What's Up With Bone Broth, Anyway?

How an ancient brew of bones and water became the food world's buzziest new trend.

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Given the buzz about "bone broth," you'd be forgiven for thinking the stuff was the second coming of the cronut. Last week The Wall Street Journal declared it "the latest darling of the wellness world" and The New York Times named it "the next magic potion in the eternal quest for perfect health." Gwyneth Paltrow put bone broth on her newsletter's winter detox menu, New York City chefs have begun selling it from a take-out windows, and Whole Foods has rushed to stock it (ha!) in stores nationwide.

So, what exactly is this supernatural elixir? Pretty much just what it sounds like: a rich broth made by slowly simmering large quantities of roasted bones (chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, fish or whatever else you might have on hand) until they begin to break down and release vitamins and minerals—including collagen, calcium, lucosamine, chondroitin, and in the case of bones from grass-fed animals, powerful omega-3 fatty acids. Its long and slow method of cooking is what differentiates bone broth from conventional stock, and also what supposedly accounts for its nutrient-rich profile. But human beings have been sipping soups made from simmered bones ever since the Stone Age. Why all the hoopla now?

Partly, it's about Paleo. The popular diet regimen, which encourages followers to emulate the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, considers bone broth a staple for its purported anti-inflamatory properties and usefulness as a digestive aid. So, naturally, as the ranks of Paleo devotees have grown, so has the brew's profile. Then there's simple timing: Early January is always prime time for miracle cures and health tonics—and this year, with a new book on the subject in stores and a few media-savvy chefs and entrepreneurs unveiling the broth-centered ventures they've had in the works—the concoction has found itself at the right place at the right time. Finally, bone broth has one big thing going for it that never goes out of style: It's super economical. A soothing, warming, nourishing meal made from the odds and ends you normally toss in the trash or compost bin? You don't have to be a health nut to think that's pretty easy to get behind.

Want to decide for yourself whether bone broth is a fad or a traditional food worth adopting? Dive in. (Here's a simple recipe from none other than Jacques Pépin.) And for the best results, remember these rules of thumb:

● Start with cold water. (The protein albumen, which lives in bones and will only dissolve in cold water, is what is responsible for a clear stock.)

● For maximum flavor, roast your bones before simmering. (Roasting helps the bones release some fat, an excess of which can lead to a broth with a cloudy, muddled flavor.)

● Don't be afraid to mix types of bones. Stash your leftover T-bones, ribs, and chicken wings in a storage bag in the freezer until you've got a hefty supply. They will play nicely together!

● Don't skimp. The more bones the better.

● Make use of mirepoix: The classic French combo of celery carrots and onion will add an extra punch of fresh flavor. Just remember to strain it out before serving.

● Think low and slow. You want to simmer the stock not send it to a roiling boil and let its nuances develop over hours—some people do it for 24 or more.