Cooking Fats

Wednesday, 23 February 2011 | Tags: , ,

Butter, margarine, lard, suet, duck fat, or shortening. Whatever you use, fat is an important ingredient in cooking and baking. We take a closer look at the different kinds of fat, and find out why it's important to our diet.

The Lowdown on Fat

Why Do We Need Fat in Our Diet?

  • Fat is important as a source of energy, especially for healthy growth and development in young children.

  • It is required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and provides essential fatty acids that the body needs for heart health, to make hormones, and to build healthy cells and skin.

  • The layer of fat under your skin also helps to insulate your body against extreme temperatures.

  • Because high fat intake may increase your risk of certain diseases, fat in your diet should be low but not eliminated entirely.

  • Adult males need about 7½ tablespoons of fat daily whereas adult females require about 5½ tablespoons every day.

How Much Fat is Good for You?

  • Choosing the right amount and the right types of oils and fats can lower your risk of developing certain diseases such as heart disease.

  • For good health, include a small amount of unsaturated fat and limit the amount of saturated and trans fat in your day.

  • Have a small amount – only 2-3 tablespoons – of unsaturated fat each day through cooking, salad dressings, margarines, and mayonnaise.

  • Limit butter, hard margarine, lard and shortening.

  • Be sure to read labels to avoid sources of trans fats such as baked goods, fried foods, and processed foods.

Shopping Tips

  • Keeping bad and good fats straight can be confusing. A good way to remember is that at room temperature, saturated (bad) fats are usually solid, and unsaturated (good) fats are usually liquid.

  • Avoid items containing trans fats, and any with terms like hydrogenated, hydrogenated oil, or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list.

  • When fat is rancid, you’ll know by the smell. For example, olive oil starts to smell like paint thinner when it goes off. 

  • To dispose of fat, don’t pour it down your drain or it will become clogged. It’s best to drain it into a tin can or glass container (something that won’t melt) and then place it in the garbage.

Animal-Based Fats


  • A natural dairy product made by churning fresh cow’s cream until the fat separates from the liquid.

  • It contains both saturated fats and cholesterol, both the good kind, and the bad kind. 

  • Butter comes lightly salted, unsalted, or whipped.

  • Salted butter has a longer shelf life and a slightly enhanced flavour. It’s perfect for the table and for general cooking.

  • Unsalted butter has a shorter shelf life because it contains no preservatives.

  • Cultured butter is popular in Europe and is now becoming popular in North America. It has a lower moisture content, which makes it idea for baking, producing flakier pastries and fluffier cakes.

  • Storage: butter should be stored in its original wrapping in the coldest part of the fridge. Open or unwrapped butter should be put in a separate compartment or closed container to prevent them from absorbing other food odours.

  • Butter can also be frozen for long term, either in its original package or in an airtight container.

  • Butter keeps at room temperature for 3-5 days. It may darken in colour and change slightly in flavour, but it’s good to eat. If it smells sharp or odd, it could be rancid and should be thrown away.


  • Lard is made from rendered and clarified pork fat. Rendering melts fat to extract impurities. Clarified fat has been heated to separate the solids, which are skimmed off leaving a clear oil.

  • Lard is high in cholesterol, but has no trans fats.

  • Lard quality varies depending on where on the pig it comes from: intestine fat is lowest grade, while fat from the kidneys (called leaf lard) is the best. Back fat is also higher quality.

  • Since lard has a high smoke point, it’s a good oil to use when frying. It also creates exceptionally flaky pie crusts and light, fluffy pastries.

  • Lard has gotten a bad rap in recent years as an unhealthy product. While it does contain saturated fat, it has less than butter.

  • Purchase lard directly from a butcher to ensure it hasn’t been processed


  • Suet is fat rendered from around the kidneys of cows or sheep. It’s a popular ingredient in Christmas pudding.

  • Solid at room temperature, suet melts a lot later in the cooking process, e.g. after the batter has begun to set. It leaves spaces in the setting batter which creates a light end product.

  • Suet sold at the grocery store is often mixed with flour and sold in cream-coloured blocks.

  • For pure suet, buy it from a butcher. It shuldn’t cost more than $1 per pound.

  • Keep suet refrigerated and use it within a few days of purchase.

  • A vegetarian suet made from palm oil and rice flour is available, but it creates different results.

Duck Fat

  • Very flavourful and high in monounsaturated fats, duck fat tolerates high heat and is excellent for grilling meat, sauteing vegetables, and preparing sauce bases.

  • Duck fat is approximately 57% monounsaturated fat, 28% saturated, and 11% polyunsaturated fat.

  • Goose fat can be used interchangeably, but it has a milder flavour.

  • A litre of duck fat costs between $20-25 but lasts a long time. It keeps for about a year or more as long as you filter out the impurities every so often.

    • After using it, simply chill in the refrigerator until the fat rises to the top. Skim it away from the impurities that have fallen to the bottom and re-use.

Vegetable-based fats


  • Margarine was first introduced to the marketplace loaded with trans fats, which were created through hydrogenation, the process used to solidify liquid vegetable oil into a spread.

  • Manufacturers now produce non-hydrogenated margarine, which contains no trans fat. It’s also softer than the original margarine.

  • Instead of hydrogenating the liquid vegetable oil, manufacturers now add a tiny amount of modified palm and palm kernel oil to enhance the spreadability.

  • When buying margarine, look at the nutrition table and ingredients list. Look for one with 2 grams or less of saturated fat and trans fat combined, and avoid any with the term “hydrogenated” in the ingredients list.
  • Nutritionists are still wary of margarine. Some say it’s an industrial product (i.e. not natural) made from cheap oils that are high in Omega 6 fats, known to cause high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

    • Note: some margarine brands have very good market campaigns and are even partnering with health foundations, however our nutrition expert still feels that margarine overall is not a healthy choice.


  • Shortening is sold as a solid and generally refers to vegetable-based product rather than animal-based. 

  • Vegetable-based shortening is lower in saturated fats than butter and adds a light, fluffy texture to baked goods like pie crusts and cake.

  • It has a high smoke point and won’t burned if used for sauteing.

  • Shortening can be refrigerated or frozen, but should be at room temperature before using.

  • Keep it in a cool spot in a tightly-sealed container. Unopened it will keep for up to two years. Opened, it should be used within a year.

  • Our nutritionist feels this is a similar product to margarine and should be used with caution.

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