Bone broth — these two words incite equal levels of snickering and admiration as they have grown in use and popularity as quickly as Donald Trump. And I, for one, have tried to deny the existence of the trend. I learned how to make stock from animal bones and regularly use it for cooking, but I would have never thought to pour it into a paper coffee cup and sell it for $8 as a restorative tonic. I know the cold-healing power of a good chicken soup, so I’d never deny the health benefits of mineral- and collagen-rich stock. But still I hesitate when I see so many stocks in grocery stores and butcher shops rebranded as Paleo-friendly bone broth. Are any of them worth the extra price tag that the name engenders? Or are they simply a ploy for our hard-earned dollars? Clearly, I needed to investigate.
In the Bay Area, there are what seems like an infinite number of bone broths available. As it was impossible to narrow my list down to a definitive number of local broths, I decided to make the very unscientific decision of tasting broths that were easy for me to purchase at or near my North Berkeley home. (I chose to taste only beef bone broth, as it is the “classic” preparation.) Depending on where you live, you may have access to more or less than these, most of the best broths follow a pattern — they come from butchers, not broth- or Paleo-specific companies. So if you can’t find my favorite bone broths near your home, seek out your local butcher shop, and they’ll likely sell you something good.
Or else you can make it yourself. That recipe will be coming soon.
Best for Sipping: Clove & Hoof Beef Bone Broth
There was only one bone broth I tasted that I would ever consider drinking from a mug, and that’s the broth from Clove & Hoof. It tastes beefy, for sure, but the rich meatiness is kept in check with a balance of seasonings, aromatics, and vegetables. The broth is neither greasy nor overwhelmingly sticky with gelatin, but it does taste nourishing and pleasantly filling. It tastes, in other words, like a good stock that I would make myself. I drank my full tasting mug of the stuff and then, true to form, used the rest to make stew. At $12 for a quart, Clove & Hoof’s broth is one of the cheapest available. (This doesn’t sound like a bargain, but wait until you see some other prices.) If you live in (or near) Oakland, I would absolutely recommend it.
Runner Up, Sipping: Mama Tong Nourishing Beef Bone Broth
For those who don’t believe bone broth is bone broth without your lips and mouth getting coated in sticky gelatin, the bone broth from Mama Tong is for you. It is intensely beefy, but not unpleasant, with some sweetness from the carrots and celery added to the pot. The gelatin and collagen extracted from the bones turns the broth almost creamy, which will either be lovely or unpleasant, depending on your preferences. Like Clove & Hoof, Mama Tong makes a well-balanced bone broth, with a welcome lack of greasiness. It is, however, quite expensive, at $23.99 for one quart. Some of that cost is tied into the ordering method (Good Eggs), but the rest likely comes from the organic and pasture-raised ingredients. That said, other broths below also use high-quality ingredients and are not as pricey.
Best for Cooking: The Local Butcher Shop Beef Stock
Okay, yes, I decided to include a self-identified stock on the list. The Local Butcher has not ever and will likely never call its stocks bone broth, but while doing research on this topic, I encountered a list that included it amongst other bone broth-centric spots. Plus, The Local Butcher sources excellent meat and their extra-rich stock is exquisite for cooking. The dark stock, likely made from roasted bones, has deep meatiness like a grilled grass-fed burger. It is rich in both collagen and gelatin, which means it adds a succulent texture to sauces. Personally, I couldn’t drink it on its own. Its intensity was too overpowering. But I keep this stock in the freezer for cooking projects and you should too. The price, $7 for 14 ounces or $14 for about a quart, is (shockingly) fairly cheap.
Runner Up, Cooking: Bonafide Provisions Beef Bone Broth
I like Bonafide Provisions for cooking for the opposite reasons. It is a mildly flavored broth with a thinner texture than The Local Butcher. I could tell that the broth was made from beef bones, but it certainly didn’t smack me over the head with grass-fed beefy funk. Bonafide Provisions could be good for sipping for beginners, but in my kitchen, I imagine using it more as a multi-purpose stock. Because the beef flavor isn’t overpowering, it would work well for cooking grains or making a vegetable soup. Plus, at $7.99 for 24 ounces, it is the cheapest bone broth I could find. (Note: The company seems to have rebranded and changed its name from Real True Foods to Bonafide Provisions in the short time since I bought the broth.)
For the CSA-Devotee: Three Stone Hearth Grassfed Beef Bone Broth
Three Stone Hearth’s bone broth wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t any better than some of the more affordable options. And for true bone broth lovers, it couldn’t beat out Mama Tong. It is full of gelatin and strongly beefy, but has a little too much grass-fed funk for my taste. The $14.50 price tag (for the broth and a jar deposit) for a 24-ounce jar also seemed very expensive for a broth that I found lacked depth and balance. On the other hand, it can feel good to purchase a product from the “Community Supported Kitchen,” knowing that the broth was made with health-promoting properties in mind. And, in a purely selfish aesthetic way, I loved the fact that buying this broth also netted me a tall wide mouth Ball jar (the best Ball jar, IMHO).
For Beef-Loving Special Dieters: Mission Heirloom Beef Bone Broth
Last, we come to Mission Heirloom. The Berkeley Paleo-centric (and strictly organic, grain- and soy-free) cafe opened in the Gourmet Ghetto about 18 months ago, and it has netted both enthusiastic praise from diet-devotees and plenty of head-scratching from others. Kind of like bone broth. The cafe sells prepared meals, broths, and sauces as take-away items in addition to regular table service. Its bone broth is, well, interesting. Unlike all of the other bone broths above, Mission Heirloom explicitly tries not to extract collagen and gelatin from the bones, believing that these lead to an excess of free glutamate (basically MSG) in the broth. So the result is a much thinner broth than all of the others, with none of that mouth-coating texture. Mission Heirloom also adds ginger to their beef broth, which competes, rather than balances its intense beefy flavor. I didn’t find it pleasant to drink, and I would be worried that it would compete with other flavors when using it for cooking. However, if you or anyone you know is concerned about environmental or food-based toxins, or is on a strict grain-free diet and concerned about cross-contamination, Mission Heirloom is your best choice.
- Clove & Hoof Beef Bone Broth is available frozen at the Clove & Hoof butcher shop (4001 Broadway, Oakland). $12 for 1 quart.
- Mama Tong Nourishing Beef Bone Broth is available frozen from Good Eggs. $23.99 for 1 quart.
- The Local Butcher Shop Beef Stock is available at The Local Butcher Shop (1600 Shattuck Ave., Ste. 120, Berkeley). $7 for 1 pint or $14 for 1 quart.
- Bonafide Provisions Beef Bone Broth is available at Berkeley Bowl; Whole Foods in Lafayette and Mill Valley; Nugget Markets in Tiburon, Corte Madera, and Novato; and Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax. $7.99 for 24 ounces.
- Three Stone Hearth Grassfed Beef Bone Broth is available at Three Stone Hearth (1581 University Ave., Berkeley) and Natural Grocery in Berkeley and El Cerrito. $13 plus $1.50 jar deposit for 24 ounces.
- Mission Heirloom Beef Bone Broth is available at Mission Heirloom (2085 Vine St., Berkeley), Good Eggs and Caviar. $13 plus $1 jar deposit for 24.4 ounces.