After decades on the nutritional blacklist, lard may be ready to make a comeback.
- The same product that the AHA, AMA and USDA blackballed for fear of an epidemic of elevated cholesterol and heart disease.
- The same product that we replaced with hydrogenated vegetable fats.
- The same product that has become synonymous with obesity.
So, how come lard is on the comeback trail?
- Because chefs are re-discovering the culinary benefits of cooking / baking with lard
- Because the scientific case against lard is beginning to fall apart…just like a nice flaky pie crust made with 100% leaf lard.
Lard Tastes Better
Way back in the day, lard was the fat of choice in North American households.
It was cheap, plentiful, great for frying and without peer when it came to shortening a tender pastry crust.
However, shortly after WW2, American research into nutrition came to the conclusion that saturated fats were the cause of increased cholesterol and heart disease. And since lard and other animal fats are higher in saturated fats than vegetable oils, they became the ugly nutritional stepchild and fell out of favor.
And in it’s place, stepped Crisco and various other hydrogenated vegetable oil products.
And we all know how well those hydrogenated oils worked out.
Hydrogenation, the process of adding hydrogen atoms to unsaturated oil, makes vegetable shortening shelf stable and solid at room temperature, but it also turns good fats into that evil man made creation…trans fats.
Although hydrogenated vegetable shortening doesn’t look like a saturated fat under a microscope, it acts like one, raising bad LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
Even worse, it can also lower your levels of HDL cholesterol.
With this new tidbit of knowledge, food manufacturers around the globe have been desperately searching for a replacement for their hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Most of the large food producers have reverted back to industrial grade palm oils. Many smaller producers and most professional chefs went another route.
They went back to animal fats.
Initially, they went back to butter. But not just any butter. Fancy schmancy, organic artisnal butters. Butter like your great grandma used to churn by hand.
And after the use of butter became mainstream, a few brave souls began to experiment with lard.
But of course, they didn’t tell their customers. Most chefs simply neglected to mention that their dishes contained lard.
Some, like celebrity chef, Mario Batali, opted to simply avoid lard’s bad public image by re-branding it with an Italian sobriquet: Prosciutto Bianco
It should also be noted that, like the artisnal butters used in the best kitchens, the chefs and bakers using lard in their recipes do NOT use the bricks of highly processed lard that you might find in your grocery store.
They are either producing their own lard or are buying their supplies from small producers or organic butchers eager to service this niche market.
Okay, enough with the gastronomical history lesson, what about the science?
As I mentioned previously, way back in the day, the medical powers that be told us to stop cooking with saturated fats and replace them with vegetable fats high in polyunsaturates.
With this stamp of approval, clever advertisers created ad campaigns designed to decrease the consumption of lard & butter and increase the consumption of their clients’ products
Lard Habit???…The next thing you know, Maury Povich is going to be doing a 2 week special on unwed mothers addicted to lard.
Obviously the advertising campaigns were successful.
But what about the science?
- Are animal fats the killer ingredient that Ancel Keys et al said they were?
- What about olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet?
- What about canola oil and coconut oil and…?
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