Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Return of Lard

By Diana Hsieh

The Wall Street Journal reports on the return of lard, i.e. pork fat, in cooking in the article Big Fat Deal. Here's a bit from the middle:

Lard's redemption is also driven by a shift in culinary thinking that suggests it is not as unhealthy as some people think. One of the primary evangelists is the Weston A. Price Foundation, a small Washington, D.C.-based group that has promoted lard's unlikely health benefits for the last decade. Lard has also benefited from movements like sustainable agriculture, which preaches against allowing any part of an animal going to waste.

Lard didn't always have such a bad reputation; a century ago, most Americans cooked with it. But when the vegetable-based shortening Crisco came out in 1911, it saw lard as a major competitor. Procter & Gamble, Crisco's creator, denigrated lard in its Crisco marketing, discussing its "lardy, greasy taste" and calling it indigestible. Its popular cookbook, "The Story of Crisco" was full of illustrations like one comparing a smoke-filled "lard kitchen" to a gleaming "Crisco kitchen."

The result was that a cook who used lard came to be seen as "someone who was uneducated, who was dirty, unscientific, lived on a farm," says Sally Fallon, president of the Price Foundation. Then came health campaigns against saturated fats and cholesterol, compounding the unflattering image and effectively banishing lard from U.S. kitchens for decades.

But lard's reputation is undeserved, says Ms. Fallon. While she doesn't advocate supermarket lard, which typically has extra hydrogen pumped in to extend shelf life, she says natural, minimally processed lard is good for you. It contains up to 60% monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats--the "good" fats that have beneficial effects on cholesterol. It also is high in vitamins A and D.
Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention Fallon's view that saturated fat isn't a health risk but rather a positive good.

For more on the benefits of cooking with lard, Dr. M.D. Eades wrote an excellent post in defense of lard a few months ago. In it, she compares the composition of lard to other fats widely regarded as healthy -- and lard does very well by every reasonable measure.

By coincidence, that blog post by Dr. Eades was inspired by a news article that confused hydrogenated vegetable shortening with lard. Similarly, the above Wall Street Journal referred to "five quarts of a type of lard from cows known as beef tallow" in its last paragraph. But tallow (i.e. beef fat) is not a kind of lard (i.e. pork fat). It's a sad sign of the culinary times that people don't know what the word "lard" means. But happily, that seems to be changing.

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