Fun fact: bone marrow has iron in it. Which means that the bone marrow recipes below are one more wonderful way to bring iron into your baby’s diet.
Bone marrow is found inside of bones. And it’s a production powerhouse, full of life-giving stem cells – pumping out red blood cells, white blood cells, bone cells, and fat cells. Bone marrow also has vasculature moving blood to and fro. And where you find blood…you find iron.
Iron is a big deal for babies. It’s a meaty mineral that I love to love. You can find hints of my obsession all over the place – on instagram, in blog posts, and in this online program for beginning solids. Chances are, your pediatrician is also interested in your baby’s iron levels. But why?
- Iron is brain food. For example, research reveals that babies who are anemic before the age of two have lower scores in school achievement and cognition from 4 – 19 years of age.
- Iron supports myelination. It turns out you can find quite a bit of iron in the brain cells that produce myelin. Myelin-making brain cells = white matter in the brain…and white matter = intelligence.
- Iron deficiency cannot be undone. Even when corrected, low levels of iron during babyhood – or iron deficiency anemia – has been found to impact language development, motor development, and emotional development.
Note, that as with most things there’s a balance to how much iron you give your baby. Food naturally rich in heme iron (such as liver, cuts of beef and lamb, the dark meat of chicken, shellfish, and bone marrow) positively supports your baby’s iron levels. Even when eaten in small amounts, as babies do.
Bone marrow has roughly 2.7 mg of iron for every four tablespoons – which is equivalent to what you find in one tablespoon of liver.
Beyond iron, Chinese medicine claims that bone marrow has some serious restorative mojo. In short, it is known for its ability to deeply fortify the body. If your baby shows signs of “failure to thrive,” such as slow weight gain or not reaching developmental milestones, use bone marrow more frequently and in the place of fats like butter and ghee.
How To Pick + Handle Your Bones
When roasted, bone marrow has a wiggly jiggly way about it. And while you can find plenty of marrow within the center of the bone, there are all sorts of nooks and crannies around the ends of the bone where marrow can get stuck.
You can get around those nooks and crannies (and the most bang for your buck) by asking for a long cut and avoiding the ends when buying marrow bones. Choose cuts from the center of the bone.
Should you soak your bones before roasting?
In Odd Bits, chef and author Jennifer McLagan suggests soaking bones in salted ice water to remove blood. Blood contains iron. And since we’re celebrating this unctuous meat butter because it’s a fairly good source of iron, skip the soak.
Recipe #1: Whipped Bone Marrow “Butter”
Cara Nicoletti – sausage maker extraordinaire – makes bone marrow look beautiful and presentable by WHIPPING it. With a whisk. In a bowl. Uber simple and doable – especially if you have leftover bone marrow sitting in the fridge.
Cara’s recipe calls for fresh parsley and thyme. While bits of fresh herbs are safe for babies 6+ months, large pieces may be distracting and lead to a little too much gagging at the table. If your baby is just beginning to explore solids, I recommend straight up whipped marrow. If you are following the principles of baby-led weaning, use like you would butter – for example, on top of a softened starchy vegetable, like sweet potato or squash. If you are working with purees, add marrow butter to your puree.
Below is Cara’s marrow butter recipe, modified for babies. It makes about one cup of whipped marrow. Click here for the full recipe.
- 3 lbs beef femur bones, long cut
- Place marrow bones, marrow side-up, on a roasting sheet. Line with tinfoil or use a silicone baking mat. Heat oven to 425 F. Roast for 25 minutes.
- After the bones have cooled, scoop the marrow out and into a bowl. Place it in the refrigerator.
- Once the marrow has cool, place it in a bowl and use a mixer with a whisk attachment to whip until white and fluffy, like whipped butter.
- Whipped marrow will last 3 weeks in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer.
Recipe #2: Bone Marrow Bites
This is my version of a marrow croquette, which traditionally involves bone marrow, white potato, egg, and breadcrumbs. Because I don’t include egg, these croquettes do not fully set. They feel semi firm and hold their shape, but are still soft and dumpling-like.
Before we begin, a SUPER important note about sweet potatoes: choose them wisely.
Sweet potatoes are a well known “binder” if you’re in the business of avoiding eggs. But in my experience, the orange fleshed sweet potato doesn’t bind AT ALL.
Has this happened to you too?
When you bake an orange sweet potato and mash it for binding purposes, it turns sort of soupy. If you’re hopeful that more heat will help, you might carry on only to watch your cakes, patties, or croquettes fall apart.
And there’s a reason for that.
Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are moist sweet potatoes. They carry more water and more sugar than their white and purple fleshed cousins, which are dry.
For this recipe, use dry sweet potatoes such as the American sweet potato or Okinawan purple potatoes. They taste less sweet, make a fluffier mash, and have a robust starchy texture. #winning
- 1/2 tsp of fat, I used lard
- 1 large white fleshed sweet potato, about 2 cups
- 3 tablespoons marrow from roasted center-cut beef femur bones
- 1/2 cup cassava flour
- Preheat oven to 400 F.
- Rub your sweet potato down with fat and poke it several times with a fork (the rubdown makes ’em easier to peel) then place in the oven for around 45 minutes.
- After baking, allow to cool. Peel skin off and mash. I used a fork for mashing.
- While your potatoes are cooling off, roast your bone marrow.
- Turn heat up to 425 F and roast for 15 – 25 minutes. You should see the marrow brown, pull away from the bone, and release fat around the bone.
- Once marrow has been roasted, allow to cool before collecting marrow and fat.
- Place cassava flour in a bowl and set aside for dredging.
- Spoon out all marrow and pour fat into a bowl. Mix bone marrow with sweet potato, you want roughly 1 tablespoon of marrow for every 4 tablespoons of sweet potato.
- Begin making little flattened balls or patties. The potato-marrow mixture will be a little gloppy. Dredge your flattened croquettes in cassava flour.
- Get a cast iron pan on medium heat (I drizzled a little bone marrow oil into my cast iron from the baking sheet). Wait until it’s hot and place your bone marrow bites to cook, 3 – 5 minutes on each side.
- Place on a wire rack to cool. These freeze well; store in an airtight container for up to 6 months with parchment paper between each one.