vegan shortening for baking
October 8, 2006 2:44 PM   Subscribe

What's the best vegan substitute for lard?

I'm making a a Poor Man's Cake, my grandmother's recipe, and it calls for lard. Two of the people who will be served this cake are vegans, and since I'm nice and all I'd rather not give them cake with lard in it. What's the best vegan non-trans-fatty substitute for lard, when baking? Specific brand names would be appreciated (I'm in the US).
posted by The corpse in the library to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Crisco, aka vegetable shortening.
posted by subtle-t at 2:47 PM on October 8, 2006

Vegetarian suet. You can get it in your local health-food store.
posted by bingo at 2:52 PM on October 8, 2006

I usually use palm oil. It will probably not taste the same, but it has a comparable fatty acid ratio and is used in lots of baking goods.
posted by davar at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2006

Seconding Crisco. In fact, I wonder if this might be what your grandmother actually used, since the term "lard" is often used loosely in the US. Refined animal fat (other than butter) in a cake strikes me as rather unusual for an American recipe.
posted by Quietgal at 2:59 PM on October 8, 2006

Crisco is indeed the correct substitute for lard, and it's vegan -- but it is basically 100% transfat, as I understand it. But apparently they now make "non-transfat" Crisco, prominently labeled as such and found in the baking section next to regular Crisco. I don't know what's in it, but that would be my first move.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2006

Palm oil, bar none. I like the Spectrum brand. They call it "all vegetable shortening." It's at the bottom of the page. It doesn't have any trans fats, and makes a killer pastry crust.

Doesn't Crisco have trans fat/hydrogenated oil in there, or have they reformulated it since I last checked?
posted by pullayup at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the speedy answers! It looks like Crisco does have a non-trans-fat product, which I didn't realize, and it has half the fat of palm oil. Guess I'll give it a try.

Quietgal: the recipe dates back to the Depression (thus the "Poor Man"). Perhaps lard was easier to come by?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:18 PM on October 8, 2006

Lard was definitely more common in American cooking 50 or 100 years ago than it is now. Dunno about cakes, but it would have been common in pie crusts and such.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:33 PM on October 8, 2006

Lard was once the fat of choice for pastry and still is, in my opinion. It is cheaper than butter and isn't supposed to taste like pig at all. I would go with the palm butter. It is saturated fat and will most likely act like lard would act in the recipe.

Just to note, the lard sold on the shelf at the grocery store these days is actually hydrogenated. The best lard for pastry is special ordered from the butcher and comes from the leaf fat around the kidneys of the hog.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:44 PM on October 8, 2006

On a lark I googled around for Crisco's history and some recipes for Poor Man's Cake. Crisco was introduced in 1911 and was promoted as an "economical alternative" to lard. By 1923 Procter & Gamble was shilling it in print ads, radio ads, and cookbooks.

During the Great Depression the urban poor, who had no pigs or cows, probably did buy Crisco since it was cheaper than lard and heavily advertised. Unless Corpse's grandma (boy that sounds weird) lived in a farming community, she probably made her cake with Crisco. Depending on Grandma's level of education and fluency in English, she might have called it lard rather than vegetable shortening (my grandparents, barely literate immigrants, routinely mangled the English language to the point of having virtually their own dialect).

Anyway, it's just a theory but if it had been my grandma it would have been Crisco all the way, baby.
posted by Quietgal at 4:06 PM on October 8, 2006

(lard) is cheaper than butter and isn't supposed to taste like pig at all.

I can definitely taste the pig in a lard- infused pie crust. Refried beans are certainly better with pig flavor. Pie, not so much.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:22 PM on October 8, 2006

Sorry for the derail, but where CAN you find leaf lard? I've look high and low for the stuff, online and off, and if I'm lucky enough to find a butcher who knows what I'm talking about they just shrug and tell me to try online, which isn't that helpful as google just wants to to go to ebay and buy collectable lard tins. (Yup. Collectable. Lard. Tins. Kinda scary)
posted by aspo at 5:33 PM on October 8, 2006

I like Smart Balance. Crisco is all hydrogenated trans-fatty and gross.
posted by maniactown at 5:47 PM on October 8, 2006

FYI: the non-transfat Crisco comes in a green can.
posted by bink at 6:24 PM on October 8, 2006

Palm oil (and coconut oil) is very high in saturated fat. It's considerd very much less healthy than mono- or unsaturated fats. High LDL cholesterol levels (the bad kind) and chances of heart disease are thought to be caused by eating these fats. I'd stick with the non-trans-fat shortening.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 PM on October 8, 2006

To obtain leaf lard, it's best to know a butcher who kills their own hogs. Tell one well ahead of time that you want the leaf lard and to call you the next time they have some. Call some local meat lockers, if you have them. Or call Dietrich's Meats 610-756-6344 in Lenhartsville, PA. I think they ship. Dunno, I gots fambly in the pig stickin' biz so I'm set.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:40 PM on October 8, 2006

Bonehead, you're right about everything but your recommendation at the end.

The process of hydrogenation involves saturating the fats with hydrogen (i.e., breaking double bonds between carbons and replacing them with bonds to hydrogen atoms.). Eukaryotes, like all animals and plants, have only cis double bonds in fats. However, the process of hydrogenation can flip some double bonds from cis to trans. Partial hydrogenation leaves about 50% of the residual double bonds in a trans conformation.

The non-trans-fat Crisco has FULLY hydrogenated palm oil. That means there are no double bonds left in it. That means that the palm oil is converted to 100% saturated fat. Health-wise, that's really bad for you.

I wouldn't serve such a cake to anyone I cared about.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:58 AM on October 9, 2006

So, ikkuyu2, would regular Crisco be better (50% better) healthwise than the non-transfat version?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:09 AM on October 9, 2006

I think the science is out there - pretty much proven fact at this point - to show that consuming a lot of saturated fat is bad for most folks (harms the arteries).

I think we're still learning about the effects of trans fats. My guess is that they're going to be bad too, but how bad I don't know.

When I make a cake, I use butter or oil, usually corn oil (and Swans' Down cake flour!) That's because I won't eat hydrogenated fats if I can possibly avoid it. I think they're poison.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:20 AM on October 9, 2006

Apparently trans fats are WORSE for you than saturated fats. It takes more sat fat to negatively affect cholesterol levels than it does trans fat. So if you must use something, going with naturally occurring saturated fat would probably be healthier than using artificially produced partially hydrogenated fat.
posted by chelseagirl at 4:00 AM on October 9, 2006

If non-trans vegitable shortening is mostly palm oil anyway, the choice between fully saturated or trans-fats is one I don't want to make at all.

So I did a bit of digging: Palm oil is naturally about 50% fully saturated, palm kernel oil is 80%+, coconut oil is normally more than 90%. By comparison butter is around 60%, lard is around 40%. So really, butter isn't a better choice than palm oil. Lard looks like the best choice, but it also has significant amounts of cholesterol, which palm oil lacks.

To answer the original question, Palm looks like the best of a bad lot. If you can avoid it, as for cakes or breads, I'd say use safflower or canola oil, but for pie crusts or tortillas, there aren't many good choices.
posted by bonehead at 7:24 AM on October 9, 2006

Smart Balance isn't actually vegan, but Earth Balance is (made by the same company). Earth Balance makes a very good shortening that comes in sticks. It is the perfect substitute for lard in that recipe. You can find it at Whole Foods and similar stores. Crisco is indeed vegan but gross, in my opinion.
posted by smich at 7:36 AM on October 9, 2006

Saturated fat has been proven to raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Trans-fat has been proven to both raise LDL and lower HDL (good cholesterol) levels. You can probably Google for some good citations on this. Depending on how much you care about the effects of cholesterol levels on risk of heart disease, you may well consider trans-fat to always be worse than saturated fat.

There's also the hypotheses regarding trans-fat's effects on obesity and such, but I don't believe there's any hard conclusions about that yet.
posted by rxrfrx at 8:26 AM on October 9, 2006

And yeah, if you read the Smart Balance literature, you'll see that there are some kinds of vegetable fats that, although high in saturated fat, have a cholesterol-balance-improving effect. That's the basis for Smart Balance (it contains plant sources of saturated fat, but has been shown to improve HDL/LDL).
posted by rxrfrx at 8:27 AM on October 9, 2006

hope i'm not too late. i actually did a science project once baking three different batches of cookies using butter, crisco, and apple sauce as the shortening variable factor. they were fairly normal oat cookies. and by far the most popular, moistest cookies were the ones made with apple sauce, and none of my classmates had any idea that they weren't full of butter, let alone that they were vegan.

Here's a site that talks about other substitutions for baking. They give a good piece of advice, too, that substituting fruit for shortening will make the product a little denser, definitely my experience as well. since that project, i usually use apple sauce in most of my cookies and quick breads. much healthier than most other shortening. if this cake is supposed to be really light and fluffy, this probably won't work for you. but, as i think most homemade cakes are supposed to be dense and moist, this might be a perfect vegan and lowfat substitution.

also, this website says they only replace a portion of the shortening with applesauce, but i always only use applesauce and i'm always quite pleased. hope this helps.
posted by mosessis at 9:40 AM on October 9, 2006

So really, butter isn't a better choice than palm oil

You're coming at this with the idea in mind that our knowledge and understanding about this is perfect. Sat fat = bad, trans fat = bad, high cholesterol = bad, and there's no more ever to know about this.

Unfortunately, the epidemiology isn't quite so simple. For instance, there are places in the world (France, for instance) where very large amounts of butter and natural oils are consumed per capita, total cholesterol levels are very high, and yet LDL:HDL ratios are low and, most importantly, vascular outcomes are low. The findings are clear and replicated and yet they're not incorporated in the simple model that most folks are taught (and that, not incidentally, made atorvastatin the world's best-selling drug ever.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:54 AM on October 9, 2006

mosessis, I'm calling you out about the brownies. Regardless of the texture, making a brownie without a dose of oil or butter imparts a very unpleasant "low-fat chocolate" flavor. It's very distinctive. Snackwell's brand chocolate cookies have this flavor. If you can't taste it, well, pay more attention, I guess.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:29 PM on October 10, 2006

rxrfrx, i'll strongly stand by my own experience, that, like i said, applesauce is great in cookies and quickbreads. i've never tried to make brownies with applesauce, so i'll have to go with your experience on this, and my guess is that you're probably right. but i have to say i'm not exactly sure why you're talking about brownies. i'm sorry if i didn't realise that the poor man's cake is a brownie? i had thought it was a normal cake like product. and if that's the case, i'm going to guess that applesauce could work just fine.
posted by mosessis at 7:04 PM on October 10, 2006

Response by poster: An update, if anyone's here: I made it with applesauce and non-trans-fat Crisco (doesn't that sound delicious?) and it turned out fine. Thanks for all the tips.

Poor Man's Cake isn't a brownie, but it is made in a pan like brownies are. It's a spicy cake with raisins, but not fluffy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:55 AM on October 11, 2006

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