Great bone broth starts with turmeric, ginger and the best bones
My neighbor Sharon makes a big pot of bone broth each week. Last summer I kept seeing an adolescent black bear tearing through my backyard on his way to her house, no doubt drawn to the irresistible aroma wafting from the kitchen window. Who could blame him? The presence of a pot of broth gently bubbling away all day draws everyone into the kitchen. Lately I’ve been making a brain healthy version of my basic beef bone broth by adding fresh turmeric and ginger to the pot. My Turmeric Ginger Bone Broth is rich and satisfying, soothing for the stomach, and perfect for making Pho Bo, the classic main dish soup of Vietnam.
Bone broth may be the hottest healthy food trend but it’s nothing new. Surely your grandmother tossed bones with vegetable scraps and water in a pot and simmered it on the back burner all day? She probably called it “stock,” but nowadays it is rebranded as bone broth. Your grandmother probably didn’t sip on her stock from a cup throughout the day like many bone broth enthusiasts do now. As a substitute for afternoon tea, a sports recovery drink, and a healthy elixir, bone broth is all the rage.
Does bone broth lives up to all its purported health claims, with the power to build bone, boost the immune system, and heal the gut? Like most foods, we just don’t have good studies to prove or disprove that bone broth is a magical elixir. I do know it’s nutrient-dense and incredibly delicious.
My Turmeric Ginger Bone Broth is easy to make. All you need is a few simple techniques, odds and ends of vegetables (including turmeric and ginger root), and, most importantly, great bones.
Bone broth vs. stock
So, what exactly is the difference between bone broth and stock? It all comes down to time on the stove.
Bone broth is a long-simmered stock – anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. This long cooking process breaks the bones down, releasing the nutrients and minerals from the marrow into the broth. Bones release collagen too, forming a gelatinous substance which gives the broth body and makes it easily digestible.
The science behind the broth
Bones are packed with collagen, a protein essential for keeping the body elastic and resilient. As we age, our bodies make less collagen — joints are stiffer, skin becomes wrinkled, and bones are weaker. After a long simmer on the stove, collagen breaks down into amino acids, especially proline, glycine, glutamine, and arginine. So, while the broth may not actually provide collagen to smooth your wrinkles, it is rich in the amino acids needed for healthy skin, joints and bones.
Bone marrow is a nutrient-dense food containing brain healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Bones from grass-fed animals are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), two important components of a brain healthy diet.
Is there science to back up a bone broth’s ability to bolster the immune system? Yes, at least if it’s chicken broth. According to a study published in the medical journal Chest, “chicken soup may contain a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity.” During a viral upper respiratory infection, chicken broth inhibited chemotaxis of neutrophils, those blood cells that instigate inflammation in the body. Then again, we already knew that chicken soup alleviates cold symptoms, didn’t we?
Still, studies are lacking for many of bone broth’s claims, such its ability to help athletes recover from intense workouts. It makes sense, though. Packed with amino acids and electrolytes, it could be the perfect restorative drink.
Health gains aside, having a bone broth recipe in your repertoire provides a perfect go-to ingredient for brain healthy cooking and it also makes good use of scraps.
Plus, a long-simmered broth made from scratch in your own kitchen, using clean ingredients, is bound to have benefits beyond what science can measure.
Great bone broth starts with great bones
All the vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the marrow of the bones. Given enough time, they will seep out into the broth. But it’s where toxins are concentrated as well, so it’s important to source bones from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics. You want bones from healthy, well-cared-for animals. In other words, buy beef and pork bones from a local farmer or rancher who raises animals humanely. A combination of marrow bones and joints makes for a rich, gelatinous broth.
Buy poultry bones from farmers who let their animals forage and roam outdoors. If you hunt, consider saving your elk, deer and bison bones from healthy animals for making a wild game broth. And look for organic bison bones in the grocery store; although farm-raised rather than wild, the organic designation assures they will be free of hormones and antibiotics. (I buy chickens and eggs from a local biodynamic farm, Purely By Chance, through a farm share they call Who Came First?)
The best beef bones are from animals fed only grass, not corn. (I source my beef bones from Lockhart Cattle Company in Jackson, Wyoming. You can read more about how the Lockhart family raises cattle fed only grass in this piece I wrote last summer: Raising Steaks on Local Grass.)
Turmeric and ginger amp up the brain healthy factor
Ginger is known as an antioxidant-rich root, and some studies show it is particularly good for the brain. Perimenopausal women were found to have improved memory and focus after ingesting ginger spiked foods. And numerous studies have examined ginger’s ability to boost mental alertness.
Turmeric is a daily staple in the cuisine of India, a country where Alzheimer’s is rare — just 3 cases per 100 people compared to 19 cases per 100 in rural Pennsylvania. It is also a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant root. Can you reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by spicing your food with turmeric? Some believe that you can.
Curcumin, one of the active ingredients in turmeric, was shown to prevent some of the DNA damage to lung cells done by smoking tobacco, to reverse precancerous changes in the colon and pancreas, and to prevent the growth of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. Now researchers are studying turmeric for its anti-amyloid activity.
Anti-amyloid? Amyloid plaques in the brain, as you will recall, are a key anatomic feature of Alzheimer’s disease. In the laboratory, curcumin inhibits the aggregation of these plaques before they can clog up the brain like barnacles on the bottom of a boat. Curcumin may help modulate the function of macrophages — cells that are like the vacuum cleaners of the immune system, getting rid of proteins that inhibit normal cell function. It is possible that macrophages do a better job cleaning up the plaque when curcumin is in the bloodstream.
Three simple techniques for exceptional bone broth
First, roast the bones in the oven, along with the aromatics — onions, garlic, herbs — until brown and caramelized. For my Turmeric Ginger Bone Broth, I add ginger and turmeric root too. Once roasted, be sure to scrape all the tasty browned bits at the bottom of the roasting pan into the stockpot. This will add a golden brown color and rich meaty flavor to the broth. (Be forewarned: A turmeric-spiked broth will stain surfaces yellow.)
Second, never bring your bone broth to a full boil. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, cover with cold water and slowly bring to just below a simmer. When it’s time to settle in for the long haul, the liquid should be gently bubbling up.
Third, skim the foam that forms at the top of the pot. Some bones will put out more foam than others, usually in the first hour or two of simmering. Check the pot every 15 minutes or so. Use a slotted spoon to skim and discard what collects on the surface. If you have sourced high quality, pristine bones, chances are there will be very little foam. That foam contains impurities that will make your stock cloudy if left behind.
How long should your bone broth simmer? This depends on how much time you’ve got. You can make a very delicious and nutritious broth in just 5 to 6 hours. But if you can go longer — more than 12 and up to 48 hours — some bone broth enthusiasts think you will reap additional benefits. My broth making usually begins in the morning and finishes after supper; I have yet to simmer away for the 48-hour marathon.
Turmeric Ginger Bone Broth becomes Pho Bo
My favorite way to use Turmeric Ginger Bone Broth? I turn it into Pho, the spicy main dish soup of Vietnam, by adding mint, jalapeño, mint, basil, cilantro, rice noodles and paper-thin slices of grass-fed beef.
Making a pot of bone broth each week is part of my kitchen routine. And this summer, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the neighborhood bear.
That gorgeous shot of my Turmeric Ginger Pho Bo is by food photographer Paulette Phlipot. Paulette and I have worked on numerous magazine pieces together and it is always such a joy to see how she captures my recipes. For more inspiringly beautiful food photos, check out her website, PaulettePhlipot.com, and her latest cookbook Ripe, A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables, a must for every brain healthy cookbook library. Thanks for letting me use the photo, Paulette!