"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase"

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What The Lard?

I'm switching gears and we're back on a health kick. It's the time of year for baking and I know everyone loves Crisco. But is it safe? Is it really all that good for us? Let's look into some important reasons why we should go back to basics. In these two articles below I found interesting and helpful information regarding the history of LARD!

FAT FACTS: by Time At The Table 360
I find it super interesting to explore the reasons behind countries traditional cuisines. Particularly countries that have been exposed to war or hardship or to a lesser point media attention – these types of influences have contributed to regional differences.

Lard has been used for thousands of years in Europe and is steeped in the traditions in many rustic regional cuisines. In any culture where pigs were raised, the fat of the animal was usually considered as valuable a product as its meaty counterparts, and was a staple for cooking and baking. Interestingly, the market for lard was strong during World War II, however not for home kitchens – it was used in the manufacture of explosives. During the war, most people had to switch to vegetable oils for cooking as most of the lard produced was diverted to the military. When the war ended, lard prices dropped dramatically (presumably due to an oversupply), and oils were marketed successfully as healthier to cook with, and lard never regained its staple place in the diet.

Procter & Gamble, among others, also contributed their bit to demise of lard by introducing Crisco (vegetable shortening) and did a ripper job of publicising how great it was in comparison to lard (healthier, more pure) and alongside some great branding strategies, dominated the market. In the 50’s, a touch after our European lard story, scientists decided that the saturated fats in lard caused heart disease. This created an industry-wide rejection of poor lard.

Recently, since those great years that were the 90’s, chefs and bakers have started to re-recognise the unique properties and benefits of lard, resulting in a bit of a foodie revolution in the use of lard. They are championing its superiority in cooking, due to its range of applications and taste. Pure lard is useful for cooking since it produces little smoke when heated, has a relatively high smoke point to begin with, and has a distinctive flavour. And as always, the PR machine has come to the party, telling us all about the artery-clogging trans-fats you’ll now find in vegetable shortening.

Back to Europe and in particular the UK, where traditional British cuisine enthusiasts have contributed to a rise in lard popularity, there was even a lard crisis, God forbid, in 2006, when Poland and Hungary were such gluttons for fatty cuts of pork that the UK lard demands were not met. I also read an article some time ago about Ukraine, who serve Ukrainian Snickers – pork fat covered in chocolate!

So it seems that despite lards rough trot, it has come nearly full circle. Though it was obviously never forgotten and remained a favourite of some of the older generation and was passed down.

Conscientious Cook: Alternatives to Vegetable Shortening

Growing up, we always had a big can of Crisco sitting on the pantry shelf. It got used for everything from greasing pans to making the flakiest pie crust ever. Now that trans fats and hydrogenated oils are drawing some justifiable heat from health experts, we're not so keen on using vegetable shortening anymore. But what's our alternative?

For many recipes, what you substitute depends on what your making. Lard is our first choice if shortening is truly necessary. It has all the same properties as vegetable shortening - makes flaky pastries, has minimal spread in cookies, and has a clean flavor. (Lard doesn't taste like pork unless it gets rendered with meat, as with bacon) Lard was the original shortening, after all!

Second to that, we go with butter. It behaves much the same as shortening, and it gives baked goods a rich, buttery flavor. We sacrifice flakiness for a superior creamy mouthfeel. Unlike lard or shortening, butter contains a little liquid, so remember to decrease the liquid in the recipe slightly if you're using it a substitute. Spectrum is a popular brand for these products that we've seen in a lot of health food aisles.

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