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Know Your Fats. Yummy, yummy fats.
June 22, 2009 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Fats, whether from plant sources or animals, have been in use in cooking for a long time. Olive oil's history goes back 7 millenia and palm oil has a history dating back to 3000 BCE. Once widely used in place of butter during the 19th century, lard is finally making a comeback (and you can easily make your own). Schmaltz, the Jewish lard alternative, will probably never rebound as a food, although the word itself is still popular (to describe something that is overly sentimental). Although fat in general has a negative connotation, you need fat to survive and there are good fats and bad fats.

If your food has nutritional info on it, it's likely going to split up the fats into saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and, possibly, trans fats. What are all of these different kind of fats (literally fatty acids)? It all has to do with two of the major "ingredients" of fat, carbon and hydrogen:
Saturated fat
So named because they are "saturated" with hydrogen atoms (every carbon atom in the chain bonds with 2 hydrogen atoms). These are typically solid at room temperature. They raise your cholesterol (specifically, the "unhealthy" LDL cholesterol).
Monounsaturated fat
Instead of bonding with 2 hydrogen atoms, one of the carbon atom bonds to only one other hydrogen atom and has one (hence, "mono-") double bond with another carbon atom. Monounsaturated fats raise "healthy" HDL cholesterol while lowering bad cholesterol. Olive oil, high in monounsaturated fats, is one of the factors in the apparent benefits of the so-called "Mediterranean Diet".
Polyunsaturated fat
More than one carbon has a double bond with another carbon atom (hence, "poly"). They lower bad cholesterol.
Trans fat
The name comes from the trans-isomer bond that the carbon atoms have with the hydrogen atom (the hydrogen atoms are on opposite sides of the carbon atom chain). Generally, these are unsaturated fats which are hydrogenated (altered to hold more hydrogen atoms). Trans fats both raise bad and lower good cholesterol.
posted by Deathalicious (48 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am not a chemist, so I may have gotten the carbon and hydrogen details wrong. If any chemists or food scientists out there want to correct or elaborate. I posted this because I was always curious about what the different kinds of fats really were so I decided to do a little research and then post it here.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:23 AM on June 22, 2009


Oh, and this is probably as good a place as any to mention grebenes, the Jewish version of cracklins.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2009


Links that fell through the cracks: two olive oil museums, one in Spain and one in Italy, and the Vegetable Oil blog.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:34 AM on June 22, 2009


That "good fats and bad fats" link is a regurgitation of market propaganda that really needs to die. Saturated fats are not the work of the devil, and in fact our rejection of them in our food -in favour of far more harmful polyunsaturated vegetable oils - is likely the prime factor in our massive rate of heart disease in the west.

http://www.thescreamonline.com/essays/essays5-1/vegoil.html

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/guest-post-by-modern-forager-the-tropical-oils/
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:49 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Eschew butter and lard, die anyway.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Eponysterical.
posted by tawny at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plain boiled chickpeas with a little salt and pepper, crisped up in a pan with a little hot schmaltz = heaven. Trust me.
posted by maudlin at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ahh, yes Griebenschmalz (grebenes schmaltz). Here in Germany the festive bird of choice is more often a goose than a turkey. Geese often are quite fatty an perfect for making this slightly naughty (healthwise) bread spread. (And it gets prinkled with salt, too. But at least it's most often a dark bread with lots of fiber).
posted by mmkhd at 9:53 AM on June 22, 2009


Eschew butter and lard, die anyway sad.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:53 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, I've not seen it yet, but the documentary "Fat Head" offers a brief explanation of how our myths surrounding fat came about.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:54 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thank you, now I miss the great home cooked kosher meals I used to have at so many friends' houses growing up. Schmaltz in everything you can imagine. Took me YEARS to figure out that's what so many of my attempts to make those dishes I remembered were missing.
posted by strixus at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2009


Eschew butter and lard, die anyway.

Sounds like a great reason to drink sewage. I mean, you're going to die anyway, right?
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2009


The lard works in mysterious ways
posted by Flashman at 10:18 AM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I experimented with lard for the first time this year. I was actually surprised that I didn't like it more. To me it only tastes better in some very specific applications, like pie crust or some brown gravies. I tried replacing butter / margarine with it and found that in most cases the butter or margarine tasted better to me.
posted by XMLicious at 10:20 AM on June 22, 2009


Polish smalec is the most delicious thing in the world. Who can say no to delicious pork lard with crunchy bacon bits?
posted by Meatbomb at 10:21 AM on June 22, 2009


I can't say no to that!
posted by Mister_A at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2009


Kandarp Von Bontee: That "good fats and bad fats" link is a regurgitation of market propaganda that really needs to die. Saturated fats are not the work of the devil, and in fact our rejection of them in our food -in favour of far more harmful polyunsaturated vegetable oils - is likely the prime factor in our massive rate of heart disease in the west.

I've been pondering for a while that official advice about nutrition can be pretty arbitrary, with just about any point you can imagine having plenty of supporters and detractors. Possibly because our digestion and nutrition are so complicated that its hard to get any reliable answers (e.g. I've heard that pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc, unless you eat them with nuts, in which case the zinc doesn't get absorbed -- what kind of research is needed to establish a fact like that? Is it more likely someone just made it up?)

So Kandarps comment is yet another example - saturated fats might turn out to be good after all, and vegetable fat might be killing us.

So are there any nutrition heavyweights here who can help me out?

Is the science of nutrition completely all over the place, pulled this way and that by fads, industry and experimental bias? Or is there reliable knowledge we can use with confidence?
posted by memebake at 10:24 AM on June 22, 2009


The Problem with Palm Oil
posted by homunculus at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2009


A particular problem with unsaturated fats is that they rancidize much more easily than saturated fats; studies which use lab grade materials will not account for how real foods containing these molecules tend to be handled and prepared.
posted by localroger at 10:37 AM on June 22, 2009


Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


[Duly favorited because fat is one of my favorite things.]
posted by slogger at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2009


That "good fats and bad fats" link is a regurgitation of market propaganda that really needs to die. Saturated fats are not the work of the devil, and in fact our rejection of them in our food -in favour of far more harmful polyunsaturated vegetable oils - is likely the prime factor in our massive rate of heart disease in the west.

You state that like it's settled science when, in fact, it's a highly controversial claim.
posted by TungstenChef at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


So I've read up on the schmaltz, and I'm curious; is beef suet or tallow not kosher?
posted by boo_radley at 10:56 AM on June 22, 2009


For vegans who feel left out, I present to you Nyafat, the vegetarian alternative to schmaltz. Of course, again, you can always make your own vegetarian Schmaltz.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:59 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Skinny on Fats, by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon
(of The Weston A. Price Foundation )
posted by Auden at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2009


I have always been interested in how olives, which have been cultivated from prehistoric times, became known as a foodstuff in the first place. Glenn Burgess wrote,

What makes eating olives particularly fascinating is that even when ripe, they are inedible without significant processing. What makes them so bitter is the glucoside known as oleuropein, a natural chemical constituent of olives. Curing leaches out the glucoside and leaves you with an edible fruit. Who would have thought to take something inedible and either soak it in water for months (water curing), soak it in lye and then salt brine for a week (lye curing), or pack it in salt for a few weeks (dry curing). Then, who had the nerve to taste it?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


If any chemists or food scientists out there want to correct or elaborate. I posted this because I was always curious about what the different kinds of fats really were so I decided to do a little research and then post it here.

A post as a question. Usually, such are askmetafilter. However, with the "bit of research" part, it means it gets posted in the main section, since it is no longer simply a question. The larger issue is, what is the value added in this particular case. A quick blast hitting google.com is not useful here, because there is no real research, just disparate links on a topic that is extremely fraught with uncertainty. The science is unsettled. When I saw this post, I thought I'd read a breakthrough that would pull together the story of fats and their function in the human diet, or at least a big part of it. Instead, nothing new, nothing illuminating. Best of the web? I want to emphasize, this is not meant as a criticism of the OP or the post - none of us can specialists on every single topic, so while any particular topic will be old hat to some, it will be welcome information to the rest. If only the information was reliable. Here, it is not - random links, with random claims. Again, not a criticism, because the topic is so scientifically unsettled. The question arises, if it is so unsettled, why post it, when the info is bound to be unreliable? My point here: just a heads up, don't take anything in these links as gospel and don't make diet choices based on this info. As fodder for discussion - great - and I thank the OP.
posted by VikingSword at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Almost all the vegetable oils we eat come from the seeds of the plants that produce them-- and that's the problem.

Breaking the seed open and digesting the oil therein kills the seed, and plants have evolved many, many mechanisms and strategies to penalize animals which do this. It should come as no surprise to us, therefore, that eating these oils has untoward health effects. Refining the oils often eliminates outright toxins or reduces toxicity to tolerable levels, but more subtle deleterious effects, I believe, are built into the very structures of lots of the oils as a kind of plan B.

Plants often depend on animals to disperse their seeds, however, so many fruits have evolved to be health-giving and nutritious, as long as the animal that consumes them does not digest the seed. The bitterness of most fruits in their unripe state can be seen as an attempt by the plant to protect the seed until it has developed enough to survive a trip through an animal's digestive tract unscathed.

Olive oil is the only readily available oil I know of which comes from the flesh of the fruit rather than the seed, and I don't think it's any coincidence that olive oil is the most celebrated and various of the edible plant-derived oils.

I read through the links in high hopes of discovering alternatives to olive oil which are also fruit-flesh derived, but I was disappointed (avocado oil is pressed from the seed, not the flesh of the fruit, though I have often wondered whether an edible oil could be refined from the flesh of the avocado).
posted by jamjam at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


My point here: just a heads up, don't take anything in these links as gospel and don't make diet choices based on this info.

Too late, already finished my schmalz-and-olive-oil milkshake.
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh, and this is probably as good a place as any to mention grebenes, the Jewish version of cracklins.

I make them every once and a while at work and call tell you that they are delicious. We have an eighteen year-old dishwasher who can easily devour all the fried skins from a twenty pound case of chickens if given the opportunity. We render the schmaltz and find a few uses for it but it's one of those menu words that most people are pretty wary of. Spätzle pan-fried in schmaltz is heavenly in my book and capers fried in schmaltz make a tasty pizza topping.
posted by peeedro at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Breaking the seed open and digesting the oil therein kills the seed, and plants have evolved many, many mechanisms and strategies to penalize animals which do this

Um, we are monkeys. If you have not yet noticed, we are smarter than the plants.
posted by longsleeves at 12:03 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I slow cooked bacon last month; 5 hours at 200F over a tray. The rendered fat was clear and almost odour free. Just for the hell of it, my wife used it to make oatmeal cookies. Excellent mouthfeel but I must say that the very slight bacony taste didn't really work very well with oatmeal. Next time we'll use it for savory pie crust.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:13 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


The excellent Sammy's Roumanian in lower Manhattan still puts a pitcher of schmaltz on the table. (Next to the frozen bottle of vodka.) The chicken fat clogs your arteries and the vodka clears 'em out again.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:31 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


As an example of why I warned not to act on any information in these links for you diet, look at olive oil. Olive oil and monounsaturated oils in general, are "celebrated" as healthy and it is speculated that the mediterranean diet's health effect is due in large part to OO. You'd think at least the olive oil part would be settled then. And you'd think wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only is it far from settled, it may be actively bad for you. In fact, do you realize that the specific fatty acid effect of olive oil has never been studied in clinical trials? Absolutely shocking, but true. All studies that claim the benefits are population based speculative comparative studies, which have very low scientific value. And the clinical experiments that were conducted, were conducted in animals (f.ex. monkeys) - and the effects were disastrous. Not good. Not good at all. As a result, many scientists are calling for an urgent re-tuning of the dietary message, away from olive oil and more toward polyunsaturated fatty acids. There is evidence that olive oil can be worse for you than the already very bad saturated fat in accelerating atherosclerosis. Here is a good study which I'll only quote parts of (copyright issues), but look it up if you have access to the whole. I'll highlight the relevant passages.

Martijn B Katan
Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and coronary heart disease
Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89:1283-84. First published online March 25, 2009

Quotes:

"Remarkably, subjects with a high intake of monounsaturated fatty acids (oleic acid) experienced significantly more coronary events than did those with a high intake of saturated fatty acids."

"In countries in which olive oil is the main source, a high monounsaturated fatty acid intake is associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease.

Nonetheless, these data raise some concern about the advice to eat a Mediterranean diet. The low rate of coronary heart disease in Crete 50 y ago, when olive oil was a staple food, is suggestive, but such population comparisons do not constitute evidence-based medicine. The only experimental evidence we have on monounsaturated fatty acids comes from studies of blood lipids and other biomarkers. There are no clinical trials of monounsaturated fatty acids. In animal experiments, monkeys experienced as much atherosclerosis on diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids as when consuming diets rich in saturated fatty acids (3). Extrapolations of such studies to humans are problematic, but it does stress that the scientific basis for monounsaturated fatty acids is incomplete."


Major types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies.
Jakobsen MU, O'Reilly EJ, Heitmann BL, Pereira MA, Bälter K, Fraser GE, Goldbourt U, Hallmans G, Knekt P, Liu S, Pietinen P, Spiegelman D, Stevens J, Virtamo J, Willett WC, Ascherio A.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb 11. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 19211817

"Objective: We investigated associations between energy intake from monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and carbohydrates and risk of CHD while assessing the potential effect-modifying role of sex and age. Using substitution models, our aim was to clarify whether energy from unsaturated fatty acids or carbohydrates should replace energy from SFAs to prevent CHD.

[...]

Conclusion: The associations suggest that replacing SFAs with PUFAs rather than MUFAs or carbohydrates prevents CHD over a wide range of intakes."


So, you see, even what you thought you knew had the most evidence for it: that olive oil is good for you, is wrong, according to respected researchers. It may in fact be even worse for you than the already horrific saturated fats. What's true for olive oil is doubly and triply true for the other oils discussed in these links - we know even less about them, and the field continues to be extremely unsettled. And that's the trouble with throwing up just a random collection of links to superficial regurgitation of outdated mantras - it does not inform even in the least, but has potential to do real harm if taken seriously.
posted by VikingSword at 12:49 PM on June 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


So far, nobody has mentioned ghee....delicious naan wouldn't be the same without it.
posted by Edgewise at 1:57 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


No mention of Ambergris, brought to us by Roseanne, our Guide to the World of Facts?

The first time I saw that, I thought she said "Your guide to the world of fats", which is why I'm posting this.
Precious Hamburgers?

posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:17 PM on June 22, 2009


I just bought some leaf lard for the first time, and it is amazing for seasoning cast iron pans, and rescuing low-fat poultry sausages from complete flavorlessness by adding a little to the frying pan when browning. Leaf lard is from the fat in the folds around the kidney and loin, and supposedly has a more neutral flavor (still a faint whiff of meat to it). From what I understand of food history it was what people used to make pie crusts (other than butter) until vegetable shortening came along.

Any discussion of oils in food is incomplete without mentioning smoke points (click the right column to sort by temperature).
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:30 PM on June 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Who can say no to delicious pork lard with crunchy bacon bits?

I can say "no" to that — well, "no" in between "devour with" and "mercy".

Did someone say bacon bits?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:33 PM on June 22, 2009


Ok, this thread is getting batshitinsane. Before starting to propose lard as a healthier alternative to vegetable oils in general and olive oil in particular, please start by providing a credible alternative explanation for the blatant divergence in cardiovascular disease between Northern and Southern Europe. Geez.
posted by Skeptic at 12:14 AM on June 23, 2009


Oh god, schmaltz.

Over here in Paris, it is very common for the volailliers (poultry butchers) to have a big rotisserie oven on the street in front of their store or next to their booth in the neighborhood street market. There are usually 6 or 7 rows of spits turning at any time, each spit stacked with 6-8 chickens. All of that fat drips down to the bottom of the roaster, where it collects as lightly goldened gold. If you ask nicely, when you buy your roast chicken the volailler will also put a ladle-full of those drippings in your bag.

But they go one step further: they put little potatoes at the bottom of the roaster, which slowly roast in the molten chicken fat. Yes.

Once every few weeks, I buy a small-ish roast chicken from my local volailler and stuff myself silly with chicken. Then I spend my remaining moments of consciousness sopping up the puddle of chicken fat with fresh French bread. If you shot me at that moment, I would bleed schmaltz.

So schmaltz is like my kryptonite or something. Let's say things were all "Dawn of the Dead" and I was running away from zombies ; if I came across a golden-roasted chicken, you would see me a few moments later, happily chomping down on the crunchy skin while zombies are feasting on my brain. I swear.
posted by LMGM at 12:20 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is not a thin post.
posted by vanar sena at 5:57 AM on June 23, 2009


Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Like what localroger said upthread, fats/oils can be a very fastidious product and can be affected by production, shipping, and storage. So I may be a little leery of somebody who trots out "everything we know is wrong!" until they lay down a more nuanced discourse.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:23 AM on June 23, 2009


affected by production, shipping, and storage.

AND it's usage.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:31 AM on June 23, 2009


Before starting to propose lard as a healthier alternative to vegetable oils in general and olive oil in particular, please start by providing a credible alternative explanation for the blatant divergence in cardiovascular disease between Northern and Southern Europe. Geez.

Well, the problem is that we really just have very little idea. Most nutritional information we have is based on flawed studies, ie, cultural observation, where it's difficult to tease out the effects of specific foods, or long-term studies that are often crippled by the fact that it's almost impossible to get a large group to people to accurately and precisely track their diets over a long period of time.

But if I had to wager a guess, I'd say it has to do with significantly higher levels of non-starchy vegetable consumption.

But they go one step further: they put little potatoes at the bottom of the roaster, which slowly roast in the molten chicken fat. Yes.

I have this favorite roast chicken recipe (try it). It comes out really great, but the problem is that you cook the chicken at 450F, which results in a lot of smoke in the kitchen. So last time I made it, I decided to cover the bottom of the roasting pan with a layer of thin, sliced potatoes. Oh. My. God. They basically fried in the schmaltz, and turned into the best french fries (almost like potato chips, really) I've ever had in my life. I highly recommend this. Oh yeah, and it also reduces the smokiness in your kitchen
posted by lunasol at 11:54 AM on June 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Spatchcock the chicken and you get Crisp-Skin High-Roast Butterflied Chicken with Potatoes. So, so good. Hm. It's been a long time since we did a chicken...
posted by Lexica at 1:32 PM on June 23, 2009


Spatchcock is the work of the devil. I just had to spatch goddamn quail for an exam.

Yes I aced it but fuck.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:47 PM on June 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The way a spatchcocked bird looks, you'd think it just involves hitting it with the broad side of a pan.

My mom (who is a pathologist and thus good with knives for all the creepiest reasons) used to take small chickens, de-bone the whole thing from the inside out in one piece, and then stuff them with a mixture of chestnuts and onions and bread and Kahlua and roast 'em good. That was our "alternative" Thanksgiving meal, since my mother never really understood all the fuss about turkey.

*giggle*, spatchcock.
posted by LMGM at 6:06 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


That sounds heavenly. The thing about spatchcocking heh heh is that you also remove the wishbone (which I imagine for a pathologist is easy as all hell) as well as the thighbones. I can't even begin to imagine doing the latter with an intact bird.

I may have to try :D
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:48 PM on June 25, 2009


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