Lard, or Pork Fat, is a semi-solid rendered fat. It can be obtained by steaming, boiling, or dry heating the fatty tissue of the pig or hog. At room temperature, it’s white in color. When it’s exposed to heat, it’s almost colorless, odorless, and tasteless. But, that is if the lard is rendered properly.
Lard has been in existence since the 19th century. It was used similarly to butter, especially in the United States during WWII. However, in the early 1900s, Upton Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” was published. This novel portrays the harsh conditions of the meat industry, along with the exploited lives of the immigrants in the U.S. state of Chicago and other industrialized cities. Sinclair’s purpose was to advance socialism in the country. However, most readers took this negatively on lard.
Soon, vegetable oils and shortenings from Crisco and Procter & Gamble started to hit the market. By the 1950s, healthcare experts started to warn the Americans about how unhealthy lard was. Restaurants then turned away the use of this fat.
Lard was considered as a less healthy option because of its high content of cholesterol and saturated fat. However, it’s a lot healthier when compared to butter.
With that discovery, lard has gained its reputation once more. It has become an important cooking and baking ingredient in many countries. Sausages, patés, fillings, bread spread, are just some of the savory recipes that call for lard. It’s also used as a cooking oil replacement. Nevertheless, the most sought-after use of this product is really for baking, as lard provides flakiness to pastries that no other fat can give.
- The National Lard Day is celebrated every 8th of December since 2018.
- Brownwood, Texas is home to the National Hog Lard Foundation, where they promote the National Hog Lard Month every November to pay tribute to the food that greases the wheels in the early days.
- Lard can also be used to make soap and biofuel. Furthermore, it’s also useful as a cutting fluid in machineries.
- Lard is good for your heart. In fact, the amount of monounsaturated fat in lard is close to olive oil.
Lard Buying Guide
Fortunately, lard is widely available in most grocery stores. You can find it in the same aisle you’d find cooking oils or shortenings such as Crisco. You may also ask the butcher in the meat section if they have any. And as always, you can find them in the farmers market, or check out some of the best lard producers down below.
When you found one, we highly suggest you to choose the ones that were obtained from a pastured hog. Pigs absorb a lot of vitamin D, and they absorb it directly through their skin. Thus, if they have been raised out in the pasture, especially if they’re grass-fed too, you can be certain that you’ll have the highest dose of vitamin D when you consume their fat. Meanwhile, you can also get vitamin D through plant-based ingredients. Among all the edible plants out there, mushrooms have the highest amount of vitamin D. However, you would have to eat around 50 mushrooms to get the same amount of vitamin D as you would in just a tablespoon of lard.
Nevertheless, even though all lard is taken from a hog or pig, it also has its grades. The grades are just classified based on the part of the animal the fat is taken prior to rendering.
- Leaf Lard – This is the highest grade of lard and it’s taken from the “flare” visceral fat around the hog’s kidneys and inside its loin. It offers more pork flavor, making it suitable in baking, where it’s valued for its capability to produce moist and flaky pie crusts.
- Fatback – This is the second-highest grade of lard and it’s taken from the hard subcutaneous fat found between the pig’s muscle and back skin.
- Soft Caul Fat – This is the third and lowest grade of lard that’s taken from the soft caul fat found around the digestive organs such as the intestines. Although this fat is more intended to be used directly as a wrap for roasting lean meats or sausages, or in the production of patés, it can also be rendered into lard.
Lastly, take note that lards that are manufactured industrially for commercial purposes are mostly rendered from a mixture of these grades. To improve their stability, they are often hydrogenated, which will contain a little bit of the bad trans fat. Not to mention the additives that are added for this stability. Thus, if you want a pure and higher-quality lard, look for artisanal producers (which again, you can check down below) or render it yourself (scroll down for the recipe).
Lard Production & Farming in Texas
Texas has been home to many artisanal producers and it’s no surprise that there are countless local farms, ranches, and alike that manufacture lard.
Basically, the process of rendering fat into lard can be easily broken down into two processes: wet or dry. In the wet process, the fat of the pig is boiled in water or steamed at a very high temperature. Since fat is water insoluble, lard will rise to the surface, which will be then skimmed or separated in an industrial centrifuge. This process provides a more neutral flavor, a lighter color, and a higher smoking point.
On the other hand, dry rendering involves the process of exposing the pig’s fat in high heat, either using a pan or oven, without water – think of how you would cook bacon. Thus, this process provides a caramelized flavor, a darker brown color, and a lower smoking point.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
Lard does not have much of a shelf-life compared to other fats and cooking oils. Thus, those store-bought lards that you can purchase in supermarkets are usually hydrogenated to improve its stability and shelf life. This hydrogenation process produces trans fat that’s bad for our health. Furthermore, these commercial products are also often treated with deodorizing and bleaching agents, emulsifiers, and antioxidants like BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene to make them consistent while preventing spoilage.
Lard is commonly packaged in tin cans and mason jars. For commercial use, you can also buy it in gallon-size tubs.
Lard is a versatile ingredient that you can use in countless recipes. It makes a good spread, cooking oil, frying oil, baking ingredients, and addition to specialties like sausages, fillings, patés, puddings, and so much more.
If your lard is treated, it must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent rancidity. Otherwise, a refrigerator and freezer are only optional if you want to prolong its shelf life. When stored in the fridge, lard can last for up to 6 months. In the freezer, it can last up to 3 years. Regardless, lard tends to absorb the flavors in the air and that’s why it’s very important to keep it in a container with a tight-fitting lid. If you’re planning to freeze lard, we highly suggest you wrap it in wax paper and cover it with aluminum foil to prevent it from getting exposed to the air.
Lard is exceptionally good in cooking due to its high smoking point (374ºF). It’s also the secret ingredient in some of your favorite flaky pie crusts, roux, and fried chicken recipes. Furthermore, it doesn’t impart a strong pork flavor, which can either be a good or bad thing. Point is, you may feel free to use lard as a substitute or an alternative for recipes that call for butter, shortening, or vegetable oil.
Make your own Lard:
If you’re looking forward to saving money and making homemade products, consider making your own lard at home. It’s incredibly easy and not to mention affordable. While there are several ways to do it, below is a quick recipe that you’ll surely love.
Yield: 2 cups
- 2 lbs pork fat (leaf, back, or soft caul)
- 2 tbsp tap water
- Wash the fat and chop it into ½ inch cubes.
- Place a saucepan or pot over medium-low heat and add a tablespoon or two of water to prevent the fat from sticking to the pan.
- Add the fat cubes and cook. It’s best to render fat slowly so don’t worry about not seeing any change even for the first 15 minutes.
- Stirring occasionally, wait for the fat to rise on the surface. When this happens, skim them using a fine-mesh sieve. Keep doing so until the fat no longer produces any more liquid, which could be around 90 minutes or so for this amount.
- Carefully strain the liquid into a container and let it cool on the counter. Store accordingly.
Note: Don’t throw that pork away. Those leftover bits of fat can be munched as pork chicharrones. Serve it with some seasoned vinegar and you’ve got a nice dish ahead of you.
The old discovery that lard is not healthy at all is long gone. As mentioned, lard is healthier than butter, as it contains less saturated fat and cholesterol than butter. Thus, if consumed occasionally, lard is perfectly healthy, not to mention delicious.
- Saturated Fat. Lard contains 40% saturated fat while butter contains 54%. The recommended daily intake of this fat is 13 grams.
- Trans Fat. Lard has none unless it’s hydrogenated or treated prolong its shelf life. Trans fat is bad for our health so it’s best to avoid them.
- Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat. Lard has an excellent amount of this fat. Such “good” fats help in lowering down “bad” cholesterol.
- Vitamin D. As mentioned above, lard is an excellent source of vitamin D. In fact, a tablespoon of lard contains 1,000 IU of vitamin D, a nutrient that over 40% of Americans don’t get enough of. Interestingly, butter only contains 9 IU, while olive oil contains none.
On top of this, lard also helps our body to detoxify. It claims to pull harmful metals from the body like aluminum, strontium, and cadmium. Furthermore, it’s also believed that lard helps those with hormonal imbalance. Thus, if you’re suffering from PCOS and alike, you should consider incorporating lard into your diet.