Lard vs. Butter

There’s good news and bad news here, though overall it seems the scales tip in lard’s direction. Calorie-wise, lard has more of them, about 15% more, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that butter is about 15% water. Compositionally, though, there are certain factors that make lard more desirable, at least based on the (ehem) current thinking of many researchers and nutritionists.

Fat, you see, is not a uniform substance. It’s made up of lipid molecules of many different configurations. As I’ve mentioned many times before, lipids are basically “E”-shaped molecules, consisting of a “backbone” of glycerol and three fatty acids. The fatty acids attached to the backbone are all different from one another, and more than that, vary from molecule to molecule. Where molecules in a fat have similar structures, they will often form solid crystals. Others won’t. It’s this mixture of solids and liquids that gives fats like butter and lard their semi-solid consistency.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts on fats, fats that are saturated tend to be firm at room temperature, those that are unsaturated tend to be liquid (for a helpful metaphor on that subject, see this post on shortening and oil). Unsaturated fats, it’s thought, are better for you, said to have the effect of raising the so-called “good cholesterol” in the body.

Butter has unsaturated fats in its lipid mix, but it has more saturated fats. Lard is just the reverse, more unsaturated fats than saturated fats, which makes it a “better fat” as the present-day thinking goes. It’s even said that the saturated fats that are present in lard have a neutral effect on the “bad” cholesterol in the body. I don’t know about that. Come to think of it, I don’t know about any of it, for according to the results of the Women’s Health Initiative study, none of it really matters to your health anyway. But what are you gonna do?

Personally, I don’t think it really matters which fat is “better for you” and which fat is “worse”. Splitting hairs over it, to me, makes no sense whatsoever. Eat happily but moderately, and exercise, and I can’t see how a body can go wrong.

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5 Responses to Lard vs. Butter

  1. Dave says:

    Amen Joe! Moderation and movement, i.e. exercise of some sort. When I was a student at the Culinary Institute of America I ate everything in sight and everything we made. Some meals that might be considered unhealthy by some standards. However, my cholesterol count dropped along with my weight because I was not eating 20 ponds of food at a sitting and I was running all over campus to get to classes or work. M&E…moderation and exercise. Gotta love it.

    Thanks for a beautiful blog with a “moderate” tone of voice. I too, believe in the food system isn’t perfect, but ain’t broken totally. We just need to be more responsible for what we eat. Heck, more responsible in everything we do.


    • joepastry says:

      Yes it’s funny. I get questions from readers from time to time asking me if I’ve had my cholesterol checked lately. In fact I had my annual checkup not a month ago and my cholesterol was straight-up normal. I attribute it to good clean livin’….which is to say reasonable portions, daily workouts and a glass of wine with dinner! ;)

      I loved you put “moderate” in scare quotes, let me say. Sums me up perfectly. I also love the tag line of your blog: “Cooking, Gardening, Playing with the animals. I’ll be visiting!


      - Joe

  2. Suze Parker says:

    Lard also will give a different texture to baked goods. It gives a sandy texture if substituted for half the butter in a sugar cookie for example. I grew up with a traditional Norwegian cookie called sandbakkels (short for sandbakkelser in Dano Norwegian or today’s Norwegian – sandkakke). It essentially is a butter cookie, flavored with caradamom (or almond – I prefer cardmom) and it’s pressed into a fluted tartlett pan. The texture lard gives is just divine. Shortening lends a ‘harder’ texture. My grandmother’s recipe (she was born in 1894) used half butter and half shortening and gave the cookie that lovely texture. I’m jonesing for some of those now…..

  3. Catherine says:

    Joe, I just baked my first combo butter/lard piecrust last night. Today, well, ummm, I’m reserving judgment. The buttery flavor wasn’t as strong, and perhaps it was just my imagination, but it tasted a bit gamy. I used Morell SnowCap lard. It wasn’t what I went out and sought; a foodie friend who knew I had been thinking about it just gave it to me. So can you share your thoughts/knowledge about TYPES of lard? For instance, I’ve heard that leaf lard — the lard around a pig’s kidneys — is the most desirable. I don’t exactly know what KIND of lard this Morell SnowCap is. But hmmm, what are your thoughts here? –Catherine (aka CurvyMama Pies)

    • joepastry says:

      Ah, I just finished an extensive discussion on the subject (lard). Use the archives to go back to the middle of January and you’ll find everything you need to know.

      I’m not sure what Morell SnowCap is, but you can probably do better. But anything made with lard will taste at least a little piggy, that’s part of the fun (or so I think at any rate). Once you’ve had a chance to look all that over don’t hesitate to get back in touch if you have more questions!

      - Joe

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