When Good Morning America asked its Twitter followers last month to guess the word of the year for 2014, the all-things-wellness website Well and Good replied: "Bone broth?"
It didn't win that contest (honors went to "vape"), but already it's a strong contender for the drink of 2015. The age-old curative, once made by grandmothers everywhere, is having a renaissance. The thin soup—involving poultry, beef or fish bones boiled until they break down—has popped up on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop winter detox menu, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ nutritionist serves it up to the team daily. Oregon-based Pacific Foods in October introduced chicken and turkey versions to the shelves of Whole Foods nationwide.
In Manhattan’s East Village, chef Marco Canora this fall opened Brodo (tagline: "The World's First Comfort Food"), a broth-only window next to his restaurant Hearth that offers varieties in sippable cups. This summer, Harlem-based Bone Deep and Harmony (a riff on the ‘90s rap group Bone Thugs & Harmony) even began offering bone broth subscriptions. It started out exclusively for clients of an acupuncturist who recommended it—the husband of one of the owners—and quickly spread citywide.
"People wanted the broth but they didn’t want to handle bones and they didn’t have time to make it," says Lya Mojica, an owner.
At California’s Abundant Harvest Organics CSA, which offers grass-fed beef and free-range chicken broths, organizers couldn’t source enough bones to satisfy their statewide subscribers’ yen for soup-making. So the CSA in October began selling bone broth.
"It’s flying off the shelves," said Heather Mondello, the CSA’s vice president of distribution.
Mondello credits bone broth’s resurgence to the current vogue for nose-to-tail eating, using every part of the animal. It’s also received a boost from the popular paleo diet and its close relative, the primal diet, which reach different conclusions about what cavemen ate (primal, for example, allows some dairy, which is verboten on paleo), but can agree it included bones. (A couple of paleo food companies are acting essentially as incubators for bone broth companies, allowing them to use their kitchen space.)
Key, though, in stoking demand is broth’s rebranding. First, there was the name: All broth (except vegetable) already involves bones. But only recently has anyone touted that ingredient, whose high collagen content some believe can bestow stronger (human) bones, shinier hair, and glowing skin. The newly fashionable versions of the broth typically are long-simmering—usually 24 to 48 hours, compared to 12 hours, roughly the minimum required—so that more nutrients leach into the liquid, reportedly improving immune function.
"It’s like a vitamin and mineral supplement in a warm, delicious package," said Liz Wolfe, a nutritional therapy practitioner who for years has recommended bone broth as part of her popular Purely Primal Skincare guide. Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dietetics, said the broth is certainly nutrient-rich, but that many other claims have not been verified scientifically.
Depending on whom you ask, bone broth is either set to be the new green juice (Grub Street, Elle) or the new coffee (Epicurious).
Canora, who likes to add turmeric to his, scoffs at the former idea.
"It has nothing to do with juice. It’s a hot beverage. I’d liken it to coffee," he said. Brodo’s website reads "rethink your hot beverage," and challenges abound online to replace coffee with bone broth.
San Diego-area chef Ryan Harvey, who started Bare Bones Broth, which ships nationwide, said bone broth is a foundation for good home cooking. It’s the first thing he was taught in culinary school.
"You use it in soups, stews, braising, sautéing. It’s a versatile and powerful ingredient. But when I walked down the soup aisle in the store no one was selling it as a health food," he said. Harvey started his business part-time in November 2013 with a 10-quart pot, which quickly became a 100-quart pot—"takes up all four burners on a house stove," he said—and then three 100-quart pots. Sales went from $1,000 a month to $20,000, he said, and in December 2014 he quit his job at Nine-Ten Restaurant & Bar, owned by one-time Iron Chef contender Jason Knibb, to make broth full-time. (Harvey's wife has successfully swapped bone broth for coffee, but he has not.)
Harvey said he wasn't sure the business would fly because of prohibitive shipping costs of $20 to $50 an order (and that's with the company's 55% UPS discount). But his only problem has been making enough; he'd like to branch into fish bone broth but said he's stretched thin enough with chicken and beef. And he's frantically hunting for bigger space because he's outgrown his at Pete's Paleo, a meal delivery service.
Chuck Eggert, the founder of 27-year-old Pacific Foods, stumbled on the idea of bone broth as a sippable beverage in 2013, when he dug into his cookbook library (which has volumes dating back to the 1600s) looking to up the protein content of the company’s products and eliminate artificial flavorings.
Pacific's bone broth is a new product, not a reformulation, and includes eight-ounce flavored versions with screw tops designed to be poured into mugs. The flavors: chicken with lemongrass, chicken with ginger, and turkey with rosemary, sage, and thyme, the last of which brand manager Ben Hummel says "tastes like you stuck a straw into your Thanksgiving stuffing."
The timing of the product launch was fortuitous and it’s selling briskly, Hummel said. "We haven’t had to do anything to educate the consumer," he says. "I would definitely say that we’ve had to slow our growth intentionally on these to make sure we can keep up with demand."
At Brodo on a recent Wednesday, six women waited outside the window, some of them carrying empty containers they planned to have refilled.
Jessika Mathurin came straight from her appointment with Dr. Frank Lipman, an integrative doctor in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood who recommends bone broth.
"When he said it I thought of that gucky gelatin stuff when you open up leftover soup," said Mathurin, who was also carrying a Juice Press bag. She sipped a sample of the hearth broth—a mix of chicken, turkey, and beef—pronounced it delicious, then bought three large containers.
Pamela Serure said she’d driven 60 miles from Deal, N.J., for the soup. "Twice I came and you were sold out," she informed the woman working at the window. Serure, whose Get Juiced company predated the current cleanse craze, said the soup was tonic for modern life.
"I think people are so spent from communicating all the time," she said. "This is very calmative. It’s psychological. It’s like Grandma made it."