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March 16, 2015

Restaurateurs Invest in a (Bone) Broth

Bone brothBone broth—the hottest trend in 2015 so far—is one of those commodities that came out of seemingly nowhere, and is somewhat of a mystery to diners. First, because the name “bone broth” sounds like it’s the favorite dish of cannibals everywhere; and second, because the name doesn’t give much of a clue as to what it is.  Any chef worth his weight in the kitchen knows how to make stock using bones, so how is bone broth any different?  


Turns out that bone broth is a “precise” way of saying a rich stock made with all kinds of bones, usually roasted first for the added flavors that come from caramelization. Whereas stock may be simmered for several hours, bone broth is simmered in a restaurant kitchen for as long as a day until the bones are almost dissolved. Instead of adding noodles, vegetables, and so forth, this stock is strictly for sipping. As to why it’s suddenly part of the food lexicon, blame, uh, credit the Paleo Diet, the current diet du jour, where folks eat like their ancestors for good health and shiny hair.     


The trend started in New York when Chef Marco Canora opened a take-out window called Brodo nextdoor to his sit-down restaurant featuring coffee cups of bone broth to go. New Yorkers flocked to Brodo and were willing to stand in line for a $4-to-$9 soup fix. Health proponents claim that bone broth has numerous benefits from the breakdown of the bones, but other than the scientifically documented studies on the benefits of chicken soup on colds and flus, the hard evidence is generally on the soft side.


Take collagen, which breaks down into gelatin with moist heat cooking and is found in the “locomotive” parts of an animal—coincidentally the less expensive cuts used in stock. Collagen is credited with everything from increased joint flexibility to more elastic skin. In reality, the collagen breaks down into gelatin and gives stock “a smooth, rich, creamy mouth feel, no different than braising a pot roast,” says Dr. Brad Morgan, Performance Foodservice’s Senior Director of Protein and president of the American Meat Science Association. But, he says, “You’d probably have to eat a 55 gallon jug to get the health benefit.”


Nevertheless restaurants have been quick to add bone broth to their menus.  Paleo diet aside, it’s also possible that the business of broth is an outgrowth of the popularity of pho. With pho restaurants on every corner, consumers have become more educated on the differences in flavors between a good stock and a great one. Mediocre may not cut it anymore. The result, as with numerous coffee shops post-Starbucks, means that interested restaurants have had to up their game. Numerous outposts from Los Angeles to New York, from Kansas City to Boulder, Colo., have taken up the concept and are selling the broth for sipping or for home use by the quart, often in conjunction with other restaurant items. Some restaurants are offering “broth” bars, with several different broths filling in for the iceberg, Romaine and field greens of the salad bar.  


Obviously home cooks have been making their own signature broth for the last umpteen years, but this trend might be here to stay.  Making your own bone broth isn‘t difficult, any more than roasting a chicken. It’s just time-consuming. Our ancestors may have wanted to stalk their own prey for that nice bowl of soup but we’re just as happy to let the chefs do the cooking—and we take our bone broth to go.


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