On 1 January 2012, I started the new year with a stock cube supper. The shops were closed and I had nothing else in the house. I boiled the kettle, crumbled the cube and grated in some pepper, making a thin, meat-flavoured broth. It was, as you'd imagine, rather unsatisfactory. One dissolved Oxo cube does not a meal make.
Fast forward four years and stock – or, to use a trendier term, "bone broth" – is the latest nutritional elixir to hit the high street. Billed as "the next green juice", bone broth is said to strengthen immunity, improve digestion, reduce joint pain and even give you shinier hair.
The stock-like soup first became fashionable in New York last year when people queued down the block to visit Brodo, the city's first broth bar, during New York Fashion Week.
British food writers the Hemsley sisters have since begun championing bone broth in the UK, and recently named it a kitchen staple. Now, lunchtime favourite Pret A Manger has jumped on the bandwagon, trialling a protein-packed version in 28 of its London stores. I decided to venture out for a taste.
Food trends in 2016
Food trends in 2016
1/11 Celeriac root
We had a kale obsession in 2015, but 2016’s vegetable sine qua non is predicted to be the knobbly celeriac root. Celeriac milk (Tom Hunt at Poco in Bristol serves it with winter mussels and wild water celery), celeriac cooked in Galician beef fat (from Adam Rawson of Pachamama, hot new chef in the capital) and salt-baked celeriac (to be found in Matthew and Iain Pennington’s kitchens at The Ethicurean in the West Country) are just a few examples.
2/11 Middle Eastern food
The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook (£24.95, Phaidon) by grand-dame Salma Hage, author of the bestseller The Lebanese Kitchen (whose halva is pictured here), is out in April
© Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton
3/11 Non-alcoholic cocktails
Grain Store mixologist Tony Conigliaro has created Roman Redhead, a riot of red grape juice, beetroot, pale ale and verjus, and Rose Iced Tea (black tea, rose petals, anise essence, pictured here)
The discerning will be slurping Hepple gin – from chef Valentine Warner and cocktail guru Nick Strangeway – which is punctuated with bog-myrtle nuances
5/11 Argyll and Bute
Restaurant followers are getting in a froth about Pam Brunton in Scotland, who opened the Inver restaurant in Argyll and Bute to acclaim last year
6/11 Andy Oliver’s Som Saa
One of the most eagerly awaited restaurants of 2016 will be the permanent incarnation of Andy Oliver’s remarkable pop-up Som Saa opening very soon in east London. Oliver, who worked at Thai god David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok, raised a whopping £700,000 through crowdfunding, and is renowned for his piquant Thai flavours and obsessive attention to detail, including in his home ferments and DIY coconut cream
© Adam Weatherley
Another ruminant in vogue is venison, with Sainsbury’s doubling its line for 2016. It provides a protein-packed punch, with B vitamins and iron, and it’s low in fat. Its entry into the mainstream is in part thanks to the Scottish restaurant Mac and Wild, just opened in London, whose Celtic head chef Andy Waugh (who also runs the Wild Game Co) has been touting it as street food for years (his venison burger pictured here)
From Brett Graham’s The Ledbury to Angela Hartnett’s kitchens at Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest, Cabrito is the go-to goat supplier among the chef cognoscenti (roasted loin of kid pictured here) – but this year, domestic cooks can get in on the action, as Sushila Moles and James Whetlor of Cabrito offer their meat through Ocado
Mike Lusmore / mikelusmore.com
Coffee sage George Crawford is launching the much-anticipated Cupsmith with his partner, Emma. Crawford believes that 2016 is the year purist coffee will finally meet the masses; Cupsmith’s mission will be to make craft coffee as popular as craft beer on the high street. The company roasts Arabica beans in small batches, improving its quality – but sells it online, at cupsmith.com, in an approachable way: expect cheerful packaging and names such as Afternoon Reviver Coffee (designed for drinking with milk – no matter how uncouth, most of us want milk) and Glorious Espresso
10/11 120-day-old steak
Hanging meat for extremely long lengths of time has become an art. In Cumbria, Lake Road Kitchen’s James Cross is plating up 120-day-old steak (pictured here). The beef is from influential “ager” Dan Austin of Lake District Farmers, who is currently investigating the individual bacterial cultures that go into this maturing process
11/11 Lotus root
Diners can expect root-to-stem dining - cue the full lotus deployed by the Michelin-starred Indian Benares in its kamal kakdi aur paneer korma
I'm met with blank faces in the first two Prets I try. "Bone broth?" the first barista says, with a puzzled look. "Broth made from… bones? No, sorry, not here." Undeterred, I plough on, eventually stumbling upon a branch advertising the little pot of broth on its shelves. I have to collect it at the till, where the servers tell me the new offering is proving popular with customers. One says he's sold around 20 units since it launched the day before.
The broth, which costs £1.95 for a small cup, is made by boiling the bones and meat from grass-fed cattle over an extended period. Although it doesn't contain enough calories to be a meal replacement, Pret Manger says it does make a suitable lunch accompaniment, afternoon snack, or protein hit. Alternatively, it could replace a morning latte – if you don't mind turning up to your first meeting with beefy breath.
I settle down at a window seat, meaty aromas wafting temptingly towards my nostrils. The steaming liquid is thin and mud-brown in colour. I take a cautious sip. Piping hot and salty, the broth fills my mouth. I swallow and take a second gulp, scalding my tongue in the process. It's like drinking posh Bovril. I accompany it with a sandwich and, I must admit, it makes a nice change to kale crisps.
But will it really make my hair shinier? The health benefits of bone broth have long been trumpeted by dieticians. It's said to have high levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, collagen and keratin. Nutritionist Vicki Edgson, who recently co-wrote a book entitled Broth, explains the bare bones.
"Minerals calcium and magnesium, together with the amino acids found in bone broth, are not only essential for bone health, they're also beneficial for hair and nails," she says. "Collagen exuded from the bones benefits the intestinal lining by helping to repair the epithelial cells that make up the lining of the gut."
She says bone broth has anti-inflammatory properties, too, which can help with eczema, asthma, and other inflammatory conditions.
And it's becoming mainstream. "Ready-prepared broth can now be found in most major supermarkets," says Vicki. "Even gyms and fitness centres are now serving broth as a suitable winter alternative to cold juices that may contain antioxidants but do little to replenish a hungry post-workout body before the challenges of the day ahead."
Not everyone's on board, though. Food writer Jay Rayner has been picking bones on Twitter with people who think the broth anything other than ordinary stock.
"Bone broth was never a phrase that anybody had heard until a year or two back. It's a total invention," he tells me. "To make stock you brown some bones and then you boil them. But the bones have to have something on them. They have to have a bit of connective tissue and a bit of meat."
Something tells me "connective tissue consommé" might not sell as well. Rayner also says that any health claims made about bone broth are "ludicrous". "There is no physiological way in which making a stock from bones will have any impact upon your own calcium levels," he says. "The fact that Pret A Manger have leapt on the bandwagon is just infuriating."
But Pret isn't the only victualler taking stock. London-based restaurant chain Bone Daddies, founded by Australian restaurateur Ross Shonhan, features chicken and pork bone broths in their ramen dishes, while Bone Tea – a dedicated bone broth outlet – launched in London last June.
"If there's money to be made, they'll make money," says Rayner. That's what it all boils down to.
- More about:
- Jay Rayner
- Pret Manger
- Bone Daddies
- Vicki Edgson
- Bone Tea
- New York
- Chloe Hamilton