Shortening vs. Lard | 50+ Year Cook Explains the Difference

While lard and shortening are both used frequently in baking, and each adds flavor and richness to the dishes in which they are used, they have more differences than similarities.

The primary difference between shortening and lard is the source. Lard is a natural product that is rendered from animal fat, while shortening is a manufactured product that is made from vegetable oils.

What Is Lard And How Is It Made?

Lard is made by rendering fat from hogs and cows, but primarily from hogs.

Rendering basically means that the fat is boiled or cooked down to remove the moisture from the fat to make it more shelf stable because water is one of the elements needed by bacteria to exist. By removing the moisture from the fat, the resulting lard is less likely to spoil and has a longer shelf life.

Lard has been used for centuries in cooking and baking, and for most of that time, it was the only option in many parts of the world.

The primary source of lard is the fat from along the backbone of the animals, which has the taste and odor of the animals from which it was derived. This fat is relatively hard and dense.

But, there is another type of fat that is roughly leaf-shaped from around the loin and kidneys of the animals that is a cleaner fat and has a smooth and creamy texture and a milder taste that is better for cooking and baking sweets. This is called rendered leaf lard.

How Is Fat Rendered?

The process of rendering fat is relatively easy. Just follow these steps:

  1. Cut the fat into 1 to 2-inch chunks and place them into a heavy saucepan or skillet.
  2. Add about ½ inch of water to the pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat.
  3. When the water comes to a boil, turn the burner on low and simmer the fat until most of the lard has been rendered from the fat. It will be a translucent yellow color. Be sure the heat is low enough that the fat doesn’t brown.
  4. Once most of the fat is rendered, pour the lard through a strainer or cheesecloth to remove the crisp pieces of meat that are still floating in the lard. Be very careful when handling the hot lard to avoid burns.
  5. This process can be done on the stovetop, in the oven, or in a slow cooker, but the secret is that it must be done slowly. This is a process that should not be rushed.
  6. Once the fat has cooled somewhat, pour it into a canning jar. When it has cooled sufficiently, the fat can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
A jar of lard
A jar of lard

What Is Shortening and How Is It Made?

The term “shortening” is used to describe the Crisco product and any type of fat that is solid at room temperature. In addition to shortening, butter, margarine, and lard fall into that category.

While butter and lard are animal products that are naturally solid at room temperature, shortening and margarine are made from vegetable oils that become solid at room temperature through a process known as hydrogenation.

So, to be more precise, shortening is the vegetarian version of lard.

Here are some of the characteristics of shortening:

  1. Shortening is in solid form, which becomes liquid as it is heated. 
  2. Shortening has a neutral odor and flavor that will not alter nor affect the taste of anything cooked in it.
  3. The smoke point of shortening is 490℉, which is even higher than the smoke points of canola, pure vegetable, and sunflower oils, making it ideal for frying any foods like fish that require frying at high temperatures.
  4. Shortening has always been one of the more cost-effective options for frying, but there have been recent price increases that now puts the price of Crisco shortening in a higher range.
  5. Crisco shortening has traditionally been readily available at all grocery stores and supermarkets.
  6. Originally, Crisco shortening was made with a type of trans fat that can lead to serious health issues. However, the Food and Drug Administration in January of 2020 banned the use of trans fats in the United States. As a result, the Crisco Company has changed its manufacturing procedures so that there are now no trans fats present in shortenings.
A container of Crisco-all-vegetable-shortening-container
Crisco is a popular choice

How to Choose Between Lard and Shortening?

Because lard and shortening are so similar and are both excellent for baking, especially for pie crusts and biscuits.

It actually comes down to personal preference as to whether you want to use the more natural lard or whether you want to use vegetable-based shortening. The results of your cooking are going to be very similar, and it will be hard to tell the difference.

One possible way of choosing between lard and shortening is that lard may have the odor and flavor of the animal it was derived from and would be better used in a savory dish.

But, when cooking something sweet like puddings or cakes, shortening will have a milder flavor that will not overpower the taste of your sweet treats.

Can I Substitute Lard and Shortening for Each Other?

Lard and shortening can be substituted for each other in any of the food you are cooking and baking. While lard is thought to be better for frying and shortening is thought to provide better results with baking, the differences will not be significant.

Here again, whether you choose lard or shortening for what you are preparing will come down to personal preference and whether you prefer using natural lard or man-made vegetable shortening.

Lard and shortening can be substituted for each other on a 1:1 basis.

What Is the Best Way to Store Lard?

The key to any method of storing lard for short-term and for long-term use is to use a good container with a tight lid.

If stored in your cabinet or pantry, insects and mice love to get into lard; and if stored in the refrigerator or freezer, lard is a blank slate, so to speak, and easily absorbs any odors it comes in contact with.

So, a good storage container is absolutely essential to keeping the lard in your kitchen fresh for the maximum length of time.

Short-term Storage

Because lard is an animal-based product, care must be taken to maximize the length of time it will maintain its freshness.

If stored in your kitchen cabinet, it should be kept in an airtight container in a cabinet or pantry that is not near any heat source, like the cabinet next to your stove or refrigerator or any heat-generating appliances. Even with this care, lard will stay fresh for only up to a month if stored at room temperature.

Lard can also be stored in the refrigerator but should be placed in an airtight container away from any foods with a strong odor to keep it from absorbing odors from other foods stored in your refrigerator. Lard will remain fresh for up to 6 months in the refrigerator.

Long-term Storage

Lard can be frozen and will stay fresh for up to 3 years when frozen under the right conditions.

Lard should be wrapped well and placed in an airtight container to avoid the lard absorbing the odors of other foods stored in the freezer. Wrap it in waxed or parchment paper or aluminum foil and placed in an airtight container to keep it fresh without absorbing odors.

It is a good idea to freeze lard in amounts that you will use before it goes bad. Lard that has already been frozen and thawed should not be refrozen.

Pro Tip: Lard can be stored at room temperature for up to a month, in the refrigerator for up to 6 months, and in the freezer for 3 years.

What Is the Best Way to Store Shortening?

As with lard, the key to storing shortening is the air-tight container in which it is stored. In fact, most shortening, like Crisco, is sold in cans with a tight-fitting plastic lid to keep it fresh longer.

Short-term Storage

According to the USDA, shortening can be safely stored unopened at room temperature for up to 8 months.

After it has been opened, it will stay fresh for about 3 months for the best flavor. As with all canned food products, they should be stored in a cool, dry area like a cabinet or pantry that is away from any heat or light source.

But, the Crisco website states that their cans of shortening and sticks are good unopened for 2 years from the manufacture date. Once they are opened, the cans will retain their quality for up to 1 year, while sticks will last for 6 months.

Long-term Storage

According to the Crisco website, their cans of Crisco shortening are good unopened for 2 years from the date of manufacture and 1 year after it is opened.

If you wish to extend its shelf life even longer, shortening can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for an even longer period of time. As with lard, it must be wrapped tightly to avoid the shortening absorbing odors from other foods that are stored nearby.

It would also be a good idea to repackage the shortening in amounts that you will use in a few days because previously refrigerated or frozen shortening should not be refrozen.

If shortening is stored either in the refrigerator or freezer, it will become firmer and should be allowed to come back to room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour before using.

Pro Tip: Shortening can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 years from the manufacture date and up to a year after opening, in the refrigerator or freezer for an extended period of time.

How Can I Extend the Shelf Life of Lard and Shortening?

There are a few things you can do to extend the shelf life of lard and shortening. Those things include:

  • Store them in a cool, dry area away from any heat or light source. A cabinet or pantry that is not adjacent to any appliances that generate heat would be the perfect location.
  • Store lard and shortening in the refrigerator if you live in a hot climate with no air conditioning.
  • Keep lard and shortening in airtight containers to prevent damage by insects or other pests.
  • Store lard and shortening in airtight containers that prevent the absorption of odors of foods stored nearby.
  • Always scoop the lard or shortening with a clean spoon to avoid contamination by other foods.

Which Is Healthier, Lard or Shortening?

When you compare the nutrition information for 1 tablespoon of shortening and 1 tablespoon of lard, shortening has 110 calories, lard has 115, and shortening has 12 grams of total fat while lard has 12.8 grams, so the two are very similar in nutritional value. 

According to Healthline, it was thought until recently that shortening was healthier than lard because it contains less saturated fat, but, “we now know that highly processed shortening offers no health advantages over butter or lard and may in fact be a less nutritious choice.”

Up until the early 1900s, there were no other options besides lard, and butter, of course, to use for cooking and baking in most parts of the country. So, in 1911 when the Proctor & Gamble Company made its Crisco shortening available to the general public, it was advertised as being healthier than animal-based lard and kosher-friendly. 

Because Crisco was the first all-vegetable shortening, most people were convinced that it had to be healthier than lard which is derived from animal fat. But, shortening is made from vegetable oils which are liquids that are made solid by use of a process called hydrogenation.

So, until recently, shortening contained partially hydrogenated oil, which is a type of trans fat. 

Then, according to Healthline, in January 2020, the Food and Drug Administration banned trans fats in the United States because, “they can disrupt cell membrane function, leading to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and nervous system dysfunction.”

Shortening is still made by hydrogenation, but now the process has changed to conform to the standards of the Food and Drug Administration so that the oils are now fully hydrogenated so there are no longer any trans fats present.

Why Is Lard No Longer Used?

Back in the 1950s, scientists were convinced that using lard could cause heart disease, and so many people switched from using lard to shortening and then to vegetable oils, so lard almost became a thing of the past and was unused by many people.

But, during the last 20 years, testing has shown that lard is a good source of natural fats that may be more nutritious than shortening, and there has actually been a recent resurgence of people using lard for most of their cooking and baking needs.

Pig fat or lard on a metal spoon
Lard is making a comeback

How Much Lard Should I Substitute for Shortening?

Lard and shortening can be substituted for each other on a 1:1 basis. So, if your recipe calls for ½ cup of shortening and you are using lard, then add ½ cup of lard to your recipe. There will not be a significant difference in what you are cooking or baking whether you use lard or shortening.

In fact, both lard and shortening are excellent for frying and for making pie crusts and biscuits.

Why Do They Call Lard Shortening?

Many people who did not grow up using the two products may not know the difference between the two.

If it were not for the stories told by my parents, and the fact that I helped my mother in the kitchen when she was using Crisco to make just about everything she cooked, I could be one of those persons who have no experience with either one and do not know the difference between them.

Are Lard and Crisco the Same Thing?

Lard and Crisco are not the same thing. Lard is a natural product that is rendered from animal fat, while Crisco is a shortening that is made by processing vegetable oils by a method called hydrogenation. Crisco is, in fact, a shortening, and not the same thing as lard.

Which Is Better for Cookies, Lard or Shortening?

Lard and shortening both create cookies that are more cake-like, but lard can give the cookies a more savory taste.

Shortening will create a cookie that is not very flavorful.

Butter Is Much Better for Making Cookies

Even though the cookies made with butter are flatter without the extra loft created by lard or shortening, the cookies will be much more flavorful when made with butter.

Final Thoughts

My parents often talked about the “good old days” and the fall of the year when “Hog Killing Time” would take place.

That was a fun time that included the neighbors getting together and killing and butchering the hog or hogs, cleaning the hog’s intestines to use as sausage casings, and rendering the fat to make lard that they would use for the next year.

All parts of the hogs had a use, and nothing was wasted. Even the feet were pickled and enjoyed as a treat.

But, by the time I was old enough to remember, we lived in town and used Crisco shortening for our cooking and baking needs, and I was spared the joys of “Hog Killing Time.”

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss 4 Healthier Substitutes for Lard.

Anne James

Anne James has a wealth of experience in a wide array of interests and is an expert in quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, mixing drinks (bartending), and making jelly. Anne has a professional canning business, has been featured in the local newspaper as well as on the Hershey website, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is. With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass. Amazingly, she doesn’t need to reference many resources due to her vast wealth of experience. She IS the source. Anne wants nothing more than to pass on her extensive knowledge to the next generations, whether that be family or anyone visiting her website, her YouTube channel, or survivalfreedom.com.

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