Haven't heard? Butter is back. Grass-fed, organic, GMO-free, it's the newest health food for some now that saturated fats have been vindicated.
As much as we love creamy, melty butter on our morning toast, there's another organic unprocessed cooking fat you should think about using this fall: lard.
We're not talking the waxy Crisco-like stuff that's been hydrogenated and processed, or the "lard product" you can find in huge tubs at the local bodega. No, the newest incarnation of lard goes back to basics: Rendered from pork fat, it's safe at room temperature or in the fridge, and easy to scoop and spread.
Up until the '90s, McDonald's actually fried their famous potatoes in lard. The result? A crispy fry that tasted really good and was cooked in monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Amidst worries in the 1980s that saturated fats were unhealthy—newsflash: they're not—the Golden Arches started filling their fryers with vegetable oil. When brought to a high enough temperature to fry foods, vegetable oil can deteriorate and oxidize—bad news for our health. So trading lard for vegetable oil in an attempt to be healthier didn't exactly work out for the best.
Since then, lard has gotten a bad rap—it has become so synonymous with obesity that the word alone is an insult. So it's somewhat surprising to most of us that nutritionally, lard is a better fat source than butter ever could be.
Comparing 100 grams of lard to 100 grams of butter, the difference in nutritional density is pretty clear: Lard contains nearly half the saturated fat that butter does, but has much more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Also known and PUFAs and MUFAs, these fats are essential to human health and protecting against heart disease.
The soft rendered fat also contains half the amount of cholesterol as butter, as well as less sodium and zero trans fats. Plus, lard can be a good option for those with dairy or milk allergies who want to cook with a substantial fat source—one that won't break down at high heats like olive oil.
While we fully believe in the benefits of healthy fats, you may not want to add lard into every dish you cook. Other healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and nut butters contain more nutrients and vitamins that are essential to a balanced diet. But if the upcoming holiday season has you thinking about the subtle ways you can make your famous pie crust a little healthier, lard might be the answer.
Lard seems to elevate nearly every dish that's cooked in it. After all, there's a reason why it's the secret ingredient in Julia Child's roast turkey. The cooking fat used by chefs around the world doesn't have much of a taste, but it does seem to make fries crispier, pie crusts flakier, and chicken breasts more delightful.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont