Just a century ago, lard was commonplace in households across the U.S. and Europe . As a by-product of pork production, lard was cheap compared to vegetable fat. And people used it in the same way they did butter: in baking, frying, and as a spread.
However, during the Industrial Revolution, vegetable shortening and cooking oils started to replace lard as the more affordable fat.
And by the middle of the 20th century, lard almost vanished.
This was compounded by the diet-heart hypothesis, which says that animal fats increase blood cholesterol and cause heart disease. Things aren’t much different today.
If you’re following a low-carb, high-fat lifestyle, then you’ve probably wondered whether to add lard to your shopping list. Or maybe you’re interested to know whether this white, solid cooking fat has any place in a healthy diet?
What Is Lard?
Lard usually refers to semi-solid white fat rendered from the fatty tissue of pigs. It is made by cooking pork fat until it is melted and then solidifying at room temperature.
But there’s more than one type of lard. Depending on the portion of the pig used to make lard and the preparation method, lard is classified as:
When talking about lard, most people refer to rendered lard. It is made from pork fat — usually from the belly, shoulders, or butt — that has been melted, filtered, and solidified.
Pure pork fat that has been trimmed from the meat is called unrendered lard. It hasn't been rendered or filtered. As a result, it has a strong pork flavor.
Considered the highest grade of lard, leaf lard is made from the visceral fat surrounding a pig’s kidneys and loin. It’s highly prized for its soft, creamy, and smooth texture. It is also free of pork flavor.
The most widely available type of lard, processed lard, has undergone an additional clarifying (bleaching and hydrogenating) step to make it shelf-stable. It is also fairly neutral in flavor.
The best quality lard is made from back fat, while the lowest-grade lard is made from caul fat. Caul fat is fat surrounding internal organs.
Why Choose Lard?
Today, people shun lard as an unhealthy, cheap cooking fat that belongs in the past. The word itself carries negative connotations and is sometimes used as an insult.
But lard really doesn’t deserve so much hate.
For one, it’s relatively healthy despite misconceptions. Despite coming from an animal, lard has more unsaturated fats than saturated fats . In fact, it has less saturated fat than butter.
Unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and omega-3 fats found in lard, are considered healthy .
This is great news if you’re trying to minimize your saturated fat intake. Although, there’s now much debate about the unhealthiness of saturated fat .
Secondly, lard is affordable. A pound of lard will cost you between $5 and $8. Although, you might have to pay a little more if you’re going for unprocessed, organic, or name-brand ones.
If you need to have a wide range of fats on your diet, which many do on keto, lard can help you save money normally spent on cooking oils to divert to other ingredients.
Third, lard can replace shortening in many recipes. Shortening is a highly processed type of fat that was exceptionally high in harmful trans fats at one point in history.
But these kinds of fats are indispensable in making crispy, fluffy pie crust and Danish pastries.
If you can choose, definitely go for lard instead of shortening when a recipe calls for either.
Besides using it in baking, you can also use lard for frying, thanks to its high smoke point of 374°F (190 °C).
Tips for Buying Lard
You can buy lard from your local butcher, in supermarkets, or online. You also have the option to choose between old-fashioned rendered lard, processed lard, or organic, all of which can be good.
Most processed lard is fully hydrogenated, which is safe since full hydrogenation does not lead to the production of trans fats.
But you’re still probably better off with natural lard from butchers or local farms. Studies show that environmental toxins, like heavy metals, tend to accumulate in fat tissue [5, 6]. That’s more likely to be the case with industrial animal products than sustainable farming.
You can also buy name-brand lard online. Read the label first, though, to see that you’re getting your money’s worth. Also, read customer reviews to see if a product is worth considering.
Once you get your hands on a jar or canister of lard, please keep it in the fridge for up to six months to prevent it from spoiling.
Tallow vs. Lard
Tallow is another animal fat that many confuse with lard. But it’s different in appearance, taste, and uses.
Their key difference is from where the two products are sourced. Tallow is sourced from beef or mutton, while lard is sourced from pigs. Furthermore, tallow is made from suet, fat located around the kidneys, and loins of beef and mutton.
Appearance-wise, tallow is white and solid. And nutrition-wise, it’s quite similar to lard, although it has slightly more saturated fat .
Tallow is mostly used in soap production and as animal feed; however, it’s suitable for human consumption and can replace lard and shortening in many recipes.
Somewhat of retro cooking fat, you won’t see lard featured in many recipes today, and surprisingly not even in keto recipes.
But lard’s bad rap seems to be totally undeserved. Although rendered from an animal, lard is high in MUFAs, which are universally considered heart-healthy. Lard is also affordable and makes for tasty, crispy baked goods.
If you can get your hands on organic, minimally processed lard, definitely don’t turn down the opportunity.
But store-bought processed lard isn’t all that bad compared to shortening and refined vegetable oils.
All in all, we say lard deserves a place in your keto pantry. Give it a chance, and you just might discover a new world of keto cooking.
- Thomas A. Fats and Fatty Oils. In Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, (Ed.). 2000. https://doi.org/10.1002/14356007.a10_173
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lard. April 1. 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171401/nutrients
- Mashek DG, Wu C. MUFAs. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(3):276-277. Published 2015 May 15. doi:10.3945/an.114.005926
- Astrup A, Magkos F, Bier DM, et al. Saturated Fats, and Health: A Reassessment and Proposal for Food-Based Recommendations: JACC State-of-the-Art Review. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020;76(7):844-857. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2020.05.077
- Jackson E, Shoemaker R, Larian N, Cassis L. Adipose Tissue as a Site of Toxin Accumulation [published correction appears in Compr Physiol. 2018 Jun 18;8(3):1251]. Compr Physiol. 2017;7(4):1085-1135. Published 2017 Sep 12. doi:10.1002/cphy.c160038
- Raszyk J, Gajdůsková V, Ulrich R, et al. Zhodnocení výskytu rizikových polutantů u výkrmových prasat [Occurrence of harmful pollutants in fattened pigs]. Vet Med (Praha). 1996;41(9):261-266. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8966965/
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fat, beef tallow. April 1, 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171400/nutrients