Lard, or pig fat, has long been utilized for cooking and baking. It is stable fat that is well-suited for frying. It is also a wonderful addition to soaps and skincare products.
While lard and other animal fats were once widely utilized, in last century or so they have been intentionally demonized by the industrial food industry (Smith, 2012). Instead, people are encouraged to use highly processed, industrially produced vegetable oils that have been touted as a “healthier” option. However, research is starting to show that these oils are not as benign or healthful as we were once led to believe.
Additionally, much of mainstream nutrition advice assumes that consuming any fat, particularly saturated animal fats, is detrimental to health. But, fat is actually quite important to keep our bodies functioning properly. “Fats […] provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormonelike substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes,” state Sally Fallon Morell and Mary Enig, PhD in their article “The Skinny on Fats” (2000).
Lard is about 40% saturated. This type of fat is crucial to a number of body processes. Saturated fatty acids make up at least half of our cell membranes, giving cells the structure and integrity they need to function properly. Saturated fats also play an essential part in our body’s process of utilizing calcium for bone health. They help protect the liver from certain toxins, including alcohol and medications. They support the heart, digestive system, and immune system (Fallon Morell & Enig, 2000).
Lard from pastured pigs is rich in vitamins A, D, & E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Of course, like with many other food sources the nutritional content varies based on how the pigs are raised. For example, if the pigs are fed coconuts, the lard may also be a source of lauric acid (Fallon Morell & Enig, 2000).
Lard is also excellent for promoting skin health thanks to its large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients, which are crucial to the appearance & function of skin. When applied topically it helps to reduce redness, age spots, fine lines, & wrinkles due to its anti-inflammatory and collagen boosting properties. It also helps to protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun (Bowman & Cherney, 2016; Bradley, 2017; Whelan, 2018).
While high quality lard is not easy to find on the shelves of your local grocery store, rendering your own lard is really quite easy. You will need:
- leaf & back fat from a pasture raised pig
- large heavy bottomed pot
- metal strainer/cheese cloth
- clean jars
Cut the fat into small pieces, removing any bits of blood or meat that are attached.
Put the chopped fat pieces into a large pot. Heat on low, stirring occasionally. The fat will begin to melt. Keep stirring and checking the lard as it renders, to ensure it doesn’t burn. This will take some time, longer if there’s more fat to render.
As it cooks down, the fat turns into a bubbling golden liquid with solids floating at the top. You can strain out the liquid as you go, leaving the solids in the pot. When these pieces turn dark golden brown, the lard has finished rendering.
Pour the lard through a fine mesh strainer (be sure to use metal, as plastic will melt!) or cheese cloth into clean jars. Once the lard cools it will firm up a bit and turn white or a very light shade of brown.
The chunks you strain out of the finished lard are called cracklings. These are a tasty snack, and can be enjoyed plain or sprinkled with a bit of salt. Just enjoy them in moderation, as they are very fatty and can give you a stomach ache if you eat too many. If you have an abundance of them, they make a great treat for dogs and cats too, in moderation.
Lard is a traditional fat with many uses and benefits. We always have some on hand for use in the kitchen & apothecary.
Bowman, J. and Cherney, K. (2016). The 4 Best Vitamins for Your Skin. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/4-best-vitamins-for-skin
Bradley, S. (2017). Lard: Your Grandmother’s Secret to Better Skin, Naturally. Off the Grid News. https://www.offthegridnews.com/lost-ways-found/lard-your-great-grandmothers-secret-to-better-skin-naturally/amp/
Fallon Morell, S. & Enig M.G. (2000). The Skinny on Fats. The Weston A. Price Foundation. https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/know-your-fats/the-skinny-on-fats/#gsc.tab=0
Gore, L. (2017). Why We Need Animal Fats with Sally Fallon Morell. Wise Traditions Podcast, episode 65. https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/65-why-we-need-animal-fats/#gsc.tab=0
Smith, R. (2012). Who Killed Lard? Planet Money. https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2012/02/03/146356117/who-killed-lard
Whelan, C. (2018). The Benefits and Limits of Vitamin A for Your Skin.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/vitamin-a-for-skin