How do you eat bones?

by (2117) Updated January 27, 2013 at 6:12 PM Created March 01, 2010 at 4:32 AM

I was chomping down on some pork spare ribs for dinner tonight when I got to looking at the bones and wondering, hmm, can I eat this? I know that early humans are suspected to have benefited greatly from the consumption of marrow and I'm pretty sure I've seen a few modern Paleos mention marrow consumption.

So I have a few questions...

  1. Is the bone marrow of any animal always safe to consume (assuming that the attached meat is stored & cooked in a manner suitable for consumption)? Is there any time that I shouldn't crack a bone open and have at the marrow?
  2. What are the nutritional benefits of consuming marrow?
  3. Are there any benefits to consuming the hard outer bone shell? These can be flakey with some bones and thus reasonably edible. I wouldn't have had any difficulty consuming much of the shell of the spare rib bones, for example.
  4. Cartilage doesn't seem particularly edible or enjoyable to consume, am I correct?

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14 Replies

1988 · March 01, 2010 at 5:28 AM

The bone marrow from long, hollow bones is easiest to access. Femurs, arm bones, and shanks contain yellow marrow in the hollow part that slides out when you cook them. Bones like ribs, hips, and necks are foamy/spongy inside, so there is no tasty yellow marrow inside. Boiling the bones in water to make stock seems to get some stuff out of the red marrow.

Yellow marrow is almost all fat and has a fragrant, grass-fed smell even from conventional, grain-finished cattle. I would guess that it is rich in fat-solubles.

I make bone stock by boiling bones for an hour with seasonings in a pressure cooker. Adding a cup or two of vinegar like apple cider vinegar helps to dissolve some of the bone. When it is finished cooking, the broth is not too sour to drink because the dissolving bone neutralizes the pH. The bones when finished crumble apart easy in your mouth, and the cartilage is jelly that has soaked up the flavor of the broth. I'm not sure if the glycosaminoglycans in cartilage can be digested and absorbed.

55320 · March 01, 2010 at 2:28 PM

I recommend Jennifer MacLagen's Bones cookbook. It has tons of great recipes and stock tips. Nourishing Traditions also has great information about the health benefits:

  • minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  • hydrophilic colloids which supposedly help you absorb more nutrients
  • gelatin which also aids digestion and Fallon claims it can heal the intestines and also act is a protein sparer allowing the body to fully utilize the proteins taken in
  • cartilage, which she claims has been proved to treat illnesses like cancer and bone disorders
  • collagen used to treat arthritis and the Japanese claim it can also boost the firmness of skin

A pressure cooker works, but you can certainly make stock without it. I personally use a crock pot since it's the most hands off method. I just stick my bones and vegetable remnants in there with a little bit of vinegar on high for half a day or so.

A good way to get all this awesome stuff is to make a delicious stock, melt the bone marrow in the oven, use both in your favorite soup recipe. French onion made this way is top notch.

1745 · March 01, 2010 at 6:43 AM

You couldn't be more wrong about cartilage- that is one of the keys to a great stock! A great stock is the ingredient of a great sauce.

Bones come in different shapes and sizes. Small bones from birds can be eaten whole without extra cooking. Ends of bones from cooked meat can often be eaten (and taste great).

Benefits: Bones contain minerals. Cartilage contains cartilage (glucosamine, etc), marrow is healthy fat.

2268 · March 01, 2010 at 6:07 PM

(great question! I love bones)

For me, cartilage is the second most delicious part of beef bones (after the fatty yellow marrow of course)! I routinely eat all the bits of cartilage, tendons and ligaments that surround joint bones. I find they are absolutely yummy once they've been cooked for long enough - they turn soft and squishy and chewy, and have a very mild sort of nutty flavour. They're also strangely filling (perhaps due to their tendency to absorb a lot of water and swell). The tendons and ligaments are particularly easy to eat (these are the first to go soft and edible with cooking) - cartilage takes longer to soften and even then can be a bit on the hard, brittle side. Still worth eating, though (even though it may be an acquired taste).

Cartilage from chicken bones is also good, and cooks much quicker (about an hour). In fact, I often gnaw on the ends of the longer chicken bones, where it's easy to eat the whole cartilage and even a bit of the underlying red marrow.

1633 · January 08, 2011 at 9:56 PM

After cooking meat, mostly lamb, I typically chew on the left over bones to get every last piece of meat. Then cook them for stock. Sometimes they are soft enough to eat up and ingest. mmm good.

Today I had a new experience. Was cooking 4 pig trotters (feet) to get gelatin for my head cheese experiments. Trotters/feet have many bones and are rich in cartilage. After separating most of the meat and skin, I took the big bowl full of bones (hundreds) and nibbled to get every piece of meat and cartilage. It was amazing.

Party food? Forget the tortilla chips and chex mix. Bowls of bones and cracklins at my next party :P

15334 · March 05, 2010 at 6:16 PM

If you just want to eat bones for the sake of nutrition, then cooking whole fish can give you lots of delicate, entirely edible bones (depending on the fish of course, I enjoy this with mackerel). The bones in tinned salmon or sardines are also very soft and so easily edible along with the fish. I assume this is why sardines are such a good source of calcium.

178 · October 08, 2012 at 1:13 PM

I love me a good bone broth, so many health benefits. and roasted marrow bones, with a side of veg, really satisfying.

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2314 · March 21, 2012 at 1:18 AM

just finished up my chicken broth and split the bones up between me and my sheep dog... soft bones are so delicious

10 · October 30, 2011 at 11:10 PM

I love eating bones...I have realised that this has helped me have very good teeth.( Each and every dentist I have been to has appreciated my good teeth )

0 · January 27, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Just to get one thing straight. The colour of the marrow depends to a great extent on the age. The older animals have yellow marrow, younger: lighter. Its the same in humans. You can get a completely pastured young animal with white marrow.

0 · October 28, 2012 at 7:59 AM

I throw them in the crock pot with water and cook them until they just fall apart... Sometimes I will cut them up after they are soft to help it happen faster. Season up whats it the pot... Garlic onions, spices, etc... Good to go. Makes the best soup in the world! Seems to help sick kids too... I guess because all of the nutrients from the bones, meat and vegetables in soup. It's kind of like a bio-available vitamin! Plus if kids or animals are puking... the gel seems to sooth the stomach... There's nothing wrong with it... I cook my bones for days at a time. Moving on to fish heads and tails soon. Maybe the femur from a cow? I got chicken bones cooking now! Put it all in ice trace and freeze. Add cubes to whatever you've got cooking... YUM! :D

0 · October 08, 2012 at 2:31 AM

I love eating bones their yummy.

0 · March 21, 2012 at 12:21 AM

This last time I made Chicken Broth, I pureed the bones and carrots in my Vita-mix and spread on top of toast with butter. I went online to see if other people had done this and if its safe, and led me here. Looks like it is, cool!

1513 · January 15, 2012 at 4:07 PM

i eat the ! out of some bones...mostly with chicken bones ill chomp off the ends of the legs, chew that to death and suck out the marrow, also eat the cartilage and mostly chew the smaller pieces of bones that splinter til they disintegrate and eat em...

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