Marrow Bones

Marrow_Bones

If you have not tried marrow bones yet you must. They are cheap, delicious and very nutritious. All the palaeontological evidence indicates that our human ancestors prized marrow bone. Many studies of paleolithic bone assemblages associated with human habitation show a much higher proportion of long limb bones than any other part of the animal [1]. Furthermore, those bones are often characteristically broken open providing access to the marrow. Our friend Paul Inskip reports how he recently observed children of the Turkana tribe, pastoralists in Kenya, skillfully selecting and using stones in order to break open the bones and eat the marrow from a recently slaughtered and roasted goat.

Evidence of marrow extraction, Rutland, UK. c. 30,000 years ago. (c)University of Leicester

The extraordinary evidence is that the extraction of bone marrow by our genetic antecedents was taking place 2 million years ago in East Africa [2], 400,000 years ago in the middle east [1,3], and relatively recently at just 30,000 years ago here in England [see image, right]. By inference it was a continuous practice in between these eras. With that kind of evolutionary continuity you can bet we are well adapted to eating marrow. Reason enough to make it part of one’s diet today, I think you will agree.

So, what were our ancestors seeking that led them to put so much emphasis on this particular food? One probable reason is that marrow is very high in fats. For our ancestors and many recent hunting tribes fat was essential [2,3]. Eating excess protein from muscle meat leads to a condition known as ‘rabbit starvation’ which can be lethal, as there is an upper limit to the quantity of protein the human body can metabolise and in excess is toxic. This quantity is well below the daily energy requirements – so the remaining calories have to come from either fats or carbohydrates. With the carcass of a freshly killed bison to obtain sustenance from, the use of the fat would have been essential and all the evidence indicates that the Plains Indians, the Inuit Eskimo and the Australian aborigines were all skilled at selecting and hunting the fattest animals. For those of us who have realised the importance of reducing the refined carbohydrates and grains in our diet, learning about good sources of fats is important, otherwise we can make the mistake of equating low-carb but with an excessively high protein intake.

Marrow contains lots of saturates, monounsaturates and a good balance of the essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (especially when the animal has fed on grassland and not on grains), the omega 3s-DHA & EPA. However, there is very little solid data available on the vitamin, mineral and micronutrient content in bone marrow, but one suspects that it contains important undocumented factors. Who knows? For all these reasons we should all consider eating marrow regularly. It is cheap, easy to prepare, and really quite a delicacy. (You only need to let your dog get too close to discover how highly they prize marrow!)

The bones I used in this recipe came from a butchers in Hackney, and are unusual in that they are cut longitudinally, rather than transversely, but they cook fine whichever way you can find them.

Recipe: 1 large marrow bone per person is sufficient as a starter or accompaniment.

Marrow_Bone_preparedPlace the marrow bones in a dish – season with salt and pepper, and herbs of your choice (e.g. thyme, bay leaf etc) then pop in the oven at round 170°C for 10 – 15 minutes. That’s it!

Not sure that really counts as a recipe but it is all that is needed! Remember that the marrow in smaller bones can be utilised by using them to make a bone broth.

References

1. Mary C. Stiner et al, Cooperative hunting and meat sharing 400–200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel, PNAS 2009

2. Cordain et al. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease, Nature 2002

3. Miki Ben-Dor et al, Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant, PlosOne 2011

In the News: Mail_online_logoAnyone for bone marrow? ‘Forgotten cut’ goes on sale at Waitrose alongside Heston Blumenthal recipe to whet the appetite

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