Benefits of bone broth. TCM bone broth

Ancient Soul Food: The Benefits of Bone Broth

The use of bone broth in Chinese Medicine has been a staple for many centuries, ascribed to its myriad of health benefits. A simple, yet delicious soup, bone broth has returned in recent years due to its ability to nourish the gut, skin, and restore the body’s vital energy reserves. In this article, we will delve into the history and benefits of bone broth through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine. A basic recipe will be also included so you can start to implement this wonderful healing food into your diet!

Lets go back in time

Various cultures around the world have been making bone broths for centuries. In Ancient China, approximately 2,500 years ago, bone broth was made to extract as much of the animal as possible and to limit waste. Used for centuries, bone broth was then brought to the west by Moses Miamonides, an Egyptian Physician, who prescribed it to patients suffering from colds and asthmatic symptoms. Later in the 1700’s, bone broth began to appear in Dutch publications, then again in the 19th Century, it was used in Britain to treat various health ailments. Bone broth has returned in popularity in recent times for its myriad of health benefits as a soul nourishing food. But what exactly is bone broth?

What is bone broth?

To put it very simply, bone broth is a clear savoury soup which is made from slow-cooked animal bones, animal tissue, meat, and infused with various herbs and vegetables. To extract as much of the nutrients as possible, the broth is typically cooked over 24-48 hours or sometimes quicker by using a pressure cooker method. The slow cooking process extracts minerals, collagen, amino acids and other supportive nutrients from the bones and connective tissues, creating a flavourful and nutritious soup. When in a cooled state, the broth often forms an almost jelly like consistency due to the high concentration of gelatine which is an amino acid derived from collagen.

Potential health benefits

Bone broth is packed full of bioavailable nutrients and minerals which are likely responsible for its potential health benefits. Although there are limited studies on bone broth, current research has demonstrated it is high in minerals, amino acids and proteins such as collagen [1]. Specifically nutrients such as glycine, glutamine, gelatine, proline, glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium have been isolated. Nowadays bone broth has been touted with several health benefits which is likely due to the high availability of nutrients. One example is the benefits of bone broth to heal the gut, which is likely due to its high concentration of glycine and glutamine. These two amino acids have been shown to help heal a leaky gut by closing the small junctions of the intestinal lining [2].

A quick google search on the benefits of bone broth will often provide a list of several benefits, some of which include:

  1. Healing the gut
  2. Easing joint pain and reducing inflammation
  3. Nourishing the skin, hair and nails
  4. Improving sleep
  5. Supporting the immune system

So now that we’ve identified the nutritional profile of bone broth, what are some of the potential benefits from a Chinese medicine perspective?

Chinese medicine perspective of bone broth

According to Chinese Medicine, bone broth is a deeply nourishing food which tonifies Yin, Qi, Blood, and even partially our Jing essence. Bone broth can be considered a helpful food for chronic diseases which tax the body’s energy reserves. It can also be used during the recovery stage after an illness, cold or flu, medical treatment or postpartum. But exactly how does bone broth nourish our Yin, Qi and Blood? The ancient Chinese believed that consuming organs, meats and bones, directly strengthened these aspects within the body. As an example, in Chinese medicine philosophy, the bones are directly connected to the Kidney’s which govern our Jing essence, life-force and reproductive health. It was believed that a strong Jing essence correlated to good health and longevity. It is no surprise therefore that bone broth was such a revered staple for the ancients in preserving their constitution.

The wonderful thing regarding bone broth is the versatility for different ages and health conditions. To increase the nourishment of Qi, Yin and Blood, many different meats, organs, herbs and spices can be added to the broth, altering its therapeutic effect. Herbs like Shan Yao, also known as Chinese yam, can be used to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach which is essential to good digestion. Gou Qi Zi (goji berries), Da Zao (Chinese red date) or Dang Shen (American Ginseng) are often added to nourish the Qi and Blood. For those who are very deficient and suffering from blood deficiency, lamb meat can be included due to its strong tonification of Yang and Blood, giving the body deep nourishment and vitality. Symptoms of blood deficiency often include cold hands and feet, aversion to cold, fatigue, pale complexion, low mood , scanty menstruation or an irregular menstrual cycle.


Chinese bone broth recipe

Although there are many commercial bone broth powders and liquids available, there’s just something about a home cooked version where you can control the flavour and nutrition profile! Here is a basic recipe with an oriental twist to get you started.


Ingredients:

  • 1.5kg of beef or pork rib bones (meat and bones). Pork bones are typically used in Chinese broths due their richer end flavour
  • 1 piece of ginger root (approx 8cm), sliced
  • 5x cloves or garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1x small handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1-2 pieces of star anise
  • 1x small cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine (this can be omitted if necessary)

* Optional: To increase the collagen building aspect of the Chinese broth, you can add 2-4x chicken feet. These can easily be acquired from your local butcher or meat market.

Chinese herbs: Many of these herbs can be easily found at your local asian grocer. Its always best to source good quality dried Chinese herbs, that are tested for heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides. If in doubt, consult your Chinese medicine practitioner and they will be able to direct you. They will also be able to suggest specific herbs which maybe more beneficial for your body constitution and current symptoms!

  • 20 pieces of Yi Yi Ren (Job’s/Coix Tears)
  • 6-8 pieces of Da Zao (Chinese red date)
  • 3-5 pieces of dried Shan Yao (Chinese yam)
  • 10x Gou Qi Zi (Goji berries)
  • 3 pieces of Huang Qi (astragalus root)

Method:

  1. Cut away excess fat from the meat and then rinse the meat under clean water to remove blood and impurities
  2. Fill up a large stock pot with cold water and add the meat into the pot (water needs to be cold)
  3. Add your 1/2 of the ginger and your cooking wine to the pot, and turn the heat to high to begin the cooking process. Heat the water until it reaches a light simmer.
  4. As the stock reaches a light simmer, you will begin to notice what looks like foam and particulates rising to the top. This is normal during the initial cooking process and means the impurities and gamey flavour will be removed from the end broth. Allow the meat bones to cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Gently remove the meat bones and place into a seperate bowl and rinse under fresh water. Drain away the water from the pot and then re-fill with fresh clean water. Then bring to a medium boil.
  5. Add the meat bones, remaining ginger, Chinese herbs, and chicken feet (if using) to the pot and boil for 15-20mins. Then reduce the temperature to a light boil and cooking for a further 45mins. Check the broth periodically and scoop away any fat or particulates that rise to the top, to ensure a clear broth at the end. If the water level becomes a little low during this process, you can add some more boiling water to it.
  6. Cook the broth for approximately 45mins – 1 hour in total. Turn off the heat and then season your broth with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Traditionally the bones are left in the soup with the meat and herbs whilst consuming the broth, but you can discard the bones (and chicken feet) and leave just the meat and herbs in the pot.
  8. Serve up in a bowl and enjoy!

For more inspiration on Chinese medicine bone broths and other recipes, you can visit the Chinese Herbal Pantry on Youtube!

Are there any cautions?

Although bone broth is generally considered safe for most people, there are some potential cautions that should be stated. As most bone broths are generally cooked for 24-48 hours, the prolonged cooking process generally means it can be a high-histamine food. So if you’re someone who has histamine intolerance (HIT), it might be best to start very slow or address the cause of your histamine intolerance before starting your journey with bone broth. To read more about HIT and treatment considerations according to Chinese medicine, click here. I dedicated an article to HIT as this is such a common condition encountered in the clinic! Some individuals find that consuming a quickly cooked broth, like the recipe above or using an instant pot, reduces their histamine response and therefore isn’t problematic.

There has also been some concerns regarding individuals with glutamate sensitivity or ADHD and consumption of bone broth due to its high free glutamate content. This is because glutamate acts as a neuro-exitory neurotransmitter which for some people can lead to increased anxiety, agitation, insomnia and worsening of ADHD symptoms. Unfortunately, there is currently not enough research available to set the record straight and therefore should be assessed from an individual standpoint. If you have any questions or concerns regarding bone broth, its always best to consult your GP or trusted allied health professional.


[1] Mar-Solís, L. M., et al, 2021. Analysis of the Anti-Inflammatory Capacity of Bone Broth in a Murine Model of Ulcerative Colitis. Medicina, Volume 57.

[2] Min-Hyun, K. & Kim, H., 2017. The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

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