What comes to mind when you think of lard? If you ask this question to any group of people you will most likely have a range of responses but themes around saturated fat, heart disease, clogged arteries, and being generally unhealthy are likely to emerge. The word itself is commonly used as a metaphor for fat so it is hardly surprising that these images come to mind.
In November 2015 attention was drawn towards lard, and its fellow saturated fat cooking companions, when it was revealed (finally) in the mainstream press that using cheap vegetable oils for cooking releases toxic chemicals which could potentially cause cancer.
The above are just some of the responses that I received when I asked this question to a group of willing participants and, without exception, the consensus was that there could be no health benefits to consuming lard. As a result most people would actively avoid it; in fact no one could remember the last time that they had lard on their shopping list. The associations that we have with lard really could not get much worse and it is arguably one of the most vilified food products you will come across in the UK.
I was however not surprised by these responses. They reflect the impression of lard that I had growing up. I was always taught that it was incredibly bad for me and that anything cooked in lard or dripping and the like was always to be avoided. Tales of how my grandparents would eat lard or dripping on bread were relayed almost as horror stories despite the fact they lived to a ripe old age and did not suffer from obesity; far from it. In fact the disappearance of lard from our diet correlates with the expansion of the nation’s waistlines.
Ironically, the aversion to lard has resulted in an over-reliance on sunflower and vegetable oils which have always been advocated by the powers that be as a much healthier alternative. For many people this scenario has not changed across the decades and lard, along with other saturated fats, continued to be shunned by the masses.
But is lard starting to make a revival? In November 2015 attention was drawn towards lard, and its fellow saturated fat cooking companions, when it was revealed (finally) in the mainstream press that using cheap vegetable oils for cooking releases toxic chemicals which could potentially cause cancer. The issue of high levels of omega-6 contained in common cooking oils was also brought to light. The recommendation provided was to focus on cooking with fats and oils such as lard, dripping, coconut oil, and olive oil. You could almost hear the collective jaw drop as the news hit that lard could actually be good for you.
What Is Lard?
Lard is essentially rendered pig fat; an animal fat that is made up of approximately 47% monounsaturated fats (MUFA), 41% saturated fats (SFA), and 12% poly unsaturated fats (PUFA). Why does this matter?
Well the speed at which oil and fats degrade is largely due to its fatty acid content. The less stable the fatty acid is, the more likely it is degrade and develop harmful oxidative compounds. The scale runs from solid and stable SFA through to liquid and unstable PUFA, via semi solid and partly stable MUFA. All fats have a combination of all three and the composition of lard places it at the more stable end of the spectrum.
Here are some good reasons why you should be using lard as your go to cooking oil:
Lard Has a High Smoking Point
The smoking point of fats and oils is something which the Paleo/Primal lifestyle pays particular attention to. If you want to cook at a high temperature then you should be using a cooking fat which has a sufficiently high smoking point. For high heat cooking animal fats such as lard and dripping are good options alongside clarified butter.
The more heat stable your cooking fat of choice the less likely it is that oxidation will occur. You may be thinking what is the issue with oxidation? It produces the more commonly termed ‘free radicals’; best associated with their role in aging and the need to eat plenty of anti-oxidant fruit and vegetables. Free radicals are unstable molecules that run havoc through the body causing, amongst other things, chronic inflammation. We saw above that the composition of lard places it at the more heat stable end of the spectrum and is therefore perfect for high temperature cooking.
It’s a Great Source of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for maintaining a healthy gut and stimulates the absorption of calcium playing a vital role in bone health and development. Our main source of vitamin D is from the sun and therefore deficiency is very common in the UK as we spend most of our time indoors or wrapped up outdoors!
You may be surprised to hear that lard provides the second highest food source of vitamin D, the top spot going to the mighty cod liver oil. There is however a caveat; only lard from free range pigs will provide healthy levels of vitamin D as the pig itself must have been reared in sunlight to be able to store it in their fatty tissue.
This means that, unsurprisingly, the cheaper blocks of supermarket lard are not going to fit the bill. To get the most benefits from your lard I would recommend purchasing from a local butcher or farmer who can tell you more about how the pigs were reared.
It’s a Sustainable Food Source
Raising pasture-fed pigs is a practice which helps to produce a sustainable source of meat making it better for the animal, better for your health, and better for the environment. When pigs are fed on pasture, as opposed to grains, they harvest it and efficiently turn it into human food. The foraging action helps to churn the topsoil and they naturally fertilise the ground with manure for future years.
It Has a Neutral Flavour
Although coconut oil is incredibly popular when it comes to Paleo cooking (being heat stable) it does have a subtle flavour that is not to everyone’s taste for all aspects of cooking and baking. Lard has a neutral flavour and is much more versatile and can work wonders in baking – just ask your grandparents! Plus it is considerably cheaper than coconut oil making it an all round option for those looking for quality ingredients on a budget.
It Is Very Paleo!
When it comes down to it lard is essentially very Paleo; it is a food that would have been consumed by our ancestors and, if produced using free range pig fat, is unlikely to have changed over time. Using every part of the animal to create food products is all part of the Paleo approach and therefore utilising lard as a cooking fat ensures that waste is minimised. It is a traditional product that should be bought locally and enjoyed in our diet to maintain health and balance.
The message is clear; cooking with lard is back!
Do you cook with lard? If you’d like to share your experiences or views on cooking with lard why not leave a comment using the comments box below.
- Price, F. (2013). What meat to eat?. In Sustainable Food Trust. Retrieved January 2, 2016, from http://sustainablefoodtrust.org/articles/what-meat-to-eat/
- Mendick, R. (2015). Cooking with vegetable oils releases toxic cancer-causing chemicals, say experts. In The Telegraph. Retrieved January 1, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11981884/Cooking-with-vegetable-oils-releases-toxic-cancer-causing-chemicals-say-experts.html
- Masterjohn, C. (2006). Vitamin D is Synthesized From Cholesterol and Found in Cholesterol-Rich Foods. In cholesterol-and-health.com. Retrieved January 2, 2016, from http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/Vitamin-D.html