Updated on 12.26.16

Homemade Broth: A Healthy and Frugal Winter Treat for Body and Soul

Winter’s here, and if you’re anything like me, cold weather brings with it a strong desire to eat warm, hearty soups. And what is at the heart of every delicious soup? A tasty broth, of course.

I misunderstood broth for most of my life. I thought the only way to make it was to buy a box of salty powder off the supermarket shelf and then mix it with hot water. Add in some cheap noodles and boom, you’ve joined an esteemed culinary line of soup-creating chefs.

It turns out that’s not the case. The traditional way of making broth involves slow cooking high-quality tendons and bones to extract the plethora of nutrients and flavors they have to offer. These traditional methods are starting to come back into vogue, as people far and wide tout their health benefits (which we’ll get into below).

As with many rediscoveries of ancient techniques, the health food marketplace juggernaut has caught on. There are now stores popping up that will sell you broth made in the traditional fashion. I pass one shop in New York City, called Brodo, on my walk to work every morning. Their offerings look tasty, but they’re also pricey: It costs a minimum of $9 for a 16-ounce cup of basic bone broth.

Meanwhile, if you buy four pounds of bones from the supermarket at an average of $3 per pound, you can easily make a gallon of broth for only $12. The equivalent amount at Brodo would cost you $76!

I commend the people at Brodo for their entrepreneurial spirit and for charging what the market can afford. After all, making homemade broth takes precious time. But as with buying coffee, your wallet will thank you if you find a way to make your own traditional broth at home. Not only is it cheaper and more flavorful, it’s also healthier than store-bought powders and bouillon cubes.

Health Benefits of Traditional Broth

A few years ago, as I was looking for ways to revamp my diet and get rid of the debilitating stomach pains that were bothering me, I discovered the traditional way of making broth – and I’m very glad that I did.

When humans first started consuming meat, they used to consume the whole animal. This meant eating all the stuff many of us scoff at today, including organ meats, tendons, and bones.

Those tendons and bones have formed the basis of real, nourishing soup broths for thousands of years. The collagen in these tissues provides a whole array of amino acids and nutrients that you miss out on if you only ever eat muscle meats. If your stock includes bones with marrow in them, even better.

As with many things in nutrition science, the best way to find what works for you is to experiment on yourself and see what works. There are no large-scale studies on the health benefits of eating traditionally prepared bone broth, but the anecdotal evidence is piling up.

I know that it personally helped me heal many of the issues going on in my gut after I developed a tumor in my colon during college. After introducing broth to my diet, my stomach cramps became much less frequent, and my overall health improved. Others claim that bone broth helps protect your joints, boost your immune system, and improve your sleep.

The potential benefits of consuming traditional broth reached the mainstream after it came out that the Los Angeles Lakers training staff was pushing the team to consume as much of the stuff as they could handle. The players who bought in raved about having more resilient joints and increased energy.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But for me and many others, adding broth to our diet was a revelation.

How to Make Your Own Delicious Broth

If you have a large pot or a slow cooker and access to a butcher, you can make gallons of yummy, healthy, homemade broth that will put the boxed, chalky supermarket broths to shame.

To start, buy a mix of bones. The more tendons, the better. Chicken feet are great, as are knuckle bones, necks, and all other animal parts you might normally be too grossed out by to even look at.

Here’s the simplest preparation method:

  • Pull out your biggest pot, or your slow cooker, and dump in the animal parts. Aim for at least two pounds of bones, but I’ve done up to 10 pounds at a time for really big batches.
  • Fill the pot to the top with water, and add in some salt, fish sauce, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, and a couple of vegetables (onions, carrots, and celery are pretty common choices) for flavoring.
  • If you’re using a pot, bring the water to a boil, then cover it and let it simmer for 6-8 hours. If you have a slow cooker, just set it on the lowest heat setting for 7 hours and walk away.
  • Once the bones have simmered long enough, strain out the liquid into a bowl. You can use the broth right away (though it will contain some extra fat), or store it in your refrigerator. If you take a look after a few hours and it’s no longer liquidy, but rather bouncy and gelatinous, then you know you’ve made a batch of healthy, protein-rich goodness.

When you’re ready to use the broth, just skim off the layer of fat from the top, warm it up, and you’re good to go. You can use the broth in any recipe that calls for chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, from soups and gravies to risotto or stir-fry dishes.

A great thing about making your own broth is that it’s pretty forgiving: As long as you’re boiling bones, it’s hard to go wrong. There are many different takes on how to prepare a good batch of broth, and a simple Google search will reveal many different recipes. For instance, a recipe from the New York Times calls for no fewer than 15 ingredients. I can only imagine it’s even tastier than the one listed above — so if you want to get fancy, there are options.

Also, if you make more than you can eat in a week, don’t fret. The broth freezes really well, and can be defrosted easily in a microwave.

Summing Up

If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to get more quality proteins into your diet, making your own bone broth is a no brainer.

Julia Child once said, “How can a nation be called great if it’s bread tastes like Kleenex?” I feel like she would have felt similarly about American soup broth tasting like overly salted slop. We’ve gone away from the traditional preparations, and we sacrifice for it in nutrition and flavor.

Making your own broth means you can always have a delicious soup when you want it, and you’ll have peace of mind in knowing that you are consuming food in a manner that is consistent with how humans have eaten for a very long time.

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