product, and choosing organic (or even better ideally grass-fed, in the case of beef, or pasture-raised, in the case of chicken) in this category is a must for a healthy diet.
That's because animals bioaccumulate the toxins (pesticides and herbicides) that are used in conventional agribusiness and that you're better off avoiding. Furthermore, for an ingredient to be organic, it will be, by definition, free from GMOs and the chemical herbicides and pesticides that usually accompany them. Most brands that opt for organic bones also choose organic vegetables, which are important, but not 100% critical.
Bare Bones Requirement #2: Bones Listed in the Ingredients
Secondly, not all broth is bone broth. Simple broth is just a quick simmer of meat, veggies, and herbs. With a simple broth, you're not getting the long simmer of animal bone that gives bone broth all its fame and glory. Bones need to be listed in the ingredients.
Bare Bones Requirement #3: Minimum Cook Time of 6 Hours
Choosing a simple broth is about as helpful to you as dropping a bouillon cube into boiling water and calling it chicken broth, so take a close look at the bone broth package. You won't get the benefits of bone broth unless the bones were cooked for a minimum of six hours (though it can be as long as 24-48 hours, especially for beef broth).
Bare Bones Requirement #4: Acidic Activator Listed in the Ingredients
The final requirement is that your broth includes some sort of acidic activator, which helps the bones break down more efficiently during the cooking process. The most commonly used acidic ingredient is apple cider vinegar. Other options are raw whey and lemon juice, but those are a lot less common for commercial bone broths. Brands that skip the acid are leaving a lot of nutrients at the bottom of the pot, making their product inferior to those who use this key ingredient.
In addition to these four requirements, there are some good-to-haves as well. Not all brands will include additional beneficial ingredients beyond the bones, aromatics, and veggies, but some will give their broth a boost with anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric, black pepper, or ginger.
Where to Buy Bone Broth
For the most part, the low-and-slow, top quality brands of bone broth are found in the freezer section rather than in the aisles with those simple broths we mentioned. That's because they're using only whole food ingredients and no preservatives.
These include brands like Osso Good, Bonafide Provisions, Brodo, and EPIC Artisanal. Each of these packs a good punch of protein, great flavor (though you may need to add a little sea salt), and top-quality ingredients. But definitely don't assume that all shelf-stable bone broth is the simple stuff. There are two brands that have reliable high-quality bone broths that are manufactured and stored in a way that allows them to be shelf-stable without adding anything extra.
Those are Kettle & Fire and Bare Bones Broth. These two are likely the best bone broth options you'll find on the shelf, the former in a small box and the latter in a pouch with a spout. Both of these meet all the criteria we've listed for top-quality bone broth. The one requirement you won't see before you purchase is whether your bone broth gels in the refrigerator.
If your broth turns to “chicken jell-o” in the fridge, you know you have the good stuff. It's likely you'll see other shelf-stable brands next to these two, but they don't pass this last test. You can take our word for it or try it out yourself. The final store-bought option for getting the benefits of bone broth is to use a bone broth supplement.
You'll find these in the health section, near protein powders. You can also find great options by buying direct online — just make sure you’re buying from a brand you trust. Bone broth supplements are a great option if you're looking for options beyond a savory, hot mug of broth. While it's totally fine to reconstitute a bone broth supplement with hot water and sip it, the flavor is a lot milder than the store-bought options, so you can actually do a lot more with it.
You can add it to a smoothie, mix it into your yogurt and fruit, or even bake with it to give yourself a collagen boost. Each of these options is likely available at your local health food store, but more and more big chain supermarkets are beginning to carry bone broth.
Now that Amazon owns Whole Foods, you can even get your favorite brands delivered to you if you can't make it over to shop in person. Online health-driven retailers like Thrive Market are also selling some of these varieties and even make their own store brand version.
A Simple Bone Broth Recipe
Buying bone broth is by far the simplest route to go if you're looking to jump right in without any effort or hassle. That being said, when you make it yourself, you have total control over what goes into the pot and how long it stays there. And the great thing about making soups and broths is that you don't have to follow an exact recipe every time.
You just need a simple roadmap that can accommodate the ingredients you have. The must-have ingredients are the bones, the apple cider vinegar (or other acidic ingredient), and the water. But the great thing about making your own broth at home is that you can actually use ingredients that you'd otherwise throw away.
Every time you cook at home, save your veggie scraps in a freezer bag. This includes the butts of celery and carrots, the skins and ends of onions and garlic, the ribs of kale, the outer leaves of cabbage. And while we do recommend purchasing bones that are specifically collagen-heavy, like chicken feet or beef knuckle, you can save your bone scraps too.
Making bone broth can be your way of using every part of your food supply. You'll be reducing waste in your home while creating something healthy and delicious for yourself. If you don't have scraps and want to make your broth right away, here are the minimal ingredients to include:
- organic chicken feet (about a pound per gallon of water you start with)
- whole carrots, chopped (keep the skin on)
- celery, chopped (use the whole thing)
- onion (throw in the skin and ends)
- garlic (skin included)
- apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon per gallon of water)
You can also add in sea salt, black pepper, and herbs toward the end of your cooking time if you want to season things up. Throw your bones into the pot, cover with water, and stir in the ACV.
Once you've done this, set a timer for 30 minutes to let your ACV do its job before you turn on the fire (or your instant pot or slow-cooker — all work great for this). Once the timer goes off, dump in your veggies, partially cover your stovetop pot (fully cover it if you're using one of the other options), and start your slow simmer for at least 6 hours.
For an instant pot, your time speeds up to about 1.5 hours. During the cooking process on the stove, your broth should reduce down to about two-thirds of the level where you started. It can reduce down even further for an even stronger flavor and a more concentrated serving of gelatin. Once it's cooked, strain it into jars and allow it to come to room temperature before freezing.
Buy Bone Broth for Healthy Benefits
Making bone broth can sometimes require more time and energy than you want to spend. Your best bet if you're looking to get started right away is to buy it. You can find reputable brands at your local health food store, a larger chain like Whole Foods, or select online retailers.
That being said, more and more big chain supermarkets are answering the call of those looking to boost their health with bone broth. When you're shopping, make sure you find a product that meets the minimum requirements of organic, bones, a long cook time, and an acid like apple cider vinegar. This way, you'll be a lot more likely to end up with a product that gels in the refrigerator, which is a sure sign that the good stuff is in the box.