What is Lard?
Lard is fat from a pig that has been rendered into a semi-solid form, much like that of tallow, butter, or hydrogenated vegetable oil.
There are three major grades of lard:
- Leaf lard is the best, and it is made with fat from around the kidneys of the pig.
- Back lard is another high-grade lard made from the back fat of the pig.
- Caul is the lowest quality lard available, and comes from around the intestines of the pig.
High-grade lard is flavor-neutral, while low-grade lard has other flavors implemented in. Lard found in stores is typically a processed mix of all types of lard. Lard’s flavor changes dramatically with the diet of the pigs. Lard must be refrigerated once purchased, unlike vegetable oils.
The properties of lard are similar to those of butter, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and beef tallow. It is a flavor-neutral product that has a high smoke point, giving it a wide range of uses in cooking and baking. Many bakers prefer lard over butter and other fats in pies and products that they want to make as flakey as possible. Many bakers choose not use lard, though, for religious considerations of their customers. In bread, lard has been shown to give rise to higher specific volumes.
Lard can be rendered in one of two ways:
- Wet rendering is done by boiling lard in water and letting the fat float to the top. The lard is then skimmed off. This leads to lard that is flavor-neutral and translucent.
- Dry rendering is achieved by placing lard in a pan and letting it heat up. Impurities are then removed from the lard. This leads to a lower smoke point, a distinct flavor, and a slightly brown color.
Lard is nutritionally similar to most other fats. There is a stigma associated with lard in the United States due to concerns about trans fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol. However, store bought lard has less saturated fat and trans fat than butter, and fresh lard has considerably less trans fat then vegetable oil. Like any form of fat, pure lard has nine calories per gram and should be used in moderation.