There is an expression, long overheard in Latin American kitchens, that sums up the mystical power of a good broth.
“Good broth resurrects the dead,” the saying goes.
The word “dead” also pretty much sums up what many people thought Kobe Bryant’s career was after the aging Los Angeles Lakers star suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon — a potentially career-ending injury for a player his age — and then fractured a knee during an eight-month stretch in 2013. And yet, this season, at the age of 36, Bryant not only returned, he thrived (at least before injuring his shoulder Wednesday), averaging 22.3 points per game (ninth best in the NBA) on a pair of legs that have logged more than 46,000 minutes on NBA hardwood.
As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes reported last week, Bryant and his handlers credit some of his recovery — as well as his longevity — to chicken and vegetable soup.
Not just any soup, but one with a broth made from bones.
What exactly is bone broth?
“A nourishing concoction rich in nutrient and minerals — and especially collagen — produced by simmering bones (pig, cow, fish, etc.) and other ingredients for hours,” according to ESPN.
Each day at the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, Sandra Padilla, the team’s longtime chef, makes enough soup to feed around 30 people, many of them hungry athletes with large appetites, according to Tim DiFrancesco, the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
The cooking process takes about eight hours, at which time Padilla will “strain the broth and place it in a fridge, where it turns into a gelatinous substance when cool,” according to ESPN. The gelatinous goo is where the flavor and the health benefits of bone broth originate, according to experts.
— Tim DiFrancesco (@tdathletesedge) July 27, 2014
It’s also what distinguishes bone broth from ordinary soup, DiFrancesco told ESPN:
You could go into a store and on the shelf you’ve got this carton of vegetable stock or chicken stock, and that’s probably something that’s been flavored with salt and chicken-flavored bouillon cubes or something like that.
But there’s no actual vitamin, mineral nutrient value in there. It just tastes good because there’s enough salt in there. But when you make a bone stock the right way, it’s like liquid gold. And the way you know you have real stock on your hand is if you put it in the refrigerator over night and it basically turns into Jell-O.
Keep in mind, while smart theories and anecdotal evidence abounds, nobody can be entirely sure that bone broth lives up to the full extent of its proponents’ claims. That’s because no studies have researched the broth specifically, though dozens support the benefits of the its ingredients, Kaayla T. Daniel, a certified clinical nutritionist and co-author of “Nourishing Broth,” told Men’s Journal.
“We have science that supports the use of cartilage, gelatin, and other components found in homemade bone broth to prevent and sometimes even reverse osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, digestive distress, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer,” Daniel said.
Bone broth soups may be relatively new to the professional sports world, but they’ve been a staple of human nutrition for thousands of years — and remain so in many Asian and Latino cultures.
More recently, they have become the soup du jour among U.S. followers of the trendy paleo diet.
New York’s East Village even has Brodo, a storefront window that serves customized combinations of flavorful broth in to-go cups, according to the New York Times, which called bone broth a “trend beverage,” like coconut water andor green juice.
“I want people with coffee cups and sip lids to be walking down the street sipping on broth — not coffee, not tea, not Gatorade,” Marco Canora, the owner of Brodo, told Well And Good, “because of all of these reasons, and also because it’s [expletive] delicious. There’s something so satisfying about sipping a hot cup of broth that I feel we all need so badly in our lives.”
Like quinoa or kale before it, bone broth is having a moment. But like any number of health trends, bone broth is sometimes touted as the type of cure-all that should make any true skeptic squirm.
Many advocates claim a good broth aids digestion, repairs joints, regulates mood and beautifies skin. Some broth-makers will go as far as claiming it can even regenerate collagen, rebuild worn-out joints and inject an aging body with youthful vigor.
The question, of course, is whether any those claims are true.
Is bone broth another over-hyped, yet inherently absurd health kick (i.e. eating clay or drinking charcoal)? Or is it actually a common-sense approach to nutrition that has quietly endured throughout human history, only to be forgotten (and then remembered) in the fast-food era.
Sally Fallon Morell, co-author of “Nourishing Broth,” said bone broth may be experiencing a resurgence, but there’s nothing new about it. It’s one of those rare health movements, she said, in which “science validates tradition.”
“The first thing you’re going to get in genuine bone broth — which is made from cartilaginous bones — is components of cartilage,” she told The Post. “The broth helps the body make cartilage, which we have throughout our body and not just in our bones and joints, but in our eyes, under the skin and lining the intestinal tract.”
Her co-author, Daniel, said articles about bone broth tend to overemphasize its novelty and under-emphasize its long history.
“We have people going all the way back to Hippocrates talking about the benefits of bone broths,” she told The Post. “In fact, bone broth goes way back to the Stone Age, when they were actually cooking broth in turtle shells and in skins over the fire.”
Until the 20th Century, Daniel said, cookbooks often included a chapter on “convalescent cookery,” which typically included an easily digestible broth that aided recovery. More recently, body builders have relied on gelatin supplements to aid in muscle growth. Bone broth, she said, is the raw food version of a gelatin supplement.
“And chicken soup is Jewish penicillin, as the saying goes,” she added. “There’s a reason for that.”
Bone broths may be resurfacing in the West, but in Asia, healthful broths never disappeared, according to author, chef and wellness expert Corinne Trang. Growing up, Trang said, her family often had a communal bowl of clear broth at the table, made from ingredients such as duck or chicken, whether it was at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“Bone broths have been a staple in Asian food cultures for thousands of years,” Trang told The Post by e-mail. “They are considered medicinal, rich with minerals, boosting the immune system, enriching blood and supporting the kidneys. Bone broths (made of chicken, beef, pork or fish bones, for example) are prescribed in Chinese medicine (including herbal medicine and hot and cold food practices).
“It is fair to say that the Chinese tend to practice conscious cooking in that each element in a meal is there to boost the body and mind, in general. Some foods are cooling, others are warm, while others are considered hot.”
Asked whether bone broth was an American fad, Trang said she hopes it’s not.
“When people see something as ‘new,’ they get excited and then an article appears that says bone broth is bad for you and everyone freaks out,” she wrote. “I saw that with soy and tofu. If only people ate the soy products sensibly, the way we do in Asia, then soy or tofu would be just fine, like it has for thousands of years all over Asia.
“Broths are excellent for the body. They aid digestion, helping to move food along the digestive track. It shouldn’t be a fad, but something that’s served at every meal. It also helps people eat less — we eat far more food than we need). Broths at the table should be the norm, but who knows.
“America is young. Chef and wellness experts who have studied in the States should travel abroad and experience life in Asia specifically where food as medicine is a way of life.”
Citing the pre-Columbian stew from Mexico known as pozole, Leda Scheintaub. co-author of “The Whole Bowl: Gluten-free, Dairy-free Soups and Stews,” noted that bone broths have roots in Latin American cultures as well.
Scheintaub, who runs a food truck in Battleboro, Vermont, with her husband, added $3 mugs of bone broth to their menu this fall, but she said the early adopters in the whole foods movement — like her co-author Rebecca Wood — have been pushing broth since the 1990’s.
“In most cultures, you’ll find a broth that is used for its health benefits,” she told The Post, moments after she’d gotten off the phone with her mother-in-law in India, who, Scheintaub said, was in the process of making a traditional Anglo-Indian bone broth known as “pepper water” because she was feeling sickly. “The idea is usually to get a pot simmering with bones and vegetable scraps so that you’re not wasting anything. It makes your diet so much more nutritious.”
The Lakers have been ingesting their bone broth since the 2012-2013 season, according to DiFrancesco.
After growing up on a New England dairy farm, DiFrancesco has long been a proponent of using real, whole foods to improve athletic performance. But he became a fervent advocate of bone broth after he was introduced to Cate Shanahan’s book, “Deep Nutrition,” which argues that ancient diets are the solution to modern health problems.
Shanahan’s work made such an impression on the team’s staff, DiFrancesco said, that she was hired as the director of the Lakers PRO Nutrition Program, with “PRO” standing for Performance, Recovery and Orthogenesis.
DiFrancesco noted that for some people, the initial appeal is instinctual.
“We’ve all had grandmothers or aunts or mothers who’ve always talked about eating a healthy bowl of soup and I can even remember the smell of it growing up,” DiFrancesco told The Post. “As a young kid, it didn’t register with me how powerful a good broth is. But once I read Dr. Shanahan’s books, it all sorta came full circle for me.”
— Tim DiFrancesco (@tdathletesedge) January 16, 2015
— Tim DiFrancesco (@tdathletesedge) September 27, 2014
Because it’s a comfort food, he said, it’s also an easy sell to players, whose eating habits DiFrancesco is on a quiet crusade to reform. Once players feel the benefits physically, DiFrancesco said, the broth becomes a necessity for some, such as former Lakers Steve Blake, Meta World Peace and Chris Kaman, all of whom credit bone broth with helping them recover from injuries and extend their careers.
— Tim DiFrancesco (@tdathletesedge) July 4, 2014
But the broth’s best-known fan is Bryant, who prefers his dose via chicken tortilla soup.
As ESPN’s Holmes reported:
Bone broth has quietly but steadily become a daily staple of Bryant’s diet over the past three years. It’s the foundation of his pregame meal at home and on the road, and the Lakers put in long hours to make sure it’s carefully prepared for him at all times.
“I’ve been doing the bone broth for a while now,” Bryant said. “It’s great — energy, inflammation. It’s great.”
“Kobe keeps his emotions close to his vest, but he has recognized that it’s an important thing and he’s asked me to help him seek it out whenever we’re on the road,” DiFrancesco told The Post, noting that Bryant will often eat a bowl in the afternoon before a night game. “If he doesn’t believe in something, he’s not going to seek it out. We haven’t necessarily had a discussion about its effect on his body, but the simple fact that he’s directly said to me ‘I need you to help me find this’ is validating.”
DiFrancesco said there is more than enough anecdotal evidence to convince him and many of the team’s players that bone broth works. Some people, he said, even notice results from a batch of broth within 24 hours of eating it.
And yet, what he doesn’t have for the time being, is research-based evidence of its efficacy. He said bone density tests might be able to provide trainers with hard evidence; but at this stage, the team has no plans to introduce such testing.
The again, DiFrancesco is not particularly worried about the skeptics.
“Plenty of people feel like it is a fad, and there’s so many fads out there,” he told The Post. “But it’s hard to call something a fad when it is something people have done for thousands of thousands of years.”
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