The soothing sip that saved me from a life of agony
Jules Canterbury had grown used to condensation dripping from the walls of her galley kitchen. A long-time sufferer of fibromyalgia, a rheumatic condition that causes pain all over the body, she had taken to boiling “vats” of stock following a Sunday roast each week after finding it relieved her symptoms.
She would leave a chicken carcass or lamb bones with onions, carrots and lemon to simmer overnight, doling out portions of the stuff to her husband, Richard, 41, and son Sacha, four, in the following days.
“The stench was vile – every time I’d go to prepare a batch, I’d wonder if the house would burn down,” recalls Jules, 39.
Convinced that others must be going through the same unpleasant process, Jules and Richard began mulling over how things could be simplified. As the founder of Love Smoothies, which supplies frozen fruit and vegetable sachets that are blended with apple juice to Pret A Manger and Champneys, among others, Richard hoped to use that same logic to bring a “just add hot water” broth pod to the market.
At the time, bone broth was developing a following as an unlikely wonder health drink, low in kilojoules but highly nutritious.
In late 2014, chef Marco Canora set up Brodo (the Italian word for broth) outside Hearth, his Manhattan restaurant, declaring the product to be “the world’s first comfort food”.
With three flavours enriched by hours of stewing and seasoning, cups at $11.50 a pop soon became a sensation, with models at New York fashion week queuing up to buy the drink, said to promote healthy skin, nails and hair.
Encouraged by its apparent ability to soothe his wife’s aches and pains – as well as the fact that their son loved the drink – Richard started making calls. A discussion with friends in New York strengthened his belief that a fuss-free liquor would be a hit.
“I asked whether it was just a craze, but they said they were seeing it everywhere,” says Richard.
“While it started out as the preserve of hipsters, it was becoming more mainstream, and whatever happens in America generally comes through over here.”
Indeed, bone broth is championed by the Hemsley sisters, the British faces of the “clean eating” trend, and formed the basis of many recipes in their bestselling cookbook The Art of Eating Well. The pair claim that bone broth “is instrumental in maintaining a healthy gut and is an easy-to-digest source of energy that doesn’t make you crash, or give you jitters like caffeine”.
Bone broth is said to help with joint conditions such as fibromyalgia because it is rich in gelatin – supplements of gelatin have been shown to improve pain and stiffness in osteoarthritis sufferers.
However, despite claims by the Hemsleys and others, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that bone broth has medical benefits.
Jules was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of 21 – research suggests the condition may affect one in 20 people, and seven times as many women as men, although the causes remain unclear.
The condition results in muscle stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome and fatigue, and is notoriously painful. Jules’s symptoms became so debilitating that she had to take a year out of university and “just lie in bed doing absolutely nothing”.
Fibromyalgia is often triggered or worsened by physical or emotional stress; after giving birth, her pain and “fibro fog” were so crippling that she was referred for cognitive behavioural therapy, on the assumption that she had post-natal depression.
Having tried an array of prescribed medicines and alternative therapies, none of which provided relief, she read an article about fibromyalgia and a potential link with diet. It suggested that reducing intake of oxalate – a naturally occurring chemical found in foods such as spinach, beetroot and berries – had dramatically reduced symptoms for sufferers.
“I had been broken by the lack of hope,” she says of living with fibromyalgia. “It’s soul-destroying because so little is known about it. It wasn’t until I read about that woman’s experience of certain foods affecting the condition that I even knew it was related to diet,” she says.
Jules replicated the diet in the article and began drinking bone broth as a soothing, low-oxalate source of energy. “After a few weeks, I felt 90 per cent better,” she says.
From there she began cooking up her own batches of bone broth, and the idea for individual, on-demand portions was born.
The final product, which comes flavoured with chicken or beef, was more than two years in the making. Many would argue the pods are no different from a stock cube, but Richard and Jules say the key difference is that they are free from artificial ingredients. Made with water from a natural spring at an organic farm in Worcestershire, the 30g pods are frozen at -40C almost instantly, which ensures more nutrients are retained.
“Hopefully, we’re not only providing an amazing quality bone broth but a process that will make it easier for people to drink on a daily basis,” says Richard. “It’s not new, it’s just something that has been reinvented a little.”
He has taken to drinking one during the “mid-afternoon slump”. Sacha can’t get enough, and often glugs down a mug in the morning with his porridge.
They are keen that the broth’s health benefits become widely available in the UK, and reach further than the trendy yoga bunnies “who would think nothing of spending £6 a cup”.
“I’ve been impressed by the diversity of people who want to drink it,” says Richard of customers he has met while promoting the pods. “Everyone does this kind of comforted huddle when they take a sip; one man said it tasted like his Jewish grandmother’s chicken soup.”
For Jules, bone broth has been a revelation. “It’s such a horrendous illness and there are no obvious solutions, so having something that helps the symptoms is amazing.”
The Telegraph, London
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