In my quest to cook what I call “real” food, or food that has ingredients that I can actually pronounce, I’ve decided to try baking with lard instead of vegetable shortening for recipes that call for such.
“Wait, what?!” You may be thinking. “That’s disgusting!”
Hear me out. I used to share those sentiments too until I made biscuits with lard and did research on lard’s history. (Those biscuits were freakin’ fantastic!) Although if you’re a vegan/vegetarian I can understand your disgust.
Let’s start with the background first. It all started for me I found an article on NPR’s Planet Money titled “Who Killed Lard?” According to the article, Crisco, a brand of vegetable shortening sold here in the States, was invented by a chemist for Procter & Gamble in the early 1900s. The company had extra cottonseed oil on its hands because it was used to make candles, which were becoming less popular due to light bulbs. They needed a way to use the extra oil, so Crisco was born with a good marketing campaign. Basically, in my opinion, this brand of shortening was born as a business move, not for healthy food.
That was the bomb drop for me.
I picked up Grit magazine’s cookbook “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” from my library to do some additional research. If you’re a Mother Earth News/Living subscriber like I am, you may have seen it advertised in those publications.
Here’s something I didn’t know that I learned from the book: Compared to butter, lard has less saturated fat. NPR also published another article comparing lard, vegetable oils and vegetable shortening titled “Lard is Back in the Larder, but Hold the Health Claims” that I found informative as well.
The biggest issue for me is that vegetable shortening is made with partially hydrogenated oils, while lard is just lard (if purchased from a butcher/farmer, not the typically hydrogenated lard found on store shelves). I am not a nutrionist and I will never claim to be one, but I believe partially hydrogenated oils are bad for health.
That is just a brief overview of what I’ve found, but it was enough to convince me purchase a small bucket of lard at an Amish bulk food store that was processed by a local butcher. I’ve also been in contact with my local farmer’s market co-op to get lard from pasture-raised local hogs to render myself. Buying local is important to me too, so this is a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone project for me.
Now, on to the baking results. I’ve made biscuits and brownies with my lard so far. The difference in the texture and taste of these products were immediately noticeable before I even started baking! The brownie batter was a smooth as velvet when I mixed it, and they were chewy and moist with a crisp outer edge when done. They did not taste greasy or like pork. My parents and sister, who I gave a brownie to before spilling the beans on their ingredients, did not notice a porky taste and loved them. As for the biscuits, good gravy, were they delicious. They were flaky, savory and so soft!
I also would like to clarify that I will not be using lard on a daily basis. I only used shortening when baking pie, biscuits, and cookies, so maybe once or twice a month if it’s not a holiday month. I rarely fry things, and if I do I tend to use olive or canola oils. Olive oil is my oil of choice for greasing a skillet or pan.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you, or would you, use lard? Why or why not?