Lard (and Why You Want It)
If a person had to pick the top 3 fats that contained the most nutrition - lard would make the cut. What is it about lard that's so good? Aside from the delectable flavour, it has an impressive nutritional profile and many health benefits.
Lard is the pure fat that is rendered from pork fat. "Leaf lard" is a special type that comes from the fat that covers the kidney area, and is especially prized for making pastries.
What to look for when buying lard:
1. FROM PIGS RAISED OUTDOORS
Lard is the richest source of vitamin D, of any land-based food. (The levels are second only to wild shrimp.) The vitamin D is very bioavailable, meaning that it's in a very usable form.
It must be clarified, however, that high vitamin D levels only occur when the pigs are raised outdoors, in the sunshine. They literally need the sun on their skin (as any living creature does) to produce vitamin D.
2. FROM PASTURE-RAISED PIGS
Vitamin D levels will be even higher when the animals are also eating fresh greens, bugs and a bit of dirt. Just because they are outdoors doesn't mean they're on pasture. Only a true pasture with ample greenery, worms / bugs and clean dirt provides the basis for a complete cycle of vitamin D production - as well as many other vitamins and minerals.
The most notable are the other fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, K). Levels of these critical nutrients are much higher in the meat and fat of animals that are raised on pasture, compared to animals raised indoors. These are arguably some of the most critical nutrients we need, yet some of the most deficient in commoditized agriculture systems.
It's been found that human populations that consume foods with high levels of these nutrients, enjoy a high level of health and vitality that is not commonly seen these days.
Omega 3 : Omega 6
One other benefit of pigs on pasture is that the more greens they eat (in relation to grains), the more omega 3 fatty acids their meat and fat will contain relative to omega 6 fatty acids.
Eating high levels of omega 6 fatty acids (such as from vegetable oils and meats from animals eating all / mostly grains) has been shown to contribute to a host of degenerative issues. Pasturing animals provides an incredible solution to the problem!
As an aside, it's important to point out that the pigs themselves are healthier (and happier) on pasture, and require the full complement of sun-mud-greens-bugs to be in best health. The kind of living conditions that are best for them leads to final products that are best for the consumers.
3. FROM PIGS FED ORGANIC OR NON-GMO GRAINS
The term "pasture-raised" doesn't tell the whole story though. The types of grains a pig is eating will also affect the quality of the fat (and meat and bones).
Look for lard from pigs that have been fed organic or non-GMO grains - especially if these grains were not sprayed with chemicals.
There are 2 reasons:
- Genetically modified grains have been shown to negatively impact the health of livestock, and the quality / integrity of the meat / fat / bones.
- Chemical residues accumulate heavily in fat; therefore, any agricultural chemicals that are in the animal's feed have a high likelihood of ending up in the fat (in this case: lard). Certified organic feed hasn't been sprayed with chemicals; some non-GMO feed has been sprayed. Just because a feed is non-GMO doesn't mean that it's organic.
It's worth sourcing meats, fats and bones from farms who are feeding their livestock with grains that have not been sprayed with chemicals.
Lard can be an exceptionally healthy fat to consume on a regular / daily basis.
Many animal fats got a bad rap because of a campaign to create a market for ultra-processed plant fats. Things have come full circle, with the knowledge that natural, traditionally-produced fats are best.
On a practical level, there are several things to love about lard.
- It's stable enough to be used for pan-frying - and has a mild, delicious flavour
- It makes amazing pastries
- It's easy to work with, being softer than butter when refrigerated
Leave a comment below, with your favourite ways to use lard!