Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and unrendered forms. Lard was commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or shortening, or as a spread similar to butter. Its use in contemporary cuisine has diminished; however, many contemporary cooks and bakers favour it over other fats for select uses. The culinary qualities of lard vary somewhat depending on the part of the pig from which the fat was taken and how the lard was processed.
Lard can be obtained from any part of the pig as long as there is a high concentration of fatty tissue. The highest grade of lard, known as leaf lard, is obtained from the “flare” visceral fat deposit surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin. Leaf lard has little pork flavour, making it ideal for use in baked goods, where it is valued for its ability to produce flaky, moist pie crusts. The next highest grade of lard is obtained from fatback, the hard subcutaneous fat between the back skin and muscle of the pig. The lowest grade (for purposes of rendering into lard) is obtained from the soft caul fat surrounding digestive organs, such as small intestines, though caul fat is often used directly as a wrapping for roasting lean meats or in the manufacture of pâtés.
Lard may be rendered by either of two processes: wet or dry. In wet rendering, pig fat is boiled in water or steamed at a high temperature and the lard, which is insoluble in water, is skimmed off of the surface of the mixture, or it is separated in an industrial centrifuge. In dry rendering, the fat is exposed to high heat in a pan or oven without the presence of water (a process similar to frying bacon). The two processes yield somewhat differing products. Wet-rendered lard has a more neutral flavour, a lighter colour, and a high smoke point. Dry-rendered lard is somewhat more browned in colour and flavour and has lower smoke point.
Industrially-produced lard, including much of the lard sold in supermarkets, is rendered from a mixture of high and low quality fat sources from throughout the pig. To improve stability at room temperature, lard is often hydrogenated. Hydrogenated lard sold to consumers typically contains fewer than 0.5g of transfats per 13g serving. Lard is also often treated with bleaching and deodorizing agents, emulsifiers, and antioxidants, such as BHT. These treatments make lard more consistent and prevent spoilage. (Untreated lard must be refrigerated or frozen to prevent rancidity.)
Consumers seeking a higher-quality source of lard typically seek out artisanal producers of rendered lard, or render it themselves from leaf lard or fatback.
A by-product of dry-rendering lard is deep-fried meat, skin and membrane tissue known as cracklings.
Lard is one of the few edible oils with a relatively high smoke point, attributable to its high saturated Fatty Acids content. Pure lard is especially useful for cooking since it produces little smoke when heated and has a distinct taste when combined with other foods. Many chefs and bakers deem lard a superior cooking fat over shortening because of lard’s range of applications and taste.
Rendered lard can also be used to produce biofuel and soap. Lard is also useful as a cutting fluid in machining albeit its use in machining has declined since the mid-20th century as other specially engineered cutting fluids became prominent. However, it is still a viable option.
Shipment / Storage / Risk factors
Shipped in cartons and drums.
Liable to melt if subjected to heat. Typical melting point range 34-38°C. If exposed to prolonged heat, lard is subject to discolouration. Lard may be subject to loss in weight due to absorption of some fat by containers. Unless air is excluded lard can undergo flavour spoilage. Liable to take taint.