Are you unsure when to use tallow vs lard, and if they really are healthy to use?
As a traditionally-trained dietitian and child of the 80’s where saturated fat was universally shamed, I understand the hesitancy!
Tallow and lard have been common ingredients in kitchens for centuries and they are starting to make a big comeback!
In this comprehensive 2-part series, we’ve already tackled the saturated fat controversy, so now we’re ready for part 2 to compare tallow vs lard! If you missed part 1 where we discussed the fascinating history of saturated fat and where it stands now, definitely read my article Tallow and Lard: The Saturated Fat Controversy.
Alright, now we’re ready to break down the research behind the benefits of tallow vs lard so that you can feel safe using them. We’ll also talk about their differences and which scenarios they are best used in so that you can be confident in incorporating them.
Let’s dive in!
All About Tallow
What is Tallow?
Tallow is simply raw beef fat (also called suet) that has been rendered, or cooked down using low heat. This process removes impurities and creates a shelf-stable product. It is solid at room temperature.
Tallow, along with all of the other saturated fats, has slowly been recovering from a bad reputation. I hope that by the end of our discussion, you’ll feel confident in using tallow!
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is an essential fatty acid that is found in beef and dairy. CLA is a powerful dietary component that has anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and anti-hypertensive effects (Koba, 2014). CLA can even promote a reduction in fat mass (Whigham, 2007)! Sign me up, right?
Of note, as with most nutrients, amounts of CLA are significantly higher in grass-fed cows compared to conventionally-raised ones (Lenighan, 2019). In this same study, they found lower amounts of myristic acid and palmitic acid (which are associated with hypercholesterolemia) when utilizing grass-fed practices.
For optimal health, humans should aim for an omega 6 (inflammatory) to omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) ratio of 4:1. Omega 3’s are protective against Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, depression and even cancer (Daley, 2010).
Some believe that our ancestors ate a diet that was close to 1:1! However, Americans eat a ratio as high as 25:1 (Simopoulos, 2011)! Yikes!
Honestly, it’s not surprising when you think about the pro-inflammatory foods that make up Western diet, and grain-fed beef is a huge contributor! Multiple studies have discovered the incredible difference between grain-fed vs grass-fed beef (Daley, 2010):
1.77 : 1
8.99 : 1
2.78 : 1
13.6 : 1
1.72 : 1
10.38 : 1
Want to reduce inflammation and obtain a ratio of 4:1? Eat grass-fed beef products.
Have you noticed that pasture-raised eggs yolks are dark orange? That’s because the chickens are eating the richly pigmented carotenoids from the plants they forage for. The same thing applies to grass-fed beef.
When cows are allowed to graze on green pastures, they consume large amounts of carotenoids from those plants, which then are converted into vitamin A. Beta-carotene levels have been reported to be 7x higher in grass-fed beef than grain-fed (Descalzo, 2005)!
This high concentration of beta-carotene gives the cow’s fat and milk it’s golden hue, along with all of the health benefits associated with vitamin A!
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can protect against free radical damage that leads to chronic disease. As with the theme of this article, vitamin E content is 2-3x higher in grass-fed beef compared to grain fed as shown in the table below by Daley, 2010.
While we’re on the topic of antioxidants, it’s important to note that grass-fed beef is also higher in other antioxidants such as glutathione, superoxide dismutase and catalase (Descalzo, 2007; Gatellier, 2004). What a powerhouse!
Tallow is one of the best sources of choline (Nutrition Data). Choline is an essential nutrient for cellular membrane integrity, neurotransmitter synthesis, lipid metabolism and even proper gene expression (NIH)!
Liver Protective Effects
I saved this one for last because it’s an old study and used rats, but it’s fascinating! The rats were given ethanol (alcohol) plus either corn oil or tallow for 5 months and guess what happened? The corn group had fatty liver that progressed to fibrosis where the tallow group had completely normal liver function (French, 1991).
Tallow has a savory and mild beef flavor, so keep that in mind when you are deciding which fat to use with your dish. It’s an excellent pairing to meat and veggies, but not so great in pies or pastries.
Tallow has a higher saturated fat content than lard, so it is excellent at creating crispy textures when pan-frying vegetables or meat. Hellooooo crispy fries!
Did you know that tallow was used in the McDonalds fryers when they first opened in the 1940s? Once tallow was labeled as a cause for high-cholesterol, they switched to the “heart healthy” vegetable oil and add “natural beef flavor” to it. Sounds great, huh?
Tallow has a grainy texture at room temperature, so it is not a suitable choice for pastries and baked goods. However, because it is more solid than lard, it makes excellent candles and bars of soap!
Are you starting to question all of the chemical ingredients in your skin care products? You should! Tallow is definitely making a comeback as a natural ingredient in lotions, balms and chapsticks. Tallow is more biologically-similar to our skin than plant oils, which makes it incredibly nourishing! It also contains antioxidants, which can reduce oxidative stress and signs of aging.
Want to learn more? Read my DIY Whipped Tallow Balm article!
How long does tallow last?
If stored in an airtight container, tallow will keep for 4-6 months at room temperature and a year in the refrigerator.
All About Lard
What is lard?
Lard is simply raw pork fat that has been rendered, or cooked down using low heat. This process removes impurities and creates a shelf-stable product. Pigs have a high fat content. Most raw pork fat is sourced from around their kidneys (“leaf fat”), but a decent amount can be found underneath their skin as well (“back fat”). Lard is semi-solid at room temperature.
Are you still worried about whether lard is healthy to use? Let’s chat about it!
In a 2014 study, mice were given 3 different types of fat during calorie restriction and administered an inflammatory agent. Guess what happened? Lard was shown to be more protective than soybean oil (no surprise there) and fish oil! I know it’s a study using mice and not humans, but I hope this finding helps lessen the fear around lard.
Still afraid that lard will worsen your lipid panel? Check out this 2018 study that compared pigs fed a conventional feed mix (black bar), a 50/50 mix of conventional feed plus active foraging (grey bar) and a 25/75 mix of mostly active foraging (bar with lines). Pork from pigs that are largely pasture-raised has a much higher positive impact on genes related to lipid metabolism.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient, however many of us are deficient, especially in the winter. It promotes bone health, a strong immune system and can even prevent chronic disease such as certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimers (Larson-Meyer, 2017)!
Our modern world has given us additional challenges in vitamin D adequacy due to the liberal use of sunscreens and the intake of conventionally-raised animals who never see the sunlight. According to the 2011-2012 NHANES data, 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D!
A 2017 study found that pigs raised with sunlight exposure had significantly higher vitamin D levels than those raised conventionally in a building with no sunlight exposure. The thing I find fascinating is that the “sunlight exposure” group only went outside for 1 hour per day. Otherwise, they were inside a building and fed the same corn/soy feed as the conventional group. It makes me wonder how much these effects would be exaggerated if the pigs were allowed to live a true pasture-raised life.
Lard doesn’t have quite as much choline as tallow, but it’s a close second (Nutrition Data). Choline is an essential nutrient for cellular membrane integrity, neurotransmitter synthesis, lipid metabolism and even proper gene expression (NIH)!
Vitamin K2 is a common deficiency among us, especially coming out of the fat-fearing era that we’ve been stuck in over the past few decades! K2 is an important nutrient to direct proper calcium deposition, so a deficiency can result in vascular calcification and osteoporosis (Flore, 2013).
Vitamin K1 is a relatively easy nutrient to obtain. However, conversion from K1 to K2 happens in our gut and efficiency can be quite variable. If you have a disrupted microbiome, then you’ll definitely have trouble converting sufficient vitamin K2 levels (Schwalfenberg, 2017)!
What disrupts our gut microbiome? Stress, antibiotics, processed food, NSAIDS, inflammation, acid-reducing medications, alcohol, and more! All of these things are very common in our world today, unfortunately.
So, where can we get vitamin K2? All of the foods we’ve been told not to eat: lard, liver, butter, high-fat dairy, and egg yolks! Again, make sure that you are obtaining these from pasture-raised or grass-fed sources because the animals only obtain vitamin K from the greens that they are eating (source)! If they are only eating grain, then the resulting vitamin K content will be much lower.
If rendered correctly, lard should be nearly colorless, tasteless and odorless. Lard can honestly be used in just about anything, but is highly prized in baking due to its neutral flavor. Of note, leaf fat is generally milder in flavor than back fat, which can have a “porkier” flavor.
Lard is typically lower in saturated fat than tallow, which makes it a softer and more pliable product. It has a texture similar to the trans-fat laden Crisco, which was the product released in 1911 as its “heart healthy” cholesterol-free replacement.
Curious about the history of Crisco and how it took over America? It’s a fascinating story of smart marketing and persuasion. You can read more about it from The Weston A Price Foundation’s article: The Rise and Fall of Crisco.
Due to lard’s pliable consistency and neutral flavor, it is well-known for making the best pastries and pie crusts. It’s also easy to spread in baking dishes and pans to keep food from sticking.
Want to give it a try? Check out this lard pie crust recipe by Bumble Bee Apothecary.
How long does lard last?
If stored in an airtight container, lard will keep for 4-6 months at room temperature and a year in the refrigerator.
Tallow vs Lard: Which One Should I Use?
There are many different uses for tallow and lard. Due to their unique properties, each one excels at different things. Let’s break it down!
Pastries and Pie Crusts
Lard is the clear winner here due to its neutral flavor and pliable texture. A classic way to make the best, flaky pie crust!
Pan Frying, Roasting and Broiling
Both tallow and lard can be used for pan frying, roasting and broiling. I like to pair the corresponding fat with what I’m cooking (use lard when cooking pork and tallow when cooking beef).
However, keep in mind that lard’s smoke point is only 370 degrees and tallow is a bit higher at 400 degrees. If you’re pan-frying, roasting or broiling with an aggressive temperature, tallow may be a better choice.
Since deep-frying temperatures are typically between 350-375 degrees, tallow would be the most suitable choice due to its higher smoke point of 400 degrees. Lard would most likely start to oxidize, causing an increase in free radicals.
Before the introduction of non-stick sprays, every kitchen used lard to grease pans and baking dishes. Lard has a wonderfully smooth and pliable texture that makes for easy spreading. Due to its neutral flavor, it is a great choice for anything you might be cooking.
While both tallow and lard can be used in skin care products such as body balms, moisturizers and chapsticks, tallow is my favorite here. That’s because tallow has a wider range of nutrients and antioxidants to really nourish and protect your skin. Tallow is also rich in oleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid – all known for their abilities to deeply penetrate the skin and prevent water loss from the skin’s surface (Limmatvapirat, 2021).
Want to give it a try? Definitely check out my DIY Whipped Tallow Balm recipe! It is luxuriously soft and deeply nourishing.
Lard makes a hard, long-lasting bar with stable, creamy lather. Tallow has the same properties as lard, except it also has cleansing properties similar to coconut oil. While both tallow and lard can be used for soap making, tallow is the most traditional choice.
The type of fat you want to use for candles, depends on the type of candle you are making.
If you are making a pillar or dipped candle, you’ll want to use tallow since it has a more solid texture and will maintain its shape. Lard tends to melt rapidly and will make a mess if you light it in candlestick form. Here’s a How to Make Tallow Candles recipe by The Prairie Homestead. Super simple!
If you are making container candles, then either tallow or lard can be used. Lard may even be a better choice in this case due to its neutral smell.
Where Can I Find Tallow or Lard?
As I mentioned above, it is super SUPER important that you are sourcing organic, grass-finished tallow (or suet) or organic, pasture-raised lard (or leaf fat) from a farmer that you trust.
Toxins are stored in fat (Jackson, 2017). Therefore, if you’re using tallow from a cow that was stuck in a feedlot, eating corn sprayed with herbicides and being injected with antibiotics… you’re rendering down a high toxin load to be rapidly utilized in your own body. Same goes to pigs that live their life in a crowded building and are fed inflammatory grains. No thanks!
We get raw suet and leaf fat from our favorite local CSA (TC Farm) and render it down ourselves. Not sure how to render down tallow or lard? Check out my article Rendering Fat: How to Make Tallow, Lard, and Schmaltz to guide you through every step.
When you are CSA shopping, confirm they are offering organic and grass-finished for beef and pasture-raised for pork. Finding a CSA that offers other products that you might be interested in (eggs, raw milk, wool, etc!) is a bonus! That way the CSA can become a one-stop-shop for you!
Don’t Have Time to Hunt Some Down?
You’re busy, I get it! While partnering with local farmers is the best option and something to work toward, sometimes you just need to start somewhere. I’m a huge fan of using ghee for high-heat cooking along with tallow and lard, so I threw a few options in there as well to round out the list.
I’d recommend the following products:
The bottom line: both tallow and lard are awesome! Tallow and lard are making a major comeback and I hope you’re feeling more confident in using them now.
Not only are they nutrient-dense options when coming from an organic, pastured animal, but they offer a sustainable and local option as well.
Being able to opt out of imported oils and support a local farmer brings me a lot of joy. So does utilizing the whole animal; a true nose-to-tail strategy! If there’s one thing that I hate, it’s waste, especially waste of life. If we are going to take a life, utilizing and cherishing every part of that animal is essential. The era of only using common cuts of beef or boneless, skinless chicken breasts needs to end.
You really can’t go wrong choosing between tallow vs lard! Since they each excel at different things, I like to keep them both on hand. Give them a try!
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