Bone marrow, the soft white substance inside bones, has been one of the most prized and valued traditional foods, not only for humans, but for animal predators.
Lions and other predators use their powerful jaws to crack open the bones of their prey, to get at the bone marrow. Most ancient cave dwelling sites have a pile of old bones, which have been split open to get at the bone marrow. Most cultures have traditional recipes for bone marrow, often adding cut bones to broth.
Modern research has shown that bone marrow contains many substances and nutrients that are very valuable, and can rebuild and revitalize various areas of the body, such as the bones and the blood.
Many of us who seek to follow the nutritional wisdom of our ancestors make bone broth, very often with marrow bones included. The bones are usually cut, so the marrow is exposed. I have made numerous bone broths, often with marrow bones. While all the broths felt good and revitalizing to me, I did not notice any real difference in broths that contained marrow bones, and broths that did not.
Until I changed the way I made it.
I have made bone marrow broth the new way exactly once, but the results have been amazing. I feel a great burst of energy and renewal as I drink it, a much stronger reaction than I usually get from drinking homemade broth. The taste is also different, more intense, and quite pleasant.
I used to make bone marrow broth by putting the cut bones in a pot, often with other bones and meat, and simmering it for a very long time, with added salt. But I have noticed that most of the marrow seems to stay within the bone itself, though in a cooked form.
Wild animals and the cave people were the inspiration for the change I made. They removed the marrow from the bones. What if I did the same?
So, using a small spoon, I carefully removed most of the marrow from the marrow bones, and placed it in the stock pot. Since the bones I purchase are already cut, this was not that hard, though I took some time, being careful not to break off tiny pieces of bone. The marrow resembled tubes of a soft white substance, which floated on the water once I added it to the broth.
I cooked the broth in the usual way, and all the marrow dissolved into the broth. As always, I carefully strained the broth through a fine sieve before consumption or storage to ensure that no little bone bits are in the strained broth.
The broth did taste different, more intense, but not unpleasant. But I did not mind the new taste, because the broth felt better, and was the most energizing and best feeling thing I have ever drunk.
I now understand why our ancestors prized the bone marrow so much, and I happily look forward to drinking it, every day. And I crave the wonderful new taste of the dissolved bone marrow, because my body has learned to love it!
Chewing on bones is not considered cool. In fact, it is considered to be bad manners in many cultures. Yet one thing has been found in just about every place where Paleolithic people used to live—a big pile of bones, cracked open.
In addition to this, every meat eating animal chews on bones. Since animals never do anything without a reason, and know how to get great nutrition from their natural food, I thought there must be something to this. So I put my inhibitions away and did the natural thing. I chewed on the bone of a rare, barbecued, grassfed, Porterhouse steak.
Was it good? No. It was great. It was fantastic. It was satisfying. It tasted so good. It made me happy. And, when I was done, I had a huge, wonderful, comfortable feeling of satisfaction, in a way that was new, yet felt so familiar.
The Blessings of Bones
Meaty bones are full of nutrients. Not only is there the bone itself, full of minerals, there is the meat that is right next to the bone. That meat is saturated with nutrients from the bone, and has unbelievable taste, texture, and flavor. There is an old saying, “The nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat.” That saying is true. I tasted it.
There is also the fat next to the bone, which is rich, tasty, and so satisfying. The fat from grassfed animals is very nutritious, containing vital nutrients such as the perfect ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a known cancer fighter that also promotes muscle growth and burns fat. Both omega-3s and CLA diminish to almost nothing after the typical stay in the feedlot, which is why grassfed meat is by far our best source of them. See Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products.
And there is the bone marrow. It is almost universally accepted that all those bones found in piles at Paleo sites were cracked open for the bone marrow, one of the most nutritious substances known.
When you chew on the bones, your teeth and saliva cause minerals to enter your mouth from the chewing process, and this is the tastiest way I know to get vital minerals.
Any way you look at it, the bones of grassfed animals are nutrient-dense, to say the least.
The Chewing of the Bone
Just before I started chewing on the Porterhouse bone, I was wondering if there was a right or wrong way to do it. Not to worry. My mouth and teeth knew exactly what to do. I gently bit off and chewed the delicious morsels of rare meat, white fat, and everything else that would come of the bone. My teeth gently chewed on the bone itself. The taste and satisfaction was so wonderful it is hard to describe. A wonderful feeling of contentment came over me as I chewed on the bone, enjoying the taste and nutrition it gave. The glorious flavor of hot bone marrow permeated the meat and fat, giving it a fantastic, satisfying taste. I chewed slowly, savoring every magnificent morsel. It felt so right, so natural. So familiar. I finally understood why the dogs I used to have were so happy to have a real bone.
It took awhile. When I was finally done, I felt healthy, satiated, and utterly satisfied. I also felt very happy.
Why is bone chewing considered bad manners? My guess is that the custom was created to stop people from fighting over the bones, since there often would not be enough to go around.
Chewing on bones is a good thing, for nutrition, taste, and the sheer pleasure of it. I cannot think of a more Paleo way to eat.
The question of what Paleolithic people actually ate is hard to answer, and the Paleo and Primal communities are divided. One of the biggest controversies is whether Paleolithic peoples ate lean meat and had little fat in their diet, or whether they ate all the animal fat they could get, and plenty of it.
There is some evidence, in the form of bone piles in caves, and there is the research of Dr. Weston A. Price, who actually met and studied the diets of traditional peoples who lived completely by hunting and gathering.
It appears that hunter-gatherers, whether in Paleolithic times, or in the twentieth century, prized animal fat as one of their most crucial foods, and ate as much of it as they could get.
The Evidence for Lean Meat
When the Paleo eating ideas were first expressed, the belief was that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate lean meat, not fat. One of the strongest reasons to support this theory is that the meat of wild game is much leaner than the meat of domestic animals. The old hunters ate wild game, which has lean meat. While this is true, the fact is that wild game animals, especially older animals, actually have plenty of fat, especially in the late fall, when they put on extra fat to prepare for winter.
The fat is not in the meat, but in a huge layer of fat in the back, and in the internal organs, and in the bones, in the form of marrow.
The other basis for thinking that early peoples ate lean meat appears to be based on the common false belief that animal fat is unhealthy. Actually, fat from grassfed and pastured animals is a vital nutrient as seen in the article The Skinny on Fats.
The Evidence for Eating Fat
Some caves have been found that were occupied by early hunter-gatherers. Along with pits showing the use of fire, there is almost always something else—a bone pile. The bones are those of wild animals, and the bones have been split open. It is universally assumed that the bones were split open so the hunters could eat the bone marrow. In addition to being one of the most nutritious foods that can be eaten—bone marrow is almost 100 percent animal fat.
Dr. Weston A. Price met and studied several peoples who got all their food by hunting and gathering. This was in the 1930s. One of the peoples he studied lived in the far north of Canada, and got most of their food from hunting, as gathering was impossible during much of the year. The diet of these people had never changed in the memory of the tribes, and so could have been the same in very early times.
This native people preferred to hunt older animals, because these animals had more fat. They ate liberally of the back fat and the fatty organs, as much as they could get. They had perfect teeth and no disease, even though they were deprived of all plant foods for most of the year.
The Inuit, who lived even further north, valued the fat of sea mammals, game animals, and fish above all other foods. They would throw the lean meat to their dogs, and eat the fat and organs themselves. They would often eat pure animal fat, in addition to the fatty meats. It is likely that their traditional diet had been the same for uncounted thousands of years. These people were also free of tooth decay and had no chronic illnesses.
The traditional diet of the Native Americans was recorded when they were contacted by Europeans, and it is clear that the hunting peoples ate as much animal fat as they could get, and valued animal fat as a survival food. The Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains lived mainly off the bison herds.
Now, bison is a very lean meat. But bison carry a huge amount of fat in their humps, and the hump was the most prized part of the bison. The Native Americans of the Great Plains made most of the bison into a survival food called pemmican, which would keep indefinitely without spoiling. Pemmican was one-third dried lean meat, one-third dried fruit, and one-third bison fat, mostly from the hump. It was very nutritious.
These are just a few examples, and I could provide many more. In fact, it appears that every hunting people ever studied ate plenty of animal fat from their prey.
If you want to eat a diet similar to those of Paleolithic peoples, you would do well to eat plenty of animal fat from grassfed animals and wild game, in my opinion.