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Top Six Reasons Stock won't Gel

Updated: May 3

Achieving gelatin. Most people think of “gelatin” as the “watch it wiggle” jello that you could cut into squares and shapes and put on a plate. When your stock or broth looks that way, you have definitely “achieved gelatin”. That is the gold standard, and it can be a high bar to make. I encourage you to broaden your definition of “gelatinous” when you think of stock or broth. As long as it is viscous after you have allowed it to cool in your refrigerator overnight or for 24 hours, you have “achieved gelatin”! (Viscous means has increased viscosity – it has gelled enough to be thick when you pour it.) Go for viscosity. Doesn’t that feel better? Most everyone can make a viscous stock – and that is enough. If you can’t, or your stock is not, check out the following. Stock or broth will not gel for the following reasons:

1. Too much water
2. Not enough connective tissue or joints
3. Cooked at too high a temperature
4. Cooked at too low a temperature
5. Cook time too short
6. Inferior bones

Too much water. If you “waterlog” the bones, you will not achieve gelatin. There simply is too much water to the amount of bones you have in the pot. A good rule of thumb is to cover the bones by 1-2” of water. More than that, and it is almost guaranteed that the stock will not gel.

Not enough connective tissue or joints. Connective tissue and joints are the “stuff” that makes your stock or broth gel. If you want gelatin, you have to provide the “materials” to make it. All connective tissues fit the bill: skin, ligaments, tendons, joints (the cartilage between bones), feet, and heads. These are the things that will gel your stock. If you don’t have enough of them, the stock will not gel. (Note: it doesn’t take a lot. For example, 2-4 chicken feet will provide enough collagen to gel an 8-12 quart pot of stock. Throw in a chicken head if you’ve got one. But only one is needed!)

Stock was cooked at too high a temperature. Simply put, it is a good idea to NOT boil the bones. Bring them to a boil, skim and discard any scum, and then put your stock or broth to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook for the required amount of time. (Remember that Meat Stock is a short-cooked stock; Bone Broth is a long-cooked stock. Find more information about cook times below.) If you cook at too high a temperature, you can break the bonds that allow stock to gel. So check your cooking temperature before you walk away from the stove.

Stock was cooked at too low a temperature. If those bones are not even simmering, you will probably wind up with something that looks like dishwater. Very sad. Collagen must be heated in order for its triple helix to unwind and make that stock gelatinous. Be sure that you don’t make the temperature too low when you bring the pot down to a simmer. A good rule is that the top of the stock looks fairly still, but you can see movement underneath. Every once in a while, you will see bubbles break the surface. If there is no movement, your stock will not gel.

Stock was not cooked long enough. This is a new one for me – just last week while troubleshooting for someone, I discovered that some people are not cooking their stock long enough. In an effort to “keep histamine content low”, people are shortening the cook time of their Meat Stock. In shortening their cook times to an hour or a little more, they do not allow enough time for the stock to become gelatinous. (FYI, Meat Stock is already low histamine when compared with Bone Broth, which is high histamine. I’ll write more about histamines in another article soon.)

The bones are inferior. Yep. Using bones from conventionally raised poultry or animals – those raised in cages or on feedlots, and fed GMO feed or worse – often will not yield a gelatinous stock. They have not been given the nutrients they need to thrive, their connective tissue can be weak and sparse. I do not recommend using these bones if at all possible. It is hard to make a nutrient-dense food from deficient materials. (However, if it is all you can get, do your best with them. Then “bless it and go”.)

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