Lard

Lard is fat from a pig. However good lard is made from not just any ol’ pig fat. It comes from the region around the kidneys. This “leaf lard” as it’s called has the mildest flavor and a nice firm texture, and it’s really the only lard that’s good enough for baking applications. Generally you need to find it at butcher shops or farmers markets and must render it yourself. Fortunately that’s pretty easy to do. Good lard does introduce some piggy flavor, but it’s quite nice I think, even in sweet applications.

How does lard stack up against other fats? Compared to butter lard has practically no moisture in it once it’s rendered. It’s pretty much all fat. That means it’s great in applications where moisture can be a problem (like pies and biscuits). Calorie-wise it has 15% more by weight than butter, but then butter is 15% water, so it’s pretty much even-Steven. If you want to substitute lard for butter in any application, you just use a little less of it and the effect (if not the flavor) is the same. Regarding melting points, lard melts at a slightly lower temperature than butter, around 87 degrees Fahrenheit compared to about 90.

Compositionally, lard like butter is made up of many different types of fat (triglyceride) molecules. See the fats primer for more about that. 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. 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 triglyceride 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. But who really knows? Splitting hairs over which fats are “better for you” makes no sense at all to me. But I digress.

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17 Responses to Lard

  1. Tom says:

    Joe, I believe I recall reading that you are not particularly opposed to hydrogenated fats, as is the general public these days. Still, I think many people would appreciate knowing that commercial, shelf-stabilized lard is a hydrogenated fat.

    Thanks for this primer on fats, and for your excellent blog.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Tom!

      Great memory! I’m not really opposed to hydrogenated fat in principle or practice, but you’re very right that many people would appreciate knowing that. Thank you.

      - Joe

  2. Bec says:

    I’ve spent a couple of hours online a few weeks ago reading up on the different fats and what I’ve come away with after reading Wikipedia and some other sites was that the worst fats are apparently and .

  3. Bec says:

    Ooops, I made some errors with the HTML tags …
    I meant to say trans-fats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfat and hydrogenated fats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogenated_fat#In_the_food_industry

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Bec!

      I’m not a big believer in trans fat evil, but given that they’re not around all that much anymore, it scarcely matters. The “all things in moderation” rule is the best advice for anything we eat, including fats. Overall I’m glad that people are finding fats of most types less scary these days. That in itself is a healthy thing! Thanks Bec!

      - Joe

      • Bev says:

        I couldn’t agree more Joe, all things in moderation. We seem to get bombarded these days with studies on what not to eat and it seems amost everything we consume is bad for us in one way or another. Moderation is the key and our bodies do require certain amounts of fats amoungst other things to function properly.

  4. Lard is pretty easy to come by here in Canada and is sold for baking applications at every grocery store and more readily (I believe) than shortening. It’s under the brand name Tenderflake.

    I just started experimenting with it in my pie crust and it makes a really flaky pastry!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Samantha!

      Lard is easy to find in the States as well. The problem is the product you normally find in tubs isn’t very high quality. It’s just fine as a cooking fat, but is generally too soft (not to mention piggy) for a pie crust or for biscuits. I envy the availability of good lard up north! Thanks for the comment!

      - Joe

  5. Tonia says:

    Bakery I worked at in Lynden, WA (really close to the Canadian border) used leaf lard by the case — we ordered it from Canada and it really did make the best pie crust!

    • joepastry says:

      It’s great stuff, but you really have to look for it if you’re a home baker. A lot of farmers market meat purveyors either have it or know where to get it, so I recommend that people start there if they want to try it. The rendering can make your house a little smelly, so it’s beset to do it in the spring or fall when you can leave a lot of windows open. But then guess there are worse fates than having your whole house smell like ham!

      Cheers Tonia!

      - Joe

  6. Brenda says:

    I grew up making every pastry crust with lard. And I have yet to have or make one that is like that again, the taste was just perfect-crispy/FLAKY-amazing. We lived on a farm that had pigs and cows. We would butcher some pigs and get our lard in 5 gallon buckets. Stored in a cool place, it seemed to last forever-or at least to me. When I moved out, I tried using store bought lard and it was awful, thin and smelly. Am I right that it was pre rendered when we brought it home from the butcher and did that make it safe to leave out for a while? I know we didn’t render it ourselves. When it started to just barely have an off scent, then we knew it was no longer good to use. I would love to get some again-the real deal, but rendered already.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Brenda! My guess is that was leaf lard that the butcher rendered for your family. Indeed pure fat that’s high in saturated fats doesn’t spoil very easily, especially when the weather is cool. There’s not much in fat that most airborne microbes want (no sugars or proteins). Indeed fat is sometimes used as a preserving medium…French conflicts for example.

      If you look around at farmers markets and ask the meat purveyors you may just be able to find pre-rendered lard. I sometime buy it here in Louisville in five pound tubs. By since I love cracklings on toast, I’d rather do it myself!

      Good luck and thanks for the comment!

      - Joe

  7. Owen Foster says:

    We have leaf fat from the Berkshire Pigs we butcher weekly. It adds up to about 150lbs monthly. If anyone would like to purchase it we will sell it gladly for a very low rate. Less than $1/lbs

    I have rendered all I can to sell as lard to our customers and now am trying to find ways to not have to discard it.

    Thanks and happy baking!

    Owen Foster
    Product Development
    Two Rivers Specialty Meats

    • joepastry says:

      Owen I don’t normally allow advertising in the comment fields but this time I’ll make an exception. It’s a noble cause.

      Cheers!

      - Joe

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