So often my “Make Your Own” recipes send me in search of ingredients that are unfamiliar to me. This week I wanted to purchase a pound of lard for a Homemade Birdseed Cake Recipe.
(Update: Click here for two more updated DIY Birdseed Cake recipes with lard)
I don’t know much at all about lard because I always use butter or margarine when I bake. I was hopeful that a simple trip down the baking aisle of the grocery store would do the trick. Such was not the case. There was no lard to be found anywhere on the baking aisle of the Meijer store where I shop.
Next I looked in the dairy case by the butter, I looked in the other end of the dairy case by the sour cream, I even looked in the cold meat section, and then the international food section, but once again, there was no lard to be found. So on this particular shopping trip I decided to buy Crisco instead.
Is Crisco the Same Thing as Lard?
The more I thought about substituting Crisco in my recipe, the more unhappy I became. After all, it wasn’t really the same stuff! So I consulted the great all-knowing Google to educate myself a little more about lard and other fats that are used in cooking. The best information I found was on a discussion forum for cooks. Here’s the link if you would like to read more: Discussion on interchanging fats in cooking (see answer #3) I’ll paraphrase as follows:
Butter: Butter is a dairy product and has the lowest melting point. It’s made of 80% fats and the rest is water. Butter is best used for its flavor. Because of its low melting point it burns more easily when using it to saute foods in a fry pan.
Margarine: Margarine is a vegetable product and was designed to be a cheap alternative to butter. It has about the same fat content, but it’s melting point is much higher. This is why you don’t get the same “melt in your mouth” quality as you get with baked goods made with butter, and it’s best use is for spreading on things. It’s a good alternative for vegetarians or for people who want to save money.
Lard: Lard is pork fat (tallow is beef fat). It has a much higher melting point and is good for making flakey baked goods and for deep frying. Lard does have a slight flavor, but it’s not a sweet flavor like butter.
Crisco: Crisco is a hydrogenated vegetable oil. Crisco is a little more dense than margarine and has no flavor. The introduction of Crisco is what made the use of lard in household cooking disappear. It was sold as a convenient alternative that would not go rancid. It also greatly increased the shelf life of ready-made foods.
So each of these fats have slightly different origins and properties. Many times they can be interchanged in baking but the texture and the flavor of the end product will be different, and it often comes down to the preference of the cook.
So Do Grocery Stores Still Sell Lard?
Once I realized that lard was from pork fat (I really did not know that!) I decided to try a little harder to find some, assuming the birds needed an animal fat with their seed, not some Crisco. I again consulted the all-knowing Google and discovered that Hispanic grocery stores carry lard and it is usually sold under the name “Manteca”. I have a grocery store near me with a large Hispanic section so off I went to check it out. Sure enough! There was Manteca on the shelf, and when I turned it around they had kindly labeled it in English too as “Lard”. It was sold in a 2.5 lb tub for $5.19.
I have seen other blog postings on the internet where lard has been used and the blogger has helpfully taken a picture of the ingredients. Other folks have apparently found lard in a one pound square block.
Is Lard Actually Healthy?
For many years now Lard has had a reputation as a bad fat that increases your cholesterol. Recently, however, scientists and the health community are taking another look. Lard is a more natural product than Crisco, which is an oil that has had its molecules changed. For generations lard and butter were the only fats used in cooking. In fact, William Proctor (who was a candle maker) and James Gamble (who was a soap maker) went into business in the early 1900’s to sell cottonseed oil as an alternative to butter and lard. They teamed up with a German chemist who discovered how to hydrogenate the oil into a solid. They realized it looked like lard and began to market their “Crisco” as an alternative.
And while lard is getting another look as a “good” fat, the general feeling is that it’s best to render your own lard if you want a product with a lower level of saturated fats.
Let’s Make Our Own Lard!
So now we have come full circle in the Make Your Own Zone! We should all be making our own lard! Oh I wish I was up to that challenge but I think I’ll save that for another day. Shame on me. For the curious and ambitious, however, here are a few links to show the way:
I guess if I was stymied by a recipe that started off with Lard as an ingredient, I would have the same problem with these recipes that start off with with things like “get yourself 2 lbs of pork fat”. Oh my! I would guess you need to be on good terms with your local butcher to accomplish that. It also appears that rendering your own lard is a smelly process. If any readers have tried this, or plan on trying it, I would love to hear about it!