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Marrow is the soft, creamy, high caloric substance found in the center of the bones. According to Waverly Root, in his reference work Food, bone marrow is “the rather mucilaginous matter which fills bones and is considered a particular delicacy by cannibals.” Root was obviously not a fan, but cooked bone marrow has a mild taste and the consistency of soft butter; gourmands compare it to foie gras.

The most popular marrow is veal or beef, from the animals’ leg bones. Don’t neglect what you find in lamb and pork shanks, hams, and game bones. Even if you don’t eat the marrow straight from the bone, remember to add those bones to your stock pot to enrich the final broth.

Since man began hunting, marrow has been an important food source. It provides fat, iron, phosphorous, and vitamin A, with trace amounts of thiamin and niacin. For people living at subsistence levels or in marginal areas, it could mean the difference between life and death. All mammals have marrow in their bones, as do birds–though to a lesser extent, because many bird bones are hollow, which helps them fly.

During the Middle Ages marrow, like suet (the fat from around the kidneys), was used in place of butter as an ingredient in pastries, sweet puddings, and desserts. In Victorian times, marrow was a popular dish at English high teas and in men’s clubs, and it was often served, instead of pudding, at the end of each meal. Queen Victoria was a devotee, who it was said, ate marrow and toast every day. That may not have improved her figure, but it didn’t shorten her life.

Although rich, beef marrow is easily digested. Because it is one of the richest foods there is, in the past it was the nutritional choice of anyone with poor appetite or who needed building up. It was regarded as a health food, perfect for invalids and children. In one English recipe, the marrow is colored yellow with saffron and then whipped until it resembles butter. It was recommended for sickly children.

Fortunately, we don’t need the excuse of feeling undernourished to eat marrow; we can eat it because we like it. However, because many of us pay attention to the amount of saturated fat in our diets, marrow is usually a special treat.

Knowing where your meat comes from, and how it has been raised, is especially important when it concerns bone marrow. Spinal marrow is found in the bones of chips and ribs, the neck, and tail. The safest bone marrow is that from the leg bones, because it has no contact with brain tissue.


This information is excerpted from Bones by Jennifer McLagan and can be purchased here.