What is Shortening?
Shortening refers to any fat that when melted by heat can turn solid at room temperature. In fact, some Americans think “shortening” refers to Crisco only, which is the popular brand in the US; but shortening is encompassing for any fat that is solid at room temperature and can shorten dough when used in baking. Initially, Lard was the only type of rendered fat that was called shortening but with advancement in technology, other types of fat that are solid at room temperature were made; therefore, lard and many other types of fats are now known as shortening.
Fats that are solid at room temperature are called shortening because they behave as though they have short fibers in them, making dough have a crumbly texture. Shortening can cause the dough to be crumbly because it distorts the cross-linkage between gluten molecules found in flour.
What is in Shortening?
There are few ingredients used in making hydrogenated solidified oil, depending on the type. Lard for example is plainly rendered fat obtained from pork belly. When obtained, the fat from the pork belly can be rendered into lard by cooking, boiling, or dry heating. Whatever method is used will determine the color of lard fat.
Margarine is a substitute for hydrogenated solidified oil and contains some additional ingredients such as hydrogen, water, and sometimes milk. This process of turning vegetable oil into margarine or vegetable shortening by the addition of hydrogen is called hydrogenation.
Although butter is solid at room temperature, it is rarely considered as a shortening, rather, margarine is closely considered as a shortening than butter; remember that the essence of using shortening in baking is to give the pastry a crumbly texture of which butter cannot give such a texture.
Some health concerns were raised due to the presence of trans fat in vegetable shortening, as a result of these health concerns, the amount of trans fat usually added to vegetable shortening has been greatly reduced; in fact, some brands such as Cookeen in Britain have removed trans fat in their vegetable fats since 2006.
1 tbsp of vegetable shortening contains about 113 calories – which is high. It is also high in fats – about 12.7 grams for each tbsp. No vitamins, proteins, or carbs.
Types of shortening
Shortening can be classified into two broad groups based on the source of the fat used: vegetable shortening from vegetable oils and animal-based shortening from animal fats. The second type of classification is based on the form and uses which classifies them into cake, icing, liquid, all-purpose, or solid shortenings.
Liquid shortening: this type is best used for frying and in recipes that require moisture such as cakes. Liquid shortening is mostly made from soybean oil and commonly sold in jugs.
All-purpose shortening: this type of hydrogenated solidified fat does not contain emulsifiers and as the name suggests, it can be used in many recipes.
Cake or icing shortening: this is used for making cakes and in icing. They contain emulsifiers that help to retain moisture in cakes.
Vegetable Shortening (hydrogenated solidified oil)
This is a hydrogenated solidified fat that is made from soybean oil, palm oil (which has to be bleached to remove the color), and cottonseed oil; it has the same white color as lard and also adds the same flaky texture to baked foods. In fact, vegetable shortening lasts longer with a better shelf life than lard.
- Margarine from beef tallow
Lard vs Vegetable Shortening
Lard and hydrogenated solidified oil look similar – they are solid fats that have a higher burning point (smoke point) when compared with butter. Just as lard, vegetable shortening contains less amount of water and is thus less prone to splattering when used in frying.
Hydrogenated solidified oil is a great substitute for lard because it is cheaper to produce and does not include slaughtering animals and using animal fat as by-products; it does not require refrigeration like animal-based shortening. Vegetarians will prefer vegetable shortening as a substitute for lard.
Shortening Vs Butter
Butter is not considered a shortening even though it is solid at room temperature and also used in baking the same way that shortening is used. The shortening should be able to distort the cross-linkage in flour, making it crumbly in texture – a characteristic that is not found in butter.
Some differences between hydrogenated solidified oil vs butter are: no steam is produced when baking with hydrogenated solidified oil because it has little or no water in it; whereas there is a significant amount of water in butter (up to 16%) and this creates some steam when baking. The presence of moisture in baking is important because it affects the overall texture of your recipe, so you need to know whether to use butter or shortening.
Butter adds its flavor to baked foods but hydrogenated solidified oil has no flavor, this gives you a choice to add a flavor of choice; however, shortening such as lard has flavor – though not the usual smell of pork but rather a sweet flavor; rendered lard made from the fat of pork that is obtained around the pig’s kidney has less flavor that may be a good substitute for hydrogenated solidified oil.
Recipes such as cookies made with shortening are soft because of the ability of shortenings to revert back to the soft solid state but cookies made with butter become crispy when they cool down.
How to Make Shortening at Home (Lard)
- Wash the pork belly fat thoroughly to get rid of dirt
- Cut the fat into small pieces. Cutting into small pieces ensures the fat is rendered quickly and evenly.
- Transfer the fat pieces into a saucepan and place them on heat. Remember that you can use an oven as well. Using an oven for rendering pork belly fat into lard may take longer than using a stove but you don’t have to be checking on it as you do when using a stove.
- To the saucepan, add 1/4 cup of water to the fat. Don’t worry about the water, it is to prevent direct heating of the fat by the pan, this way, the lard turns purely white and not yellow. Directly heating the fat without adding water turns the final color of the lard to yellow – which some people do not like. Direct heating also burns the covering film/layer that wraps around the fat, this makes the lard have some black particles in it. So adding some water while rendering the fat is important.
- Allow the fat to simmer on LOW heat for about 30 minutes. The cooking time may vary depending on the amount of pork belly fat you’ve got. Once the lard is formed, you will notice the water has evaporated, the fat is rendered with cracklings floating over it.
- Gently scoop some of the cracklings off. You can use them as a side dish or simply chew them directly if you like.
- Allow the hot liquid lard to cool down a bit. You don’t want it to cool down completely because it will turn solid and you will have some particles of the cracklings in it.
- Using a stainless steel container and a metallic sieve or strainer, place cheesecloth over the strainer and gently pour the rendered fat over it. Strain the liquid lard and then leave it to cool down completely. For faster cooling, you can place it in the fridge or freezer. Your liquid lard turns into a white solid when allowed to stand at room temperature.
Storage and Preservation
When the lard is made at home or when you buy some shortening and have opened it, always store it in the fridge or freezer after using part of it. This prevents it from becoming rancid (getting bad). When stored in the fridge, it can last for 3 months or even more when stored in the freezer. Though hydrogenated solidified oil (vegetable shortening) does no require refrigeration.
What are examples of shortening?
- Crisco (a hydrogenated solidified oil common in the US.); is made by hydrogenation of palm oil and soybean oil. Crisco is a popular vegetable shortening in the United States of America; in Ireland and the United Kingdom, Trex is common; while in Australia, copha (made from coconut oil) is popular.
Vegetable Shortening Substitutes
Substitutes for hydrogenated solidified oil include butter, lard, or vegetable oils such as peanut oil. Lard is the best substitute for crumbly texture in recipes and should be used in a lesser amount when baking (you can deduct 2 tbsp from 1 cup of lard in a recipe that you require 1 cup of hydrogenated solidified oil).
Cooking oils such as peanut oil or coconut oil can serve as substitutes for hydrogenated solidified oil in frying or cooking but not in baking. Butter or margarine should be used in the same amount as hydrogenated solidified oil in recipes; though butter gives a crispier texture to baked foods.
- Used in baking for recipes such as Jamaican beef patties, cakes, and meat pies. When used in baking, a lump of hydrogenated solidified oil is not just added but rather, it is cut into smaller sizes with a knife to prevent adding too much to the flour which may affect the overall recipe.
- Shortening keeps baked recipes soft without drying
- Used for frying because of its high smoke point
- Can be used for greasing baking pans prior to adding dough or batter.
- For icing or frosting that is white and fluffy in appearance and can withstand heat better than frosting made from butter.
- Used as a substitute for butter in vegan recipes that require butter.