What's the Difference Between Lard and Shortening?

One comes from pigs and one comes from plants.

Shortening and lard are two popular fats, particularly when it comes to baking. However, while both add richness to dishes, they each offer their own unique tastes and textures. Plus these handy fats originate from two very different sources.

Find out the major differences between lard and shortening, and when each should be used:

What is Lard?

Lard comes from rendered animal fat, often from pigs, and has been a staple in baking and cooking for centuries. In savory applications, it's fine to use unrefined lard that still has a porky flavor. But if you're wanting to use it for sweet dishes, you'll need to seek out rendered leaf lard, a particular fat found around the kidneys, which has a neutral taste. Lard gained a bad reputation in the late 20th century for being particularly unhealthy, but in reality it's not that different from other solid fats. Lard actually has less trans fat than shortening and less saturated fat than butter. While it will never have a health food halo, it certainly doesn't live up to its bad reputation.

Wooden spoon holding lard
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What is Shortening?

"Shortening" in reality can refer to any solid fat, but the most common usage of the term is when talking about vegetable-based shortening. Made from vegetable oils — often soybean, cottonseed, or palm oils — vegetable shortening is a vegetarian alternative to lard. Introduced as Crisco to consumers in 1911, it became a popular "healthy" choice, though research now shows there isn't too much difference between the two when it comes to nutrition. Crisco can be bought plain or with a buttery flavor added.

How to Choose Between Lard and Shortening

When it comes to baking, should you choose lard or shortening? Well, it really depends on what you're making. Both bake up relatively similarly, so if you really need to you can switch one for the other. Lard is known for making extra tender pie crusts and flaky biscuits due to the high fat content, but is obviously not a great choice for vegetarians. Shortening can be subbed in for butter in many ways, with the added advantage that it doesn't melt nearly as quickly and therefore can be more easily cut into treats like pie dough or used for more stable frostings. At the end of the day, whether you reach for lard or shortening, you're still going to end up with rich and delicious baked goods.

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