Most foodies, bakers, and cooks have come across recipes that use tallow or lard. But here’s the kicker: no one explains what these ingredients do.
Why bother getting them? Do they really matter? What exactly are they for?
The difference between tallow and lard is that tallow comes from beef and mutton suet, whereas lard comes from pork fat. Despite their similarity, these two fats have unique properties and characteristics that make them useful in both baking and cooking.
Learn more about tallow and lard by reading this article. If a recipe calls for tallow or lard, don’t skip over them.
This way, you will be able to compare the physical qualities and characteristics of these two fats, their nutritional compositions, and their uses.
What Is Tallow?
Although lard and tallow may appear to be the same ingredient (they certainly look alike), they differ primarily in their sources.
Most tallow products come from beef or mutton fat. Rarely will you find tallow products made from lamb or deer, but that isn’t common or traditional.
However, experts believe an ingredient becomes tallow when it reaches specific characteristics. In their opinion, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.
This type of fat product is made out of the fat surrounding an animal’s organs, such as kidneys and loins, and is made from beef and mutton fat.
The reason this type of fat (called suet) is different from muscle fat is that suet contains a higher concentration of a triglyceride called stearin, which affects how the fat melts and congeals.
How Is Tallow Made?
When suet (fat surrounding organs) is rendered, it is heated at very low and slow temperatures to separate the fat from any muscles and connective tissue.
The fat melts when the ingredients are heated. As it melts, it drips into a separate container to cool and congeal.
Check out this YouTube video from allthingsbbq if you’re interested in making tallow from brisket trimmings:
Characteristics Of Tallow
The consistency of tallow changes as the temperature rises or drops. At room temperature, it is solid, with a temperature range of 68-77oF (20-25oC).
A temperature of 113-122oF (45-50oC) is the ideal range for melting tallow, and below this the fat starts to congeal again.
Additionally, beef tallow has a smoking point of 400°F (205°C), so it’s perfect for medium-high cooking methods.
Although some experts claim it only smokes at 480oF (249oC), we prefer to be safe and keep things at 480oF (249oC).
Physical Properties Of Tallow
At room temperature, tallow is a hard, solid substance that is waxy white in color and looks glossy.
This fat tastes almost like nothing. Even people with highly sensitive palates describe this ingredient as subtle richness at best.
From personal experience, we know that the fat will deteriorate once it starts smelling like fat. And once it starts smelling sour, it is already spoiled.
Nutritional Value Of Tallow
Since tallow is fat, there is no way around it – it’s unhealthy. It’s highly caloric and fattening.
There are approximately 13 grams of fat and more than 110 calories in one tablespoon of tallow. It contains roughly 50 percent saturated fat, 45 percent monounsaturated fat, and 5 percent polyunsaturated fat.
It’s no secret that unsaturated fat lowers your risk of disease.
Tallow has some advantages over other kinds of fat, including the absence of carbohydrates and the presence of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K2.
Uses For Tallow
There are many uses for tallow, not just in the kitchen. It is a great lubricant, as well as an excellent tenderizer and flavoring agent.
Although it won’t add umami, salty, or smoky flavors (like bacon fat), it will add richness to your food, similar to marbled meat.
Besides cooking, tallow may also be used to make candles, lotions, and soaps. It was traditionally used to lubricate leather, wood, and metal crafts.
What Is Lard?
Lard is similar to tallow, but can only be derived from the fat of pigs. There are no other animals that can produce lard, so there is no room for interpretation.
Lard is made from pork belly fat and some other organs.
The difference between suet and lard is that suet is a hard white fat that comes exclusively from cows and mutton, while lard comes only from pigs and is semi-solid at room temperature.
How Is Lard Made?
For baking, you’ll need rendered lard. The unrendered lard you get from pork can be used for cooking, but unrendered lard isn’t shelf-stable.
As the highest level of lard, leaf lard is considered to have a creamier consistency and a more mild flavor. It is exclusively derived from pig’s kidneys and abdominal fat.
In the videos below, you can see how rendered lard is made using two different techniques – wet rendering and dry rendering.
Fat is rendered by wet-rendering in boiling water. The high temperature causes the fat to melt and rise to the top. Once cooled, the fat solidifies and is removed.
To see the wet-rendering technique in action, watch this YouTube video from HealthNutNation:
This process involves heating fat without any liquid in an oven or pan (or even a slow cooker, as shown in the video below from Melissa K. Norris on YouTube).
Characteristics Of Lard
The melting point of lard depends on the type of lard you use. At room temperature, lard is solid but still pliable.
86-104 oF (30-40 oC) is the melting point of lard made from back fat.
In general, lard made from a mix of fats has a melting point between 97 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit (36 and 45 degrees Celsius).
It melts at 109-118 degrees Fahrenheit (43-48 degrees Celsius) and has a higher melting point than leaf fat (kidney fat).
The smoking point of lard is around 380°F (190°C), making it a good choice for medium-temperature cooking.
Physical Properties Of Lard
You will taste something, even if you don’t know what that is. Lard has a distinctive taste, but it is very subtle.
As with all things, different types of lard will have different flavors. Back fat lard will taste like pork, whereas leaf lard is much milder in that regard.
At room temperature, lard is solid but very pliable and spreadable. It has a creamy white color that almost looks foggy when it is spread.
Nutritional Value Of Lard
While lard, like other fats, has a few disadvantages, it is still healthy when compared with other fats.
There are few nutrients in lard other than vitamin D, which can be obtained from pasture-raised pigs. Otherwise, lard is a good source of fat.
A tablespoon of lard contains about 115 calories and 13 grams of fat. It holds 40% saturated fat, which is lower than other options (even butter).
Uses For Lard
As with tallow, lard is used as a lubricant, flavor enhancer, tenderizer, and flavoring ingredient in cooking.
Rendered lard is also used in baking for making pastries and cakes, as well as sausages, cured meats, pates, and fillings.
In addition to being used for cooking and baking, lard can also be used as a moisturizer for the skin and hair, as well as a soap.
Tallow Versus Lard — What Are The Differences?
The information above was quite overwhelming, but keep reading; we’ll explain what these products have in common and what they differ from.
How Is Lard Made?
Lard is made by rendering the fat. While there are two methods by which rendered lard can be made, the technique remains the same.
Tallow is made from suet, the organ fat found in beef and mutton, while lard is made from back fat, belly fat, and organ fat of pork (and only pork).
There are also several types of lard available. You can buy leaf lard (which is higher quality), back fat lard, mixed lard, and pasture-raised pig lard.
The texture of tallow is hard and waxy. It has a white color and is not pliable at room temperature. It must be melted before it can be reshaped.
At room temperature, lard is a solid, pliable ingredient, like margarine. It has a more off-white color and is very foggy, but when melted, it appears more golden.
There is a slight difference in flavor between leaf lard and lard made from back fat. Leaf lard has a more mild flavor than lard made from back fat.
Last but not least, both of these fats are odorless, so they won’t alter the smell of your baked goods, cooked foods, soaps, or lotions.
While most types of lard melt at 45-50°C, tallow melts at 113-122°F (45-60°C), which is higher than most types of lard.
In contrast to mixed lard, which melts between 97 and 113oF (36 and 45oC), back fat lard, which melts between 86 and 104oF (30 and 40oC), and leaf lard, which melts between 109 and 118oF (43 and 48oC), has the lowest melting point.
Tallow can be used at temperatures as high as medium-high, while lard is best suited for medium-heat cooking.
There is also a higher smoking point for tallow than for lard, so we can safely conclude that tallow is more stable, regardless of their flash points.
In terms of fat and calories, tallow and lard are both animal fats. Lard has a slight advantage over tallow in terms of both, but has a lower saturated fat content (bad fat).
On the other hand, tallow contains more nutrients than lard (which only contains vitamin D).
Ultimately, you should research what you need from animal fat. But don’t expect to reap the benefits of either one.
This may also just be because lard is easier to find and more affordable, which makes it more popular than tallow. Both of these fats can be used in cooking, but lard seems more common.
In spite of that, tallow is more commonly used outside the kitchen as an ingredient in beauty products, soaps, lotions, and even in woodworking workshops and metalworking.
Are Tallow And Lard Interchangeable?
It depends on a lot of factors. At first glance, yes, these two animal fats are interchangeable. The differences in food (or other products) are minimal.
The two products are not interchangeable for someone who cannot consume pork or beef for dietary or religious reasons.
Both can be substituted equally if you need to use them as alternatives.
What is better, tallow or lard?
It depends on what you’re looking for! For instance, let’s consider their flavor.
In baking, you are likely to choose the option that contains less flavor and is neutral in color, which is tallow. But, if you are looking for an option that contains more unsaturated fats, lard is the best option.
Before choosing which one is best for you and your purpose, decide what you need first.
Are these healthy fats?
Due to their high content of unsaturated fats (also referred to as healthy fats), tallow and lard are considered healthy fats.
The great thing about these is that they do not clog up your veins and increase your cholesterol levels at all. In fact, they help lower them!
What’s the difference between tallow, lard, and ghee?
Unlike lard and tallow, ghee is a completely different animal-based fat. It comes from butter, which is made from animal milk.
To make ghee, butter must be clarified so that the fat can be separated from water and milk solids.
Is bacon grease considered to be lard?
Bacon grease is technically a type of lard, but lard typically isn’t made from rendered bacon grease. A big difference between the two products is the flavor. Bacon grease has a smoky, salty taste with a prominent pork flavor.