Making bone broth is expensive, messy and time consuming. Unless you truly enjoy the process (and your home smelling of meat and bones for days), I wouldn't recommend it.
Also, finding the right type and quality of bones at a decent price locally is becoming more difficult. What butchers used to give away are now being priced at $10.99 per KG.
The logical option is to buy a pre-made bone broth. But if you’re health conscious, you should be careful and do some research before buying bone broth in grocery stores.
What do you look for on the package to ensure you’re actually drinking bone broth? There are many tricks that food companies use on their labels to entice you to buy them. I’ll outline how these companies deceive you with marketing speak and gibberish.
Much of this will apply to meat product, however I am more intimately aware with food legislation and law around marketing terms in Canada than elsewhere. You’ll see that it is the wild west out there.
Here is what to look for when buying bone broth in Canada.
Are “Bones” Second on the Ingredient List
After water, bones should appear next on the ingredient list. It certainly should not read ‘chicken stock’ or ‘broth’ on the ingredient list. These are immediate red flags. Anything with the word ‘base’ in it should be avoided as well.
Companies who are cutting corners use a broth or stock concentrate base as the first ingredient, then they dilute it and add other stuff to mask the awful taste. These broth bases come from rendering facilities that use the lowest quality bones you can find.
Without bones on the ingredient list, you are missing out on the powerful nutrients and amino acids (gelatin / collagen) found in the connective tissue of the bones. Regular stock and broths are decent for cooking if you’re in a pinch, but have zero nutritional benefit.
Are the Ingredients Certified Organic
To ensure you’re getting maximum benefit from drinking bone broth, you need to be certain the animals from which the bones came from were raised in a low stress environment.
Treating animals with respect throughout their life is the ultimate service we can pay to them. While organic is not the perfect system for regulating meat products, it is the best third party validation we have in Canada.
Third party validation is immensely important. Without certified organic bones, you are placing trust in those who have misplaced incentives.
Especially when combined with a 3rd party animal welfare certification (like the Global Animal Partnership), certified organic in Canada is fantastic.
Canada’s organic standards are higher than the USDA, so I can say with confidence that if you find the ‘Canada Organic’ logo on a package, it is actually organic. Without this logo, it is illegal for companies to make any organic claims.
You should also look for companies who source exclusively from Canadian farms and produce the product in Canada.
Organic certification ensures that chickens are at least raised with space to move and go outside, and beef have tons of pasture to frolic on with their friends. Happy animals mean great meat and bones.
Organic also ensures that genetically modified (GMO) feed is not going into these animals. Moreover, these animals are not being pumped with hormones and antibiotics.
I see a lot of smaller scale ranchers saying their meat is far superior to organic because it is ‘grass fed’, ‘grass finished’ or pasture raised. I tend to agree for beef. I’ve personally met a ton of ranchers and visited farms that are using methods far superior to organic.
I also think that regenerative agriculture is how we are going to save our planet.
The problem is that many of these ranchers do not have 3rd party validation to support these claims. There are bad actors who mislead consumers by stating their food products are from meat that is pasture raised, grass finished, when it is not.
This deception destroys trust in our food system. Consumers have no idea that these terms are meaningless. The nice thing about organic is that you can trust the source.
Does the Bone Broth Use Filler Ingredients
Toxic ingredients are presented with innocent names. Any bone broth that uses powders (ex: garlic powder), ‘herbs and spices’, maltodextrin or yeast extract should be avoided.
Powders are highly processed and have no place in bone broth. The term ‘herbs and spices’ scares me like you wouldn't believe. I’m not sure it’s legal to put this on a label, but I’ve seen it on bone broth products.
Maltodextrin is a processed form of starch, usually corn as it is the cheapest to produce. It’s used as a thickener and a way to extend shelf life. The scary part is that if used in small enough quantities, it does not need to be on ingredients panel. I would think about that when you consider any ‘shelf stable’ bone broth products.
Yeast extract is a secret name for MSG. Yes that same MSG that your favourite ethnic restaurants used to enhance flavour. Some still do. MSG should be banned.
Is it Sold Fresh or Frozen
Food goes bad. This is the way it should be. As a result, any bone broth you consume should be fresh or frozen. Freezing is a wonderful means of preservation. Although inconvenient, it is the safest way to ensure your broth is free from preservatives and fillers.
Shelf stable room temperature liquid or powdered bone broths contain many of the filler ingredients I listed above. They also contain nasty additives to stop moisture from building on dried powders. These anti caking agents are used in quantities just small enough that they do not need to be declared on food labels.
Do they use Buzzwords: Pasture Raised, Free Range, Grass Fed/Finished
These words are meaningless. To start, free range chicken / pasture raised are misnomers. Conventional chicken as an industry is much worse than beef in terms of animal welfare. Chickens are kept in large indoor barns much of the year.
Some farms have a small outdoor field attached to the covered barn where chickens can go, in theory. This is where free range and pasture raised came from.
The most depressing part is that chickens rarely venture into pasture if given the choice. They prefer to stay indoors and close to the food.
There are smaller farming operations that truly have birds that I would call pasture raised. But if you have ever seen or eaten a real pasture raised chicken, the meat is much different than what you’re used to.
They are skinny from walking around on pasture. The meat is dry and sinewy, awful for eating. Depressing isn’t it?
Grass fed beef is better, but still deceiving. All beef is Canada is technically grass fed and raised on pasture for ⅔ of their life. So you can call anything grass fed.
Without speaking to the product maker to substantiate where the grass fed beef is coming from I would have a difficult time trusting these claims.
What about grass finished? In Canada there is no independent certification for this, so you are placing trust in those who are incentivized to tell you what you want to hear. The system is unfortunately broken.
Are They Padding the Ingredient List
Another trick is to add trendy ingredients but in tiny amounts so they help the ingredient list look sexy. These ingredients are usually additional herbs or superfoods, but in such small quantities, they would have no impact on your health.
These products are easy to spot because they pad 3-5 buzzword ingredients. By law in Canada ingredients need to be stated in descending order of prominence. That is why salt is usually last.
Beware of some products highlighting sexy ingredients on the front of their package if it appears last in the ingredient panel on the back.
Is it Simmered Slowly
Conventional stocks, broths and bone broths are processed at high heat for 1-2 hours. No bueno. You’ll want to do some research to ensure your bone broth is simmered slowly for a long time.
You need a slow and gradual cook time in order to extract the collagen, glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), vitamins and minerals from the bones. High heat damages these amino acids.
Many bone broths do not list simmer times on their label. In this case I would check their website to get some more information.
What Type of Packaging is Used
Less than 5% of the environmental impact of packaging is found in the final disposal stage. Over 95% of the damage is attributed to the energy used and toxins created in the manufacturing and delivery of packaging (1).
When you take a holistic approach to the environmental footprint of your packaging, things are not as they seem. From the outside you would assume that recyclable materials like glass jars are the most environmentally friendly, however this is only the case for highly toxic materials like PVC.
The lightest packages produce the least environmental waste. This is where the biggest net environmental impact is.
Recycling is great. However, it is a buzzword that holds people’s attention, but is really a lower priority choice than redesigning packaging to be as light and slight as possible.
How Much Protein Does it Have
In order for bone broth to have a gel consistency at fridge temperature, there must be at least 7 grams of protein per 250ml. Anything less on the ingredient list and I would not call bone broth.
You do occasionally see bone broths with 15g or in one case I saw 26g of protein per 250ml, however these are made up numbers. It is impossible to have 26g of protein per 250ml in bone broth.
Most smaller companies will look to larger companies and copy the nutrition facts on their labels. I’ve seen a few companies copy our nutrition facts verbatim. That is because lab testing is expensive. We pay $800-1200 per sku for nutrition facts analyses.
You’d be smart to look for between 8-12 grams of protein per 250ml. Some companies have more carbohydrates and fat per serving. This is a matter of personal preference. Fat gives bone broth a fantastic taste, but adds significant calories. The calories to taste trade off is a matter of personal preference.
Bonus: Is it Cooked in Stainless Steel Pots
There’s a wide range of cookware available on the market. Many of which are not great for your health. In the soup and broth space, aluminum is an example of commonly used cookware which may pose health risks to you.
Aluminum pots are shown to leach aluminum into the food during cooking. While we are not certain what levels are harmful to humans, it’s an easy swap which potentially keeps you healthy.
Ask your bone broth purveyor what type of pots or kettles they use. If they are confused by your question, there’s your answer. Probably not the broth for you.
Stainless steel is one of the few metals that is non-reactive as cookware. Meaning the metal pots do not interact with the food or affect the flavour of your meal.
So there you have it! 10 things to look for when buying bone broth. You can choose which of the above factors are most important to you, then look for a bone broth that meets those criteria.
I’d recommend poking around websites of bone broths before you buy them. Look at the FAQ page to see how they are operating. Good luck!