Bone Broth Breakdown: The Difference Between Fresh, Retort, Powders, & Concentrates
By now, you’ve likely seen your fair share of bone broth in one or more of its many iterations on your Instagram feed, featured in health and beauty blogs, or on-shelves at your favorite grocery stores. People are sipping, scooping, and stirring their way towards incorporating this collagen-loaded superfood into their diets, but with so many options available, it can be tough to figure out what a “good” bone broth looks (and tastes) like.
What is the difference between liquid bone broth and powdered bone broth? What is bone broth concentrate? How do all of these processing techniques affect the nutrient content of the finished product? We’ve gotten rid of the guesswork by conducting a side-by-side comparison of the what’s on the market so you can make the most informed decision as you browse for broth.
Wait back up...What exactly is bone broth?
Bone broth is a nutrient-rich liquid made by slow-simmering bones (most commonly chicken or beef) over many hours to extract collagen, gelatin, and essential amino acids. Traditionally, bones are sliced to expose the nutrient-dense marrow and simmered alongside aromatics and vinegar to help extract nutrients and develop a more full-bodied flavor.
Bone broth has been touted for its many health benefits for centuries and has been linked to improving gut health, joint health, brain function, healthy skin and hair growth, and much much more.
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be tricky to find the time to work this liquid gold into recipes. More and more people are looking for convenient, on-the-go options that are easy to store or easy to sip.
How do the prices stack up?
Fresh/Frozen Liquid Bone Broth
Fresh, nourishing, and ready-to-drink, this seriously-sippable traditional version of bone broth preserves the rich flavor and irresistible aroma formed during the cooking process. Liquid broth can be heated and sipped on its own, used as a base for recipes, or substituted for water when cooking grains and pasta for a nourishing flavor boost. It tends to have a shorter shelf life (usually between 3 to 6 months before being opened) and must be kept cool.
Shelf Stable (Retort) Liquid Bone Broth
Not all liquid broths are created equal. You probably wouldn’t look for chicken breast or spare ribs in the unrefrigerated center aisles of the grocery store, so why would you search for bone broth here? The shelf-stable broths on the market may be convenient, but aroma and flavor are often on the chopping block when it comes to elongating shelf life. The fresh, cozy bone broth flavor is turned stale by exposure to high temperatures (~251 degrees Fahrenheit) during a process called retorting. According to food processing expert Barb Stuckey, this processing technique annihilates the “beautiful aromatic volatile notes that we take for granted. When the retort destroys these low-molecular-weight flavors, what's left is the ugly insides” (Popular Science 2012) To compensate for the lack of flavor, companies will frequently add sodium or fats, so pay extra attention to the label on any non-refrigerated broth you’re looking to purchase.
If convenience and longevity are higher priorities than flavor, shelf stable broths may be the option for you. They are ready to drink as-is, and don’t require refrigeration until opened.
Bone Broth Concentrate
Bone broth concentrate is thicker and more condensed than liquid broth, and often comes in a paste or block. It must be combined with water before being consumed, but is nutritionally very similar to liquid bone broths on-shelf. It can be a great option if you need something convenient with a longer shelf life that doesn’t make sacrifices on the flavor front. Be wary, though -- concentrates can often be salty on the palate, and quality varies widely from brand to brand.
Powdered Bone Broth
Powdered bone broth is simply liquid broth that has been dehydrated into a powder. It is a natural choice for people who are looking for an easy way to work extra nutrients into their existing routines, and can easily be added to smoothies or recipes. Powdered options are probably the most convenient when it comes to storage and portability, and stay good for much longer than any other option on the market. The downside? Broth can lose precious nutrients due to high processing temperatures, and the taste is often less-than-desirable. Be sure to scour the ingredients list, as many companies rely heavily on additives for their powdered broth -- from flavors like chocolate and vanilla, to de-clumping agents and preservatives.
Best Overall Flavor & Texture: Fresh Liquid Broth
Most Cost-Effective: Typically, powders are cheaper on average, but price varies widely brand-to-brand
Most Convenient: Retort Liquid Broth, which is both ready-to-consume and shelf-stable