Why use lard?
Lard sounds gross. I get it.
For people like me who didn’t grow up with it, lard seems like a foreign and intimidating substance. Pile on years of hearing about the wonders of olive oil and the danger of saturated fat and it’s no surprise that lard is public enemy number one. But this poor misunderstood fat has a loyal following that is growing, and I wanted to know why. I found two main defenses: health and deliciousness. Not two things we always see together! Today we’ll tackle the first.
Talking about lard and healthy eating in the same breath doesn’t fit the public image we have at all. While it does have a lot of saturated fat (around 40%) and we all know that saturated fat is terrible for you, recent research may show that we’re all wrong. Oops. Taking a big-picture look at a whole group of saturated-fat-causes-heart-disease studies concluded that it doesn’t seem to have any effect and we can all go back to eating lots of animal fat.
Aside from the saturated fat, lard offers high levels of monounsaturated fats, the same “good” fats that we love in olive oil. It also delivers omega-3 fatty acids (essential for normal development) and vitamin D (approximate conversion: one tablespoon equals three hours of sunshine). It also performs better at high heat than most oils.
But the biggest benefit of lard may be what it lacks: trans fats. With saturated fats relinquishing the fat demon title, trans fats have swooped in to take their place. Mostly found in processed foods, they come from turning liquid unsaturated fat into solid saturated fat and show up in all sorts of products from crackers to cake mix to shortening. They raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and generally are the worst. And lard doesn’t have any!
To be fair, this whole discussion has the caveat that we’re talking about pure fat, which we need, yes, but in small amounts. I’m not advocating for replacing carrots and bananas with lard (also lard cake cupcakes just sound awful), but it has a bad rap that it doesn’t deserve. So give it a try! Render your own or get the non-hydrogenated good stuff from a butcher, and let me know what you think. If you need a recipe to get you going, try some peach-blueberry hand pies!
I’m not a nutritionist or a doctor, so please don’t take this as medical advice. For more on lard, check out some of my sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Food and Wine, Dr. Weil, and some personal accounts.