by Cat, 2o10 on The EssentiaList; copied on Cat’s Kitchen, May 2, 2019 (photo, right, by Cat, originally for The EssentiaList); updated on Cat’s Kitchen, Nov 4, 2019
Back in your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) time, lard was a common staple in everyone’s kitchen, used for tender & flakey pie crusts, melt-in-your-mouth cookies and cakes, frying, deep frying, a spread on toast (like butter), and more. But in more recent times, it has been maligned, along with all animal fats, as an artery-clogging nightmare. It does not deserve this reputation.
[I firmly believe it has gotten a bad rap because the powers-that-be want to push us into using fats/oils from vegetable sources so they could sell more seed. But that’s another topic altogether…]
- Includes: 1. What is Lard?; 2. What’s Good About Lard; 3. How to Render Lard; 4. Storage & Shelf Life; 5. Where to Obtain Lard for Rendering
- See also: 1. Rendering Lard in a Crockpot: The Process (for instructions and photos); 2. Rendering Lard, Suet or Tallow
What is Lard?
Lard is the fat from hogs, in both its rendered and unrendered forms, and comes in three grades: (1)
- Leaf lard is the highest grade, and comes from the visceral fat deposit surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin, and has the least ‘pork’ flavor.
- Fatback is second grade, the hard subcutaneous fat between the back skin and muscle of the pig.
- Caul is third grade, and comes from the caul, which is the fat surrounding the digestive organs.
Lard is a great shortening for baked goods, especially pie crusts, and for frying; in fact, it was the original “shortening.” It can also be used to make soap, as grease (for some uses), and for a primitive oil lamp.
It can also be used to coat eggs (in the shell) after washing, as it provides a similar protection as the coating provided by the hen.
What’s Good about Lard?
Its superior flavor, especially leaf lard, and a relatively high smoke-point, makes it ideal for frying and deep-frying.
It has a favorable fat composition (40% saturated, 48% monounsaturated, 12% polyunsaturated) that is very similar to human body fat, and is considered easier for us to digest. It is very high in vitamin D, a nutrient much in the news these days for its health benefits, and one most of us are deficient in. (2)
Mercola published an article on Nov 4, 2019: “Lard Rated One of the Top 10 Healthiest Foods,” (18) in which he states, “Pork fat’s nutritional fitness score was 0.73 — one of the highest scores within the “fat-rich” category. …Valuable nutrients found in lard are vitamin D, omega-3 fats, monounsaturated fats (the same fats found in avocados and olive oil), saturated fats and choline. When buying commercially-available lards, make sure they’re not hydrogenated (most are [hydrogenated]). His article includes a 58-minute interview of Dr. Fred Kummerow, which is also available on YouTube (19a) and as a transcript (19b), that exonerates properly rendered lard, as summarized, below.
Compare with Vegetable Shortenings
- Coconut oil is made up of short-chain fatty acids that are important for health. But coconut oil melts at warmer room temperatures, so is not good for some baking uses such as pie crust. It is good for frying, and is a good fat for recipes that call for vegetable oil, if you melt it first.
- Palm oil is a mostly-saturated type of vegetable shortening, that has not been chemically altered. It is very solid (hard) at room temperature, so is not easy to work with in baked goods and pastries, but it is good for frying. However, vital tropical rainforests are being decimated to plant palm oil trees.
- Common vegetable shortening (Crisco, etc.) is chemically modified to make it solid at room temperature. As such, it is comprised of either
- trans-fats (from partial-hydrogenation of the original vegetable oils); or
- interesterified-fats (chemically removing the fatty acids from the triglyceride, hydrogenating some of them to be saturated, then reattaching them to the triglyceride).
Trans-fats have been implicated in heart disease and other health issues, and must be listed on the label. Interesterified fats have been shown to be even more dangerous than trans fats, especially for sugar metabolism (diabetes, etc.), but are not required to be listed on the label. (4)
Commercially Processed Lard
When the bad news about trans-fats reached mainstream media, grocery stores around the country stocked up on those 1-pound boxes of commercially-processed lard (Armour, etc.). This could certainly be used in a pinch, but note that it has been treated with bleach and deodorizers. To improve its shelf life, and to allow it to be kept without refrigeration, some of the fat has been fully-hydrogenated, converting it not to trans-fats but to saturated fat, in a process related to interesterification (see above). This process also deactivates the vitamin D.
By far, the best lard is that which has been freshly rendered and stored properly (see below).
How to Render Lard
There are many websites that offer great descriptions of the method for rendering lard, so I won’t go into the details here. I can recommend these websites, with great photos:
- Stove-top and oven methods; these blog posts have great comments:
- The Nourishing Gourmet: How to Render Lard (2)
- Lehmans Country Life: Rendering Lard: A First Timers’ Guide (3)
- Crockpot method:
- Real Food Mama blog: How to Render Lard (in a crockpot) (8)
- Livin’ High on the Hog: How I Rendered my own Lard (pdf file) (10)
For the crockpot method, you put the fat into the crockpot with a little water (optional), cover the pot, turn it on, and wait until the fat is rendered. No spatters, burns, etc.. Then strain and pour it off into storage containers.
Shelli R and I tried the crockpot method, with great success; see:
- Rendering Lard in a Crockpot: The Process (this site, but originally published on The EssentiaList), for instructions and photos; or
- printable pdf version: EsL: Rendering Lard in a Crockpot (pdf).
Storage & Shelf Life
(photo, left, by C. Haug; Shelli did all the work)
After rendering and straining the fat, you will want to store it.
The main issue with lard (and all edible fats) is the potential for rancidity (from oxidation). So it’s very important to keep it away from light. It can pick up odors from other things, so it should be in a container with a good-fitting lid, or tightly wrapped in parchment (don’t use waxed paper while the lard is still warm), then stored in a cool, dark place, especially for long term. Wrap in freezer paper (see photo) for freezing.
Another consideration is to keep it away from mice, as they love lard! This is where glass jars with lids come in handy… (5)
Write the rendered date on the container, to help you keep track of which to use first.
Good storage containers include: a ceramic crock or wrapped in parchment paper. If you keep it in glass canning jars (with lid), put them in a refrigerator, cabinet or carboard box to protect from light.
I would not keep it in plastic (like yogurt containers or plastic wrap) because as a fat, it will leach fat-soluble toxins from the plastic.
To use parchment paper, line a bread loaf pan with the paper (like a mold), then pour in the liquid lard and let sit until cooled. Then fold the paper around the block. A butter mold could also be used (instead of a loaf pan).
If you plan to use it frequently (several times a week), and your kitchen stays cool (below 75º F), you could keep some in a crock with a lid for several weeks, or up to 4 months in ideal conditions (5,6). But if your kitchen gets above 75, store it in the refrigerator or other cool spot.
Lard cans are another option; however, the solder contains lead, so be careful and choose a can with a ceramic coating on the interior. Some have a chemical coating, but this is a type of plastic and could leach toxins into the lard.
Long term storage
It will keep in the refrigerator 9 – 10 months, and in the freezer for up to a year; after that, it could go rancid. (6) For freezer storage, I recommend wrapping pound blocks in parchment, and then in freezer paper, for easy stacking.
If your basement or root cellar stays cool during hot weather, it will keep similar to in a refrigerator, but do keep it away from light.
Clarify lard for reuse
In researching the crockpot method for rendering lard, I came across this great site that provides many good links on rendering lard and also for clarifying lard for reuse; from Well Tell Me: Rendering Lard Info and Questions” (9). The best of these is:
- Grandpappy Info: How to Render Animal Fat, or Clarify Used Animal Fat (12)
- E-How: How to Clarify Fat (13) and Bartelby: Cookery (14) (scroll down to How to Clarify) detail a method using a potato.
Where To Obtain Lard for Rendering (in the Flathead Valley, Montana)
The Farm Hands Map (15B) indicates the following farms that raise and sell pork in the Flathead Valley (Montana), and may also sell lard for rendering:
- Farm to Market Pork, Inc
- Louden Riverside Farms and
- Manning Farm.
Other possibilities in the Flathead are meat processing businesses including (11):
- Frank’s Meats in Pablo, (406) 675-2550;
- Frey’s Meats and Custom Cutting in Columbia Falls, (406) 892-2226;
- Lower Valley Processing south of Kalispell (16);
- M & S Meats in Rollins (17);
- White’s Wholesale Meats in Ronan, (406) 676-0082.
For our rendering experiment, Shelli R. and I bought our unrendered lard (ground fat) at Farm to Market Pork, outside Kalispell. As of July 2010, their price is $1 per pound; minimum order is a 5-pound block, which will produce 2 – 3 pounds of rendered fat. See Rendering Lard in a Crockpot: The Process for our process and photos!
- Wikipedia on ‘lard:’ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lard
- The Nourishing Gourmet: How to Render Lard
- Lehmans Country Life: Rendering Lard: A First Timers’ Guide
- Nutrition and Metabolism
- Discuss Cooking: Discussion Forum on Lard Storage
- Community Awareness Preparation: Discussion forum on Lard Storage
- The New Resilient: Make Your Own Lard
- Real Food Mama blog: How to Render Lard (in a crockpot)
- Well Tell Me: Rendering Lard Info and Questions(great links & discussion)
- Livin’ High on the Hog: How I Rendered my own Lard by healthybratt (pdf file)
- Montana Meat Processing Companies
- Grandpappy Info: How to Render Animal Fat, or Clarify Used Animal Fat;
- E-How: How to Clarify Fat
- Bartelby: Cookery
- Farm Hands, Nourish the Flathead
- Home: nourishtheflathead.org/home/
- Farm Hands Map: nourishtheflathead.org/map/
- Lower Valley Processing: lowervalleyprocessing.com/
- M & S Meats: msmeats.com
- Mercola: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/11/04/lard-nutritional-benefits.aspx
- Video interview and transcript: