So you’ve heard that bone broth can support digestive health, or boost the immune system or make for flawless skin. While bone broth is anything but new, it has certainly skyrocketed in popularity in the last ten years.
Bone broth is a savory elixir with elusive umami notes owing to its high protein content and long, slow cooking time.
While a good bone broth is both easy and cheap to make on its own at home, it’s also time-intensive, and definitely a labor of love. You’ll need big enough stock pot and plenty of time to source good-quality grass-fed beef or pasture-raised chicken bones, lovingly roast them and then simmer them on the stove for upwards of a day.
Not everyone can (or wants to) devote a day to tending a pot of simmering bones. But, fortunately for you, there’s plenty packaged, store-bought bone broth brands that are almost as good as homemade.
So here’s our take on what to look for when buying bone broth, how to find the best brands and how to skip the imposters.
What’s the Best Bone Broth?
Far and away, our testers at Nourished Kitchen found that homemade bone broth consistently tastes better than any store bought brand. If you’re game to give it a go, you can get some great recipes in this cookbook.
It’s not surprising that homemade broths outrank store-bought, since they’re carefully tended one stock pot at a time, and you can make tiny adjustments to the on the fly, adding chopped herbs, roasted onion or a sprinkle of spices as you go.
While homemade is best, there’s a handful of store-bought bone broths that taste great and offer up some fierce competition.
Whether homemade or store-bought, the best bone broth is made by slowly simmering bones and joints in water with a splash of vinegar or wine. Those hours of slow simmering at low temperature allows the collagen in connective tissue dissolve into the broth, giving bone broth plenty of protein, while maximizing its flavor through the release of the amino acid glutamine which gives bone broth it’s umami-rich flavor. Adding vegetables, spices, and herbs toward the end of cooking can enhance that flavor, too.
Pressure cooking, which is hot, fast and under pressure, can also replicate the slow-cooked flavor of real bone broth and still yield a high amount of gelatin.
Many store-bought bone broth brands take short cuts by decreasing cooking time or by using additives. As a result, they produce inferior quality broths, both in flavor and nutrition.
What to look for when buying bone broth?
There’s dozens of commercially prepared packaged bone broths available at health foods stores and online. While most are dull in flavor or lacking in protein, you can still buy good quality bone broths, as long as you know what to look for.
When buying bone broth, you want to find something that’s as close to homemade as possible.
- They should make it with wholesome, real food ingredients like those you’d find in your own kitchen.
- They should make it without additives, coloring or flavor enhancers.
- They should choose grass-fed beef bones, pasture-raised or free-range poultry bones.
- They should simmer or be pressure cooked long enough to extract plenty of protein and good flavor.
Bone broths should simmer long enough, but not too long.
To make deeply flavorful broth that’s also rich in protein and other nutrients, you should simmer broths over low heat for an extended period of time. Traditionally, this is a long and slow process, although pressure cooking also creates a flavorful, protein-rich bone broth.
This long and slow process allows for the bones and connective tissue to fully release their nutrients, giving you a lusciously rich bone broth that’s full of collagen - a matrix of proteins that supports bone, joint, gut and skin health while while also supporting optimal blood sugar regulation.
Since collagen is best extracted by long, slow cooking, look for brands that replicate the process of making a traditional home-cooked bone broth. The bone broth brands that do prepare their broths the traditional way, though long slow cooking, will usually list how long they simmer bones on their website or on their packaging.
Bone broths should cook long enough to release plenty of protein, but not so long that they begin to taste dull and overcooked. Simmering bone broths too long can also break down their gelatin, and dramatically increase its glutamine content. Glutamine is the third most abundant amino acid in bone broth. It helps your body build new proteins, and it also supports gut and brain health; however, if you’re particularly sensitive to MSG (most people are not), foods that are very rich in glutamine might exacerbate your symptoms.
To get the best flavor and plenty of protein, look for a bone broth company that simmers their chicken broth at least 8 hours and their beef bone broth at least 12 hours. There’s not much benefit to simmering bone broth longer than 24 hours for chicken broth or 72 hours for beef bone broth either in terms of protein extraction or flavor.
Bone broths should be made from grass-fed beef bones, pasture-raised or organic free-range chicken and pork bones.
Animals that live on pasture offer more nutrient-dense meat, milk and bones. Not only does this influence the flavor of bone broth to a small degree, but it also makes for more nutritious broth, too. While all bone broth, including bone broths made from animals held in feedlots, should be rich in protein, protein is not all that is extracted when making bone broth.
Simmering bones for several hours not only extracts protein from their connective tissues, but small amounts of minerals, and, potentially, trace amounts of heavy metals like lead and cadmium (source). Since heavy metals are ever present in our environment, even organic foods can contain very small, trace amounts; however, conventionally produced foods typically have higher amounts of heavy metals like lead and cadmium. While it is not possible to completely avoid their presence, it is possible to minimize it by choosing foods less likely to contain them, and that means choosing organic and grass-fed or pasture-raised when at all possible.
Bone broths should have a high protein content.
The best bone broths are rich in gelatin, which is extracted from collagen found in the connective tissues of joints and bones. Gelatin is an easy protein to digest, and it supports gut, skin, bone and joint health. Gelatin is also responsible for the silky mouthfeel of bone broths, and it gives them a bouncy, gelled structure once they cool.
A high protein content is a sign of good quality bone broth. Since protein increases when bone broth is slowly simmered over several hours, a high protein content in broth indicates that the company that produced it took their time and didn’t cut corners. A high protein content also shows that the company didn’t skimp on the volume of bones they used in relation to water. Using to too few bones produces a weak, dull broth that offers little nutrition compared to its competitors.
Look for a bone broth that offers at least 10 grams of protein per 8-ounce (1 cup) serving.
What to avoid when buying bone broth?
The best bone broth brands replicate not only the traditional, long slow simmer of making broth at home, but they also use the same ingredients you might use at home. That way when you purchase a store-bought bone broth, you’re getting a broth that is as close to homemade as possible.
So look for bone broth brands that contain the same ingredients you’d use at home: bones, vegetables, herbs and spices as well as an acidic ingredient like lactic acid (found in yogurt, kefir, whey and fermented vegetables), vinegar or wine. It’s that acidic ingredient that helps release collagen from connective tissue, giving your bone broth plenty of protein and a great gel.
Bone broths should be free from fillers and additives such as sugar, hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extract and maltodextrin.
To cut corners and to enhance the flavor of their broth, some bone broth brands will add fillers and additives to their broth. You’ll see sugar, hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extract, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate and maltodextrin on the nutrition labels of cheap brands.
When you see these ingredients on a package of bone broth, you know that the manufacturer skimped and cut corners rather than preparing bone broth the way you would at home. They took those short cuts hoping to replicate the flavor of real bone broth without investing in the time, quality or ingredients it takes to make the real thing.
Additives, fillers and flavor enhancers are a certain red flag.
Broth makers add sugar to their commercially prepared bone broth to enhance its flavor. Sugar is not traditionally added to homemade broths, but some homemade broths have subtle sweet because you’ve tossed in an onion, or some carrots which will sweeten the broth ever so slightly and give it a wonderful, rich flavor. Cheap bone broth brands add sugar to their broths to provide that sweetness without investing in good quality ingredients or better production methods. The addition of sugar also increase the glycemic load of broth.
I mean, really, who needs more sugar?
Hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extract, disodium inosinate and disodium quanylate are all flavor enhancers added to poor quality, commercial bone broths as well as many bone broth powders. They are present in many packaged foods, and give foods a savory flavor with notes of umami. These additives are high in glutamate, which is related to glutamine an amino acid that is heavily present in bone broth and that gives good broth it’s rich, elusively savory flavor.
In traditionally prepared bone broths, that high glutamine content and that savory flavor is achieved through long simmering and the slow release of protein from bones and connective tissue. Subpar, commercial bone broths will shortcut the natural development of flavor in their broths by using these common flavor enhancers. For people who are sensitive to MSG, these additives may exacerbate their symptoms.
Bone broths that contain additives and flavor enhancers are priced lower and sold more cheaply than broths made the traditional way through slow cooking and good quality, real food ingredients.
Remember: you get what you pay for.
If you see flavor enhancers and additives when you look at the label on a package of bone broth, give it a miss. You’ll know that that the maker took shortcuts and isn’t delivering anything close to the real thing.
What’s the Best Bone Broth Brand?
Strapped for time? Just don’t want to make your own? It’s nice to have some good broth on on hand, just in case you need it. You can find bone broths that are almost as good as homemade online.
While nothing beats the richness, flavor and good nutrition of a homemade broth, there’s a few brands on the market that use the same techniques and quality of ingredients that you would use at home - without taking shortcuts or using cheap additives and flavor enhancers.
Kettle and Fire
Kettle and Fire offers shelf-stable, long-simmered bone broths made from grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and organic vegetables, herbs and spices. It contains no additives, or flavor enhancers, and it achieves its deep flavor and high-protein content the old-fashioned way: through real food ingredients and extended, long, slow simmering.
- How long does it cook? 10+ hours of chicken bone broth, and 20+ hours for beef bone broth.
- What's it made of ? Grass-fed beef bones, free-range chicken bones, with various organic herbs, vegetables and spices listed on the label.
- How much protein is in it? Chicken bone broth contains 10 grams of protein per serving, while the beef bone broth contains less.
- How's it packaged? Shelf-stable tetrapaks.
- Where can you buy it? Kettle and Fire offers unflavored and flavored bone broths as well as soups made with bone broth. You can purchase it here.
Epic Bone Broth
Epic Bone Broth is made by slowly simmering bones, vegetables, herbs and spices over an extended period of time, though they don’t disclose how long. Their bone broth offers plenty of protein, and it contains no additives or flavor enhancers, just real food ingredients. Epic focuses heavily on animal welfare, all ruminant animals (beef, bison, lamb etc) are grass-fed with an emphasis placed on planned holistic management, a livestock management technique that has shown to increase ecological diversity on farms and ranches as well as sequester greenhouse gases in the soil.
- How long does it cook? Epic doesn't disclose cooking times or methods, but specifies that they cook their broth "until you can mush the bones between your fingers."
- What's it made of ? Grass-fed beef bones, free-range chicken bones, with various organic herbs, vegetables, fruits and spices listed on the label.
- How much protein is in it? Their broths contain about 10 grams protein per 1-cup serving.
- How's it packaged? Shelf-stable glass jars.
- Where can you buy it? Epic offers four flavor-infused bone broths, and you can buy them online here.
Bare Bones Broth
Bare Bones Broth simmers the bones of pasture-raised chickens and grass-fed beef about 24 hours to produce a beautifully flavorful, protein-rich bone broth. They use only real food ingredients in their bone broths, and never adds flavor enhancers or other additives. Bare Bones Broth offers several classic bone broths, which are excellent for sipping or to use in cooking, as well as flavored sipping broths.
- How long does it cook? Bare Bones Broth cooks their broth about 24 hours.
- What's it made of ? Grass-fed beef bones, pasture-raised poultry bones as well as organic vegetables, spices and herbs.
- How much protein is in it? Their broths contain about 10 grams protein per 1-cup serving.
- How's it packaged? Shelf-stable packages with convenient pour spouts.
- Where can you buy it? You can order Bare Bones Broth here.