When the bone broth trend started simmering nearly a decade ago, I was not a quick convert. Though I am a lifelong meat eater, the phrase “bone broth” didn’t exactly scream “delicious,” nor did the cloudy, gelatinous appearance appeal to my eyes. Given that its rise came on the heels of the kombucha craze — another iffy-looking and -sounding liquid, full of magical promises — I was also dubious of the unchecked health claims, so prevalent in the modern healthy-eating market.
Then one day a couple years back, as I stirred yet another spice-stacked stock made from our roast chicken remains, I realized how familiar we actually were with bone broth (at least by another name), and that countless cultures tout the body-nourishing, soul-warming effects of chicken soup and similarly savory salves. So by the time Wishbone Wellbeing reached out to share their Wishbone Broth with me this year — in the midst of a pandemic, when staying well was top of mind for everyone — I was open arms, ready to embrace the bone broth that Isa Bourbon and Lena Philkill were making from organic beef and chicken bones, boosted by locally sourced vegetables.
“We started making it because we didn’t find anything on the market that was good enough,” Bourbon told me in my backyard a few weeks after dropping off a 32-ounce batch that my family slurped down in two days, its lusciously rich, ginger-spiced kick enjoyed by my kids and (mostly vegetarian) wife alike. Bourbon found the commercially available versions to be watered down and feared that the non-organic ones might be dangerous. And, she explained, “The shelf-stable ones creep me out.”
Initially, the broths were part of meals that Bourbon and Philkill brought to family and friends who’d just had babies, believing the marrow- and collagen-rich beverage to be a nutritional boost. The list of friends included Scott Walker and Erin Gomez, who own the Juice Ranch chain of juice bars. “They were dying over the bone broth,” said Bourbon. “We could not make enough. They were finishing it so quickly.” If they could bottle it, said the couple, Juice Ranch would sell the bone broth.
So Bourbon and Philkill got to work, ordering organic, grass-fed beef femurs from SunFed Ranch; necks, backs, and feet from Mary’s Free-Range Chicken; and Central Coast–grown produce, from alliums to root vegetables, to bolster the broth’s vitamin kick. They started stocking Juice Ranch shelves about two years ago, marking the first time the chain sold a meat-derived product.
“It really picked up speed and became one of their top sellers very quickly,” said Bourbon, who now also sells Wishbone Broth at Pacific Health Foods in Carpinteria, New Frontiers in Solvang, Rainbow Bridge in Ojai, and Gladden & Sons in Goleta. The 32-ounce jars, which contain four servings, are $26, while the 16-ouncers are $16.
They’d also started a delivery service, with a minimum order of four 32-ounce jars for $88. “When COVID hit, that became our primary thing,” said Bourbon. “It’s basically a liquid gold mine for health. If you drink it in the morning, it boosts your entire immune system and sets you up to protect yourself. So bone broth became important all of the sudden.”
They’re developing a vegetarian version as well. “How do I make a bone broth for someone who doesn’t drink bone broth?” said Bourbon of what inspired that challenge. They’ve honed a recipe to deliver 25 percent of suggested daily calcium and potassium by using gypsum, Epsom, and sodium bicarbonate powders. “It’s a chemistry project,” she said. “We’re perfecting it so that it is high protein.”
To that rocky core, they add their usual alliums, root veg, and ginger, but also shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms; toasted and pulverized pumpkin seeds for omega-3 fatty acids; sweet potato for iron; kelp, kombu, and dulse for minerals and umami, and nutritional yeast for B-12. I tried the veggie broth, which sells for the same price. While not quite as savory or lush as the traditional bone broth, it hits the familiar flavor and viscosity marks.
Though bone broth is now the core of their business, Wishbone Wellbeing actually started as a catering company nearly five years ago. That’s when Bourbon moved back to her hometown of Santa Barbara after a decade spent learning — at a boarding school in Canada, followed by chef school at Bauman College in Berkeley — and then working in the Bay Area as a culinary camp leader and in New York City as a line cook and private chef. Though the latter job meant lots of freedom, creativity, and globe-trotting with a wealthy family for almost three years, Bourbon missed sharing her skills with a wider audience and showing how food can be both delicious and good for you.
“I want to make healthy eating approachable, and I want people to be inspired to take health into their own hands,” said Bourbon. “So much of the issue is that we’re not educated around food. It’s not something we learn in school and, if our parents don’t know about it, we miss that education. On the other side, you have big business pushing you to have unhealthy things.”
Her upbringing emphasized the right side of food. “The kitchen was the living room; it was the focus of the home,” she said. “We cooked together. We ate together. My dad is more the mad-scientist chef. He never makes the same thing. My mom is much more the organized baker, using recipes. I have both of those aspects within me.”
Just before catering a large corporate retreat, Bourbon met Philkill, whose parents ran a health-food store called The Healthy Habit in New Jersey. Philkill had been living for a number of years in Santa Barbara, working for various farmers at the farmers’ market. Bourbon asked Philkill to join her, and the event went seamlessly, so much so that attendees asked how long they had been working together.
“What drew to me to her was her work ethic — she just crushed it,” said Bourbon. “That whole weekend was amazing.” They went on to cater many other retreats, weddings, and small festivals, always using the platform to inform as much as feed. That’s why they preferred the multi-day gigs. “You can do so much,” said Bourbon. “You can really shift someone’s consciousness if you feed them for multiple days, which is exciting to witness.”
Those lessons are now portable through Wishbone Broth, and they dream of expanding into packaged hot sauces and dressings one day. They make the broth at the same commercial kitchen in Goleta that’s home to Better Burrito and Casa de Comer salsa, compost and otherwise divert most of their waste stream, and list all of their ingredients on their website.
“Transparency is super important,” said Bourbon. “I want people to understand exactly what we put in there and that there is no filler or superfluous ingredients.”
She recommends having an eight-ounce serving daily if possible, and suggests small amounts frequently rather than big doses. “It’s consistency over quantity — you want to be drinking a little bit a lot versus a lot a little bit of the time,” said Bourbon. “I have some friends who drink the whole jar in one sitting because they love it. But that’s an expensive meal.”
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