Fab or fad: should you swap your morning coffee for a cup of bone broth?

Rosie Fitzmaurice

Championed by Gwyneth Paltrow, the bone broth fad arrived in the UK several years ago and then sort of disappeared off the radar. But is it set for a resurgence? Possibly.

While 2019 has already been tipped "year of the vegan", awareness around gut health has also exploded, and bone broth is gaining traction again among the wellness set, who are now adding adaptogens to their concoctions. Some say that it has gut healing and anti-inflammatory powers, others say it has anti-ageing properties and can help to promote healthy joints.

While one recent study found that cooked ham bones might help to protect against cardiovascular diseases, in reality, a lot more research is needed to draw firm conclusions on health benefits of drinking bone broth. In short, most of the current claims are purely anecdotal.

So what makes a broth a broth?

Bone broth is typically made with carrots, onions and meat bones, as with stock, but it's the way it's made that differentiates the two, explains Catherine Farrant, founder of Ossa Organic, which produces a range of ready-to-eat broths.

"Stock is typically made by boiling bones on a high heat for around two hours, while broth is simmered on a low heat for up to 24 hours to ensure maximum extraction of all the nutrients, like collagen, gelatine, amino acids and glycine.

"Real extraction comes with time and that’s really the barrier to entry with bone broth – people don’t have the time [to make it]," which is where Farrant's team have stepped in to slave over the stove for you.

Protein, collagen and bone broth

Bone broth contains protein – Ossa's beef broths contain 18g of protein, while the chicken variety contains 13g – and Farrant says that some of her very active customers like to add her broths to smoothies and shakes as an alternative to protein powders. "You're far better off having a cup of bone broth than a protein shake which are either highly processed or GMO," she says.

The ingredient that people tend to get most excited about when talking about bone broth is collagen, a protein that structures and strengthens our skin, hair and nails, and something we naturally produce less of as we age. However, not everyone is convinced that ingesting collagen in this way is going to have a miracle anti-ageing effect.

Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert told the Standard: "Protein contains collagen so the chances are you're getting enough of it if you're eating protein with lunch, dinner and breakfast. There's no evidence that having it in liquid form from bone broth means you're going to absorb it or that it's bioavailable in the same way in the body."

She added that the many claims around collagen – that it's linked to reduced cellulite or that it can help people who suffer with "leaky gut syndrome" (when the cell wall of the small intestine becomes damaged and allows toxins to be absorbed into the bloodstream) – are unfounded.

While broths contain nutrients, "it's about what you eat in your diet every day as a whole," she says.

What's vegan broth?

In addition to chicken, beef and wild fish, Ossa also sells a vegan-friendly broth (above), which she says best imitates the nutritional profile of bone broth.

"It's a fortified recipe," explains Farrant. "You don't get collagen or gelatine from it but we’ve looked at the average English person and what they're lacking and realised there's an iodine deficiency in England, so we've used wakame seaweed for iodine and shiitake ​mushrooms, a natural prebiotic.

"It's a delicious nutrition booster and a great foundation of an Asian-inspired soup," she added.

How best to drink it

While bone broth might not have the miracle anti-ageing powers some claim, it's certainly nutrient-dense, and Farrant, who recently held a bone broth pop-up at Whole Foods, says she wants to encourage people to swap their morning coffee or afternoon fizzy drink for a cup of broth for a natural boost.

If you do fancy yourself some, she sums up the best ways to consume it as Pan, Cup and Cold:

Pan: "Use it to boil your rice, as a base for soups and stews."

Cup: "This is the trendy New York way. When you feel like a snack to heal and seal the gut. If you're trying to reduce your caffeine intake, [swap it] for heating up a cup up at any time of day in the morning, at your 4pm slump or just before bed - a lot of people drink it because of the glycine, like magnesium, it’s a natural sleep aid."

Cold: "For people who are very lean and conscious of how they exercise, they add it to smoothies and shakes as a replacement to protein powders."