I save fats from just about everything. I collect all of our bacon grease, fat from our bone broth batches, and the fat off our rabbits on butcher days. I then render them down to clean and purify them into tallow and lard. Most people are, at least familiar with the general idea of lard and tallow, but what are they other than animal fats?
Lard and tallow bring images of cows and pigs to mind, but they are not the only animals from wich these fats come from. Wild game and other domestic animals such as sheep, and goats are also great sources. Lard is a fat collected from both beneath the skin and from around the organs. It has a soft consistency and when properly rendered, it is tasteless and odorless. This feature makes it a wonderful addition to baked goods and pastries. Tallow is a harder fat that usually retains some of the animal flavor, and so is used more for savory style cooking. Both have high smoke points, and are shelf stable for about a year. Shelf life can be prolonged by simply canning the excess that is not in use.
The levels of nutrients differ between the fats based on animal, and the feed available to them during their lifetime, but they contain essential fatty acids such as oleic and linoleic acid, minerals, and fat soluble vitamins niacin, D, A, K, and E. All this, in their bioavailable form. Meaning, that our bodies can readily take them up and use them. One way to do this is by cooking with them. Obviously moderation is key, just as it is with anything else in our lives. My favorite way to use them is in my daily skin and hair regimen. Wether that’s as soaps, healing salves, body butters, shampoo bars, or beard balm for my husband. The molecular compounds and makeup of animal fats is quite similar to our own skin. This biological compatability makes uptake of nutrients easier and at the same time provides a protective and luxurious moisture layer without feeling heavy or suffocating the skin. They also make a wonderful leather conditioner. So why has the use of animal fats in cooking and skin and hair care become taboo?
It all started with the Proctor & Gamble soap company. When they decided to sell soap as individually sized and wrapped bars, instead of the giant wheels merchants would cut to order, the company needed a cheaper alternative to animal fat. They found it in a mix of palm and coconut oils. The popularity of Ivory Soap encouraged the US to boost the production of the cotton farming’s waste product, cottonseed oil. This ensured a steady and cheap supply of oil for soap making. In 1910 Proctor & Gamble patented, marketed, and sold Crisco to home makers across the nation with claims that it was healthier than animal fats for the digestion. Health claims were unregulated at the time. Women who purchased the product we’re given free cook books with recipes from soups to tomato sandwiches, all calling for three to four tablespoons of Crisco. Couple this with the rations set in place during the world wars, and the 1970’s all out war on animal and saturated fats, many people and companies abandoned animal fats all together.
It wasn’t until the 1990’s that we understood the health risks of trans fats, and although too much saturated fat is associated with obesity and diabetes, it is vital to proper metabolism and cell function. Here on the homestead, animal fats play a vital roll in our daily lives. Just as it is with many foods, processing methods are important. If you don’t render your own, be sure that the product you buy hasn’t been hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. It should also go without saying that grass fed and pasture raised animals are the best sources to harvest from.
There are many vegetable oil counterparts with similar qualities and benefits, but many that aren’t ruined by manufacturing methods can be a heavy burden on our pocket books. For those of us already consuming meat, animal fats are a cheap, healthy, and sustainable byproduct for everyday use and for building our health and vitality.