Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
17 Jun

A Primal Primer: Animal Fats

Animal fats have recently been implicated as the cause of heart disease, obesity and, in a roundabout convoluted stretch of logic, global warming. If you let health officials tell it, they’re pure evil. Reviled, shunned, and lambasted by the general public (thanks to less-then-sterling endorsements by health officials), animal fats have really gotten a bad rap.

It wasn’t always this way.

No, for hundreds of thousands of years, animal fats played a huge role in the human diet – whether it was Grok going straight for the fatty organs and tossing the lean muscle meat to the dogs, Prometheus making a meager sacrifice to the gods more appealing by draping it in swathes of fat, or Mom cooking with real butter instead of margarine. But you already knew that. I don’t have to sell you guys on the beauty of animal fat (after all, there was already quite a robust discussion taking place in the forums!), but the widespread societal backlash against animal fat means most of us don’t know everything we should about the stuff. For a lot of us, anything other than lard or butter is a mystery, and that’s a damn shame. There are tons of different varieties with many different uses, and we PBers need to be familiar with them all.

Lard

It has become part of the lexicon, used to describe the obese (“lard-ass,” “tub of lard,” “lard bucket,” etc. – we prefer “pail ‘o grains,” ourselves). For most people, merely mentioning it in a culinary context causes heart palpitations and shudders of revulsion. Fine by me: that just means more lard for us.

Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and unrendered form. The best lard is called leaf lard, and it comes from the fat deposits surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin. Leaf lard is “best” because it has little to no pork flavor, making it ideal for bakers (doesn’t really apply to us) and for general cooking. Next is fatback, which comes from the subcutaneous, thick fat deposits between the skin and the muscles of the pig. The cheapest is the soft membrane known as caul fat, which can be found wrapped around the internal organs. There’s also bacon grease, that delicious bacon-flavored lard that comes in handy when you’ve just fried up a platter of bacon and could really go for some eggs. If you’re not going to use it right away, don’t throw it out. Keep empty jars handy and just pour the hot grease in whenever you’re done. Store all your lard in the fridge, where it’ll avoid rancidity for months and be easily scoopable.

Whichever type of lard you choose, it can be used the same way you’d use butter. Stir fries, grilled steaks, fried eggs, and sautéed veggies are all delicious cooked in lard. Even if you don’t use leaf lard, the flavor is fairly mild, and the “porkiness” is minimal – if that sort of thing bothers you. Of course, the way you render your lard has an effect on the flavor. Dry-rendered lard (rendered without water, as if you were frying up bacon) tastes more porky, while wet-rendered lard (where the lard is rendered in water and skimmed off the top) is very mild.

The leaf lard from Flying Pigs Farm seems to get rave reviews online, and it can be shipped all over the country. Still, the farm’s located on the east coast, so unless you live nearby the shipping costs can get pretty prohibitive. You could just check out the local farmers’ market or the butcher shop. Pig fat is usually fairly cheap, and you can get a good amount of usable lard from a couple pounds of leaf or fatback. Don’t buy the cheap stuff in big tubs! It’s hydrogenated and full of trans-fats.

Lard is relatively stable, with good levels of saturated and monounsaturated fats.

Per 100 g (3.5 oz):

SFA: 39g
MUFA: 45g
PUFA: 11g

Poultry Fat

The holy trinity of poultry fats consists of chicken, duck, and goose. The concept of poultry fat is similar to lard; take the fatty portions of the bird and slowly render them until pure, unadulterated liquid fat is produced. Most foodies sing the praises of goose and duck fat, and for good reason: waterfowls, being relegated to the water, are generally loaded with fat for buoyancy and that makes for excellent eating. There’s more of it and what’s there is generally richer than fat rendered from a chicken. That said, there’s still a place in the kitchen for chicken fat. One popular iteration is schmaltz, which is poultry (usually chicken, but sometimes even pork) fat rendered with onions for flavor.

The public typically celebrates these fats for their potato-enhancing qualities, but I personally love using poultry fat as an incestuous accompaniment to roasted poultry. A bit rubbed on the bird before tossing it into the oven makes for crispy, delicious, fatty skin. Or if I ever do splurge on a sweet potato, I’ll usually fry it up in some poultry fat. Apples and pears are also good roasted in poultry fat; I prefer goose, but anything with wings and feathers will do.

Poultry fat is easy enough to find. I’ll sometimes ask the butcher for any extra skin he might have, and it’s usually incredibly affordable, much more so than lard. If your meat market processes skinless breast and thighs in-house, chances are they’ll have piles of poultry skin lying around too. You can probably even get organic, free-range skin for next-to-nothing. Goose and duck trimmings are far more rare and coveted, so you’ll have to pay extra for those – but believe me, it’s well worth the effort. And be sure to save the fat that naturally renders in the bottom of the pan when roasting a bird.

Store your poultry fat in the fridge for up to two months. It’s less stable than lard, but it probably won’t last long enough for you to find out.

Per 3.5 oz:

Goose fat
SFA: 28g
MUFA: 57g
PUFA: 11g

Duck fat
SFA: 33g
MUFA: 49g
PUFA: 13g

Chicken fat
SFA: 20g
MUFA: 45g
PUFA: 31g

Tallow

Tallow refers to rendered beef (and sometimes lamb) fat. It comes from suet, which is the raw, hard raw fat of cows and sheep, usually surrounding the loins and kidneys. You don’t see tallow a whole lot; it’s high in saturated fat, which makes it easily demonized. In fact, McDonald’s used to fry their fries in real beef tallow until, in the name of “better health,” they were forced to use hydrogenated oils instead. We all know how that turned out.

To make really good tallow, you have to be patient. It’s a slow process, but it’s worth it. Good tallow is solid at room temperature and incredibly stable, so if you’re dead set on deep-frying something, you’ll want to use tallow. Tallow is relatively mild in flavor, so you can use it for just about any recipe that calls for fat. It’s particularly great for browning meat for stews, curries, and chili.

You may have to special order suet, simply because there isn’t much of a demand in most areas. Farmers’ markets are good options, as are butcher shops. Just go a few days in advance and place a special order to ensure it arrives in time. Eatwild is, of course, always a good source if you can’t find it locally.

Per 3.5 oz:

SFA: 50g
MUFA: 42g
PUFA: 4g (grass fed, remember, will have a better Omega-3 profile)

Ghee

Ghee is rendered butter with all milk proteins and solids removed. It is pure fat, and it can be treated like an oil when heated. Nuttier than butter, ghee is completely stable at room temperature, provided you keep it in an airtight container. Like butter, ghee is incredibly high in stable saturated fats, making it ideal for sautéed dishes and higher heats.

I use ghee to grill steaks and as a starter for my curries. Whole Foods sells a great ghee made from organic, free-range cow’s milk. It’s a little pricey, but you can reuse the container to store your other fats. Make sure the ghee you buy comes from pure butter, and butter alone; some brands combine vegetable oil with butter to make their ghee.

Per 3.5 oz:

SFA: 65g
MUFA: 32g
PUFA: 3g

Those are the basics – the ones most of us are going to be able to have on a regular basis. Animal fat has been unjustly demonized and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Hopefully, this cleared things up and made it a bit more accessible and understandable.

I’m interested in hearing about other types of rendered animal fat, though. If you have access to rendered moose fatback or emu kidney leaf fat, let us know about it in the comments!

EssG, thebittenword.com Flickr Photos (CC)

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I LOVED Quorn, especially in the UK where there are way more flavours available. search this site for “soy”, etc & read about “fake meat”. Plus read the ingredients of what you’re eating. I found out that alot of what I was eating was wheat gluten.

    I agree whole-heartedly with your reasons for obstaining from meat as they are very similar to mine. I tend to stick to wild-caught fish, local eggs, & small-farm fowl & meat. I’ll next be looking in to cow-sharing (or something like that). I am fortunate that even though I live in a small town, we have a local produce farmer & she has started a farmer’s market in the summers. A nearby bison farmer sells his products there & I have started to buy from him.

    Keep researching! and keep questioning…

    Peggy wrote on July 7th, 2009
    • Again there’s a world of difference between meat from animals stuffed with grain, with lousy lipids and poor fats, and shot full of hormones and antibiotics, and meat from free living grass fed animals which need minimal medical intervention, and once again the “research” takes little notice of the high level of carbs and the quality of diet as a whole.

      Processed meatlike substances may be an indicator of a diet with toxic levels of carbs and chemical flavourings and a lack of vegetables. Real Meat may be an indicator of a diet containing high levels of nutritious foods, yet the “research” makes no distinction.

      I agree about the “factory farming” fortunately so does my butcher, I can actually see the animals I’m about to eat in their natural habitat since he will tell me which farms he sources from.

      Trinkwasser wrote on July 10th, 2009
      • Thanks for all of your replies.

        I think I will continue to be a vegetarian for the reasons I mentioned and for environmental reasons too.

        However I have started eating more eggs.

        what do you think?

        G

        George wrote on July 10th, 2009
        • George, eggs sound like a good idea. I recommend you read Lierre Keith’s book “The Vegetarian Myth”. It will give you a lot to think about, if only food for thought. Lierre Keith was a long time vegan, and she very personally understands the reasons people choose to be vegetarian/vegan. You may find her a kindred spirit. Good luck!

          Scooter wrote on January 3rd, 2010
    • Be very careful of meat substitutes. There is a growing body of evidence for mycoprotein’s anaphylactic potential – http://cspinet.org/new/201112011.html
      I used to like Quorn (made from mycoprotein) as well, but on about the 4th or 5th time I ate it I started feeling quite strange afterwards. Didn’t think much of it til the next time I ate it – half hour after consuming I was so violently ill I thought I’d been poisoned. I’ve had a terrible case of Salmonella before, and THIS was way worse. I was spaced out, had trouble with my motor skills, retching so violently I couldn’t breathe, nearly asphyxiated on my own vomit. And I’ve gotta say, the stuff I thew up was the most toxic smelling “organic” thing I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t remember the URL for it but there’s an organisation campaigning for food labelling of this risk for mycoproteins. It’s something like one in 116,000 people who have a reaction.
      I had tried to move away from meats because of ethical reasons, but this just cemented the notion for me that lab-created things are not food and should not be eaten by humans. It doesn’t exist naturally so chances are mycoproteins are not good. Plus it’s only a new development in food technology so we have NO idea what the long-term implications of this in the diet might be.

      Georgie wrote on July 24th, 2013
  2. i managed to get a huge slab (3 kgs! – which I had to lug back on the train home along with a couple of kilos meat and raw milk) of WATER BUFFALO FAT. Most is in the freezer, but i rendered some today. It has a unique flavour – much tastier than beef fat which i find tasteless

    reamz wrote on July 20th, 2009
  3. Great insight on the harms and different effects animal fat have when consumed. This is the primary reason I would recommend sticking with La Cense Beef to their organic preperation. Also, check out some great Organic beef recipes too.

    todd james wrote on January 6th, 2010
  4. Mark, you may have seen this new global campaign to ban butter. The campaign comes from Unilever, the company that makes fake butter products like Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

    I’ve posted a little about it on my blog, blogsthatmakemethink.blogspot.com

    Jim Purdy wrote on January 17th, 2010
    • That is ridiculous. Just like the banning of raw almonds and raw milk…

      Colleen wrote on February 4th, 2010
    • Country Crock… of sh*t! :-)

      Georgie wrote on July 24th, 2013
  5. I’ve been eating fats since I was little and I look younger than I am, I am the perfect weight for my height. My family has a history of high cholesterol so I’m going to get tested. I have a very good feeling that I am just fine.
    It was funny to see my family preaching to me that I eat to much saturated fats while there is a tub of Cool Whip and margarine on the table in there house.

    I rarely eat flour products or sugar. I pretty much eat veggies(some juiced) and fatty meat. I think the more natural animal fats you eat, the less sugar you want…

    Colleen wrote on February 4th, 2010
  6. I would like to know just what foods may contain animal fats that we eat every day and don’t even know about.

    lori williams wrote on April 17th, 2010
  7. I know I was surprised to find that
    -refried beans have lard in them usually.
    -Salad dressing usually have alot of saturated fats.
    Of course Milk :p

    I don’t know about other “hidden” saturated fats in regular foods as pretty much everything is made with canola/soy/cotton see oil sadly. I just just have to look at the saturated part of the label.

    Colleen wrote on April 17th, 2010
    • Actually commercial salad dressings have little saturated fat. Primarily they have soybean oil.

      Daniel Adam wrote on April 17th, 2010
  8. “only if there is a factor of the diet which increases the ammount HDL concentration in the blood”

    Just curious
    What factor is that in this diet?
    Would it be just the cutting out of processed carbs/breads?

    rob wrote on May 12th, 2010
  9. This post makes me sad, hungry and then a little happy.
    Sad because for years I didn’t listen to my own basic instincts- I LOVE animal fats. But CW told me that they were bad so I switched to veg fats and high carb diet which left me fat, depressed and my hormone levels all f**ed up.
    I’m a little happy to know that my instincts weren’t off, I wasn’t just being a pig and now I can go make some eggs in my leftover rendered wild boar bacon fat and enjoy them knowing that I’m not just being self indulgent!

    Simonne wrote on June 20th, 2010
  10. Hi Mark,

    I rendered my own chicken fat last night, and it solidified into two layers – the bottom layer, a jiggly (jello-like) translucent, darker color (as in your picture, above) and the top layer, a solid whitish layer, that looks more like the beef tallow. Are both parts good for cooking, and what is the difference?
    Thanks!
    Ashley

    Ashley wrote on July 26th, 2010
  11. @Ashly, the top part is the cooking fat. The “jelly” stuff is awesome for soups and what not. It’s basically chicken stock. It’s jiggly because it’s protein from the bone marrow and joints and will melt into awesome flavor for just about everything!

    Colleen wrote on July 26th, 2010
  12. Thanks colleen!

    Ashley wrote on July 28th, 2010
  13. I think you have to consider your amount of physical activity to how much you eat and how you well burn it.Old farmers ate a lot of food(cooked in lard)yet a lot of them lived to be old men,but they worked hard and burned calories.

    kapie9969 wrote on August 4th, 2010
  14. I think you make an excellent point, Kapie – I’ve put on some weight since switching to this diet, and I think it has to do with this sort of thing – I need to be more careful!

    Ashley wrote on August 4th, 2010
  15. Okay, I’m confused. In the bone broth thread it said to toss out the poultry/chicken fat but here you use it?

    What’s the difference between poultry fat that has been low simmered as in broth and fat that is cooked on high heat?

    Am I missing something? Did I misread?

    Thanks!

    Nan wrote on September 26th, 2010

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