The last few years have seen animal fats accused of many offenses. Many nutritionists point to animal fats as the cause for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, but an important classification here is what kind of fats you’re considering.
In more recent years, primal and Paleo dieters have popularized cooking with various animal fats as a way of reconnecting with our ancestral roots. Because ancient people never wasted any part of an animal, modern dieters working to imitate that lifestyle will choose to cook with lard, tallow, ghee, and various poultry fats (duck, goose, chicken).
Lard, or rendered pig fat, has fallen from grace over the last century. What was once hailed as the go-to for biscuits, frying eggs, tamales, and so much more, is now essentially a derogatory term. Unknown to most, unhydrogenated lard doesn’t contain trans fats, which are the main culprit for clogged arteries. It’s also lower in saturated fat than butter. Now, we’re not suggesting replacing your common vegetable oils entirely with lard, but used in moderation, lard can help attain that perfectly flaky piecrust.
Cooking: It has a very high smoke point, making it perfect for frying at high temperatures, which is why it is so often used with dishes like fried chicken. It’s also called for in many old-fashioned baking recipes. Buy some at a specialty grocer, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try making your own! Simply save your bacon grease in a jar for later.
Tallow, rendered fat from beef or mutton, is extremely similar to lard. It reacts almost identically in most foods, although it does house a bit more cholesterol. If you plan on rendering your own tallow, try asking your local butcher for the extra fat left over from trimming down cuts of grass-fed beef. Choosing naturally raised beef ensures that your tallow will be free of hormones and chemicals that may affect not only your cooking, but also your nutrition. A happy cow means a happy stomach.
Cooking: While tallow can be used the same way you’d use lard, it has a more neutral flavor. Asian stir-fries, omelets, and roasted vegetables, namely mushrooms, broccoli, and bok choy, are all wonderful options for testing out tallow.
Ghee, a form of clarified butter, originated in India but can be used for cooking any kind of cuisine. Ghee is considered to be healthier than regular butter when consumed in small amounts. Eating more than a few tablespoons per day can increase cholesterol, but when used with moderation can lower it.
Cooking: Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter, so it’s great for cooking with high temperatures. You can substitute butter with ghee in most dishes, but try not to use it excessively. It works particularly well in Eastern dishes.
Duck Fat will change your life. Because it’s low in saturated fats, which clog arteries, and high in unsaturated fat, like the ones found in avocado and salmon, it’s one of the healthiest animal fats you can eat. It’s also very delicious.
Cooking: Use duck fat the same way you would any other animal fat, butter, or oil. It has a high smoke point, so it’s great for frying foods like chicken or French fries. Speaking of potatoes, add a little duck fat to your next batch of hash browns or roasted potatoes with a little bit of rosemary, and see how tasty it can be. You can use duck fat in any form – soft, melted as a liquid, or solid – with the same effect. As an extra bonus, you can reuse it by simply freezing it; it lasts a long time!
Bottom line: As we learn more about the way different fats affect our heart health, it’s important to think about your own body and what’s best for you. Rendered animal fats are great because they boost flavor, lack impurities and trans fats, and typically have high smoke points which make them excellent for cooking with high heat. Does this mean you should drink butter? No. Does this mean you should make duck fat hash browns? Absolutely.
For more information, check out this video on the differences between fats.
The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or other health care worker.