Vegetable shortening and lard can be substituted for butter in some recipes, particularly in baking. They both have a high fat content and a similar consistency to room-temperature butter. However, some bakers prefer one over the other because each produces a different taste and texture in finished products. Economics may influence what a cook chooses to use, since lard is often cheaper than butter, with shortening often being the cheapest option of all.
Lard is made from animal fat, usually from a pig, and has been used for centuries. According to the "San Francisco Chronicle," the first known reference to lard was in a poem written in 1420, although anthropologists think that people first started cooking with pork fat as early as 10,000 years ago. According to the "Chronicle," lard had earned a bad reputation in the late 20th century for being too fatty and unhealthy, but a Harvard University study done in 2007 found that lard has one quarter less saturated fat than butter. Lard used for cooking may need to be refrigerated, though.
Vegetable shortening can be made from many different kinds of vegetable oil. It's often made from the same source as cooking oils, like soybeans or cottonseed oil. Procter and Gamble introduced shortening in 1911; it was advertised as Crisco. Shortening can be found in stores in a tub or measured in sticks and can be either white or yellow. It does not need to be refrigerated.
Uses for Lard
Lard can be used for cooking or baking. Many pie crust recipes call for lard, since its high fat content makes crusts flaky. It is also used in many cultures throughout the world, like in Spain where it is used to preserve Iberico ham. Lard is used more in some parts of the United States than others, particularly in the South. It is used in Southern cooking staples like biscuits. It can also be used in non-edible items like in the manufacturing of beauty products and cosmetics as well as in some kinds of soaps. Lard has also been used in the creation of new forms of biofuels that are designed to replace petroleum.
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Uses for Shortening
Vegetable shortening is primarily used in baking. Like lard, it is often used in pie crust recipes. Although it doesn't produce as flaky a texture as lard does, it more closely approximates the taste of butter. Unlike lard, shortening does not produce the protein known as gluten so people on a gluten-free diet can eat foods cooked with shortening.
Kathryn Walsh has been writing about health, wellness and beauty for nearly 10 years. Her work has appeared on sites including USAToday.com, Mamapedia and Livestrong.com.