Benefits of Homemade Chicken Soup

~ The Very Real Benefits of Homemade Chicken Broth ~

Sure it’s easy enough to pick up cans or a box of chicken broth at the store, but even with purchasing organic products the extra processing required for packaging mass quantities means it no longer has many of the original nutritional benefits. Also these products often have extra things added to lengthen shelf life that you may not want to be ingesting, especially in the non-organic options.

Chicken Noodle SoupStudies have proven what grandmothers through the ages have already known: chicken broth made with whole chicken parts is very good for us. Here are some of the facts science has revealed:

At least one study has found that chicken soup can slow down the inflammatory process that’s triggered by infection. It has been shown to reduce the length of a cold and assist with recovery (this isn’t an Old Wives Tale, but it only works with the stock made from whole chicken parts). In addition, cysteine, an amino acid that chicken releases when it’s cooked, is chemically similar to a common bronchitis drug. The warm, soothing broth can thin mucus and calm congestion and cough, and if your tummy is fine and you add a dash of hot sauce like my family enjoys, you’ll get an added boost of sinus-clearing benefits.

Chicken broth is hydrophillic. This means that when you ingest it, it attracts water (instead of repelling it, like most cooked foods do), and it becomes especially easy to digest and assimilate the nutrients. For people who have trouble digesting raw vegetables, and for people (as most do) who ingest pasteurized milk, bone broths add significant quality and benefit to the diet.

The glycosaminoglycans in the connective tissue contain over 100 compounds that are supportive of your own connective tissue. For people with arthritis and/or joint issues, this is especially helpful, but it is also good for everyone. If you think about a person who takes a glucosamine supplement for their joints, consider that consuming broths made from a whole chicken contain that compound plus around 100 more. Additionally, the natural forms of these compounds are more easily assimilated in the body compared to a synthetic supplement. The compounds in the bones/joints also translate to healthy (strong and flexible) bones.

Chicken broth is soothing and repairing for the digestive tract. People with IBS, colitis, gluten issues, and/or other intestinal conditions will find broth helpful in repairing damage to the mucosal lining of the intestines.

Along with excellent benefits for our health, here are more benefits:

Throwing away chicken bones is terribly wasteful. They’re full of minerals such as calcium that can be used to nourish our family. Also I feel that utilizing every part of an animal as much as possible shows respect for its offering of life. After a chicken dinner if I don’t have time (or energy) to make broth I’ll wrap the bones and leftover chicken tightly and freeze for up to one month before proceeding to make broth.

Making our own is so much more nutritious than buying it. Even the natural brands are very watered down and poor in nutritional value. They often use “natural” flavorings and coloring to make up for the poor quality of the stock. Less natural brands can be full of refined salts and MSG. Making your own broth gives you a mineral rich, nutritious base for all sorts of wonderful meals.

Good nutrition is always paired with superior taste. We love homemade broth so much that we will sometimes sip it hot in mugs, simply salted (Yes, broth needs added salt). A good homemade broth gives you the foundation for making delicious soups and sauces and a myriad of other uses. You can cook your grains in it for extra nutrition and taste. You can flavor chicken potpie, stir fry’s, and many other dishes with it.

Also when we utilize the bones and leftover bits of chicken, we save money! We don’t have to buy those expensive “natural” boxes of chicken broth at the store when we have our own on hand in the freezer.

Luckily making our own stock is very easy and refreshingly satisfying.

Start with an organic free-range chicken (the essence of the animal is going into your soup, so if it’s a hormone/antibiotic exposed chicken, your soup will reflect that).

cast iron enameled potNext, ideally use an enameled cast iron stockpot if you can. While Le Creuset is the name for a lifetime investment and future heirloom pot, we can’t all afford the hundreds of dollars for the up-front investment, so luckily there are other suppliers of decent enameled pots with much more reasonable price tags. It’s best to avoid using a slow cooker or crockpot if there is anything acidic in the recipe, such as the vinegar required here. Read more about the risks of lead leaching from crockpot liners here.

To increase the calcium of your broth make sure to add cider vinegar to the stock, and ensure you cook it gently for long periods of time, such as 12-24 hours (but not beyond 24 hours as off flavors can develop). It was found in more than one study that the calcium content increases through length of cooking time when in an acidic liquid. You can also let the bones sit in the acidic water for about an hour before heating. This may allow even more of the beneficial minerals to leach from the chicken bones.

I have made chicken broth many ways, such as using chicken necks and backs, leftover bones stripped of meat, raw meat on bones, using whole vegetables, using leftover vegetable scraps saved from a week of chopping etc.  This is to say the art of making stock is very flexible. The following recipe is what I use because it’s frugal and always results in a delicious tasting broth.

Please note that this very healthy chicken broth, or stock if you prefer, will become gelatinous like jello once cooled. It will re-liquify upon reheating.

Homemade Chicken Broth

1 chicken carcass (or a bag of bones from the freezer, see *Note)
1-2 pounds of organic raw chicken legs or pieces 
3-5 chicken feet, optional (kept frozen in the freezer; see **Note)
4 organic carrots, scrubbed and cut into 3 inch pieces
4 organic celery stalks, washed and cut into 3 inch pieces
1 large organic onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 bay leaves
10-15 peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (you cannot taste it in the final product)

chicken broth ingredientsPut everything into a large stock pot and cover with filtered water about an inch or two above the top of the ingredients. To draw out more of the calcium from the bones, let sit for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature. Bring to a low simmer and cover. Never boil stock. Keep at a gentle simmer for 3-24 hours, skimming any foam that may rise to the top. The longer you simmer the more flavor and minerals leach out into the stock. I find that a 10-12 hour simmer works perfectly for me (Don’t go past 24 hours or the broth will become bitter and too dark). Once done, allow to cool, and pour through a colander into another large pot. 
This lovely broth is now ready to be made into Chicken Noodle Soup with the addition of diced carrot, onion, and celery with seasonings like basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, bay, salt and pepper. Once simmered a few minutes, add some egg noodles and cook until tender, and stir in cooked, chopped chicken and frozen peas if desired and stir until heated through.
Cooled chicken broth can also be frozen in 1-, 2-, or 4-Cup containers ready and waiting to be added to soups, stews, sauces and recipes of all kinds. Enjoy!
*Note: Whenever we make drumsticks for dinner, or any type of chicken on the bone, we save the bones for making this stock! After dinner add them to a freezer bag kept in the freezer until there’s enough to make a pot of stock. (Although for some it may seem strange at first to save bones that people have eaten off, a 12-hour simmer is going to kill any ‘cooties’ but if you prefer just have your family cut their meat off the bones.)
**Note: Regarding the chicken feet, some find this practice barbaric; however remember that using all parts of the chicken show proper respect to the gift of life from the animal. The feet are an excellent source of gelatin. Find them at Asian stores or from local farmers.

(References: Kitchen Comfort for Cold and Flu Sufferers article by Amy Ahlberg, The Nourishing Gourmet by Kimberly Harris, Deep Nutrition by Catherine Shanahan, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, and The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones by Annemarie Colbin)

Additional Reading: ‘A Comfort Food Classic: Chicken Noodle Soup‘ by Modern Girl Nutrition

Co-existing Peacefully Through Holiday Dinners

be thankful signThe most important thing to serve your guests is your smile. This means remembering that how you are feeling is felt by everyone in your home, so do all that you can to remain calm and cheerful. Do things in advance, like setting the table, completing any décor ideas, and prepping any vegetables or dishes that can be stored in the fridge for a day before the event. Remember to get some good sleep the night before, drink lots of water, and wear an outfit that makes you feel and look good. Then put on some nice music, and open the door with a big smile. Hugs all around! Your genuine joy at having these people to your home is what they will remember much more than the meal itself. So keep your focus on them, and not just the main dish.

Here are some tips for a festive ~ and joyful! ~ dinner with guests:

place card pearBe creative with your décor and use what you have on hand. A few red apples or ornament balls look festive in a clear bowl. And rather than decorating the whole house, just focus on key areas like the entry, living room and dining table. Make place cards for the dining room table by tying paper ‘leaves’ with names written on them to the stems of apples or pears. Or tuck a tag into the crack of a walnut shell. Just do it the day before and not on the day of your gathering. It’s just not worth the stress that could generate!

When cooking for guests only prepare dishes you’ve made before and are comfortable making for a crowd. Search out make-ahead dishes and do as much prep-work the day before as possible. After many years of having made holiday turkey dinners as well as baked ham dinners with scalloped potatoes, I have found some meals are easier on me than others. If I am feeling a bit tired in the week before hosting a family gathering, or if I just want to spend more time visiting and less time in the kitchen, I select to make a ham dinner. It is still special but somehow much easier on me than turkey with all its last minute details. So whatever you prepare, plan your menu with some thought to keeping your stress level low. And don’t feel compelled to make everything yourself! Perhaps make it a potluck. Prepare one or two main dishes and assign each guest a different item to bring.

crockpotLimit your cocktail selection to one special drink. Perhaps an eggnog punch or a mulled wine. And set up a self-serve bar area outside of the main part of the kitchen, like an island, sideboard, dresser or desk. Even a small folding table can be covered with a tablecloth to serve up drinks temporarily. Place glasses or mugs, a ladle for the punch bowl or crockpot, and whatever else guests need to help themselves. At my house a couple of hours before guests arrive, I start apple juice (3 litres/quarts) heating in the crockpot on low with some mulling ingredients: 2-3 sticks of cinnamon and a tea-diffuser (or cheesecloth bundle) filled with 5-6 whole cloves, ¼ tsp of whole allspice, and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar. This is a delicious non-alcoholic beverage that also makes your house smell divine. (For any adults who might like it ‘spirited’ offer an ounce of brandy or spiced rum as an addition to this festive mugful of cheer.)

Make it easy to accept offers from guests who want to help in the kitchen by leaving some last minute tasks like assembling the salad or putting some pickles or cranberry sauce into a pretty dish, for example. I like to include water glasses for everyone at my dinner table and I happily accept help with filling those glasses with water and ice in the last 15 minutes before everyone comes to the table.

thankful treeGratitude is a worthy topic for every gathering, and is a nice way to include an ‘around the table’ element to a grace or before dessert. Encourage everyone to share something they are grateful for this year. And here’s a different idea for generating some discussion and including an activity either before or after dinner, or before dessert is served: Make a Thankful Tree! Ahead of time (a day or two before) prepare a twig tree in a pot of clean gravel or sand and cut out plenty of paper leaves, enough for everyone to have at least two leaves. Punch a hole near the tip and tie on a large loop of twine or ribbon. Have pens (or child-friendly markers!) on hand and welcome everyone to write down what they are thankful for and hang it on the tree. Have fun!

And I encourage us all to keep the HAPPY in our holidays.

Grow Food not Lawns

Here are some images as ‘food for thought’ to carve out a bit more room for growing food every summer. I’ve been doing it in my little corner of the suburbs. How about you?

food not lawns
grow food not lawns
grow food not lawns

backyard garden
grow food
grow food not grass