Lard vs. Butter

There’s good news and bad news here, though overall it seems the scales tip in lard’s direction. Calorie-wise, lard has more of them, about 15% more, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that butter is about 15% water. Compositionally, though, there are certain factors that make lard more desirable, at least based on the (ehem) current thinking of many researchers and nutritionists.

Fat, you see, is not a uniform substance. It’s made up of lipid molecules of many different configurations. As I’ve mentioned many times before, lipids are basically “E”-shaped molecules, consisting of a “backbone” of glycerol and three fatty acids. The fatty acids attached to the backbone are all different from one another, and more than that, vary from molecule to molecule. Where molecules in a fat have similar structures, they will often form solid crystals. Others won’t. It’s this mixture of solids and liquids that gives fats like butter and lard their semi-solid consistency.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts on fats, fats that are saturated tend to be firm at room temperature, those that are unsaturated tend to be liquid (for a helpful metaphor on that subject, see this post on shortening and oil). Unsaturated fats, it’s thought, are better for you, said to have the effect of raising the so-called “good cholesterol” in the body.

Butter has unsaturated fats in its lipid mix, but it has more saturated fats. Lard is just the reverse, more unsaturated fats than saturated fats, which makes it a “better fat” as the present-day thinking goes. It’s even said that the saturated fats that are present in lard have a neutral effect on the “bad” cholesterol in the body. I don’t know about that. Come to think of it, I don’t know about any of it, for according to the results of the Women’s Health Initiative study, none of it really matters to your health anyway. But what are you gonna do?

Personally, I don’t think it really matters which fat is “better for you” and which fat is “worse”. Splitting hairs over it, to me, makes no sense whatsoever. Eat happily but moderately, and exercise, and I can’t see how a body can go wrong.

18 thoughts on “Lard vs. Butter”

  1. Agree very strongly with that last sentence, Joe. I’ve stopped paying too much attention to all this research. It only interests me when I can use a new piece of information to my advantage. I would also be careful with the findings of the Women’s Health Initiative (by no means a “final word” on anything) – men and women do not share the exact same cardiovascular system, at least not when it gets down to the finer details, so these findings may not apply as readily to males. Also, I have been eating one meal a day for just over 8 years and have a scale at home that measures body composition. I can assure you from repeated trials that a meal of tiger prawns (or lobster) all else held equal shall result in far greater fat and bodyweight loss than a rib-eye steak (over the 24-hour period that follows). I am only one person and so my “findings” are by no means scientific, blah, blah. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a little common sense goes a long way – I wouldn’t waste too much time with a lot of these studies because you must balance so many factors all at once – one finding will never add up to much when considered in isolation. Your emotional well-being probably affects your longevity and quality of life more than any dietary considerations, so don’t worry be happy etc., etc., and on that note I think I’ll go bake me some rich butter cake and slather it with bucket-loads of ganache made with some heavy English cream (theirs is 48% ;-)). Now that’s an initiative worth blabbing about.

    1. Oooh, invite me over for THAT cake. I just got done referee-ing roller derby. Personally, I’m with Joe that we don’t exercise nearly enough to eat the way we do. That being said, I’d still rather go skate two hours a few times a week and ride my bike everywhere than give up my pastries and butter.

        1. Yeah, and roller derby also makes all of that padding you’re shedding necessary. A lot less safety gear than hockey (which I play during the winter).

          As for geography, I’m in Wyoming. It’s always a bit of a challenge. I may have to make one of those cakes myself.

          1. I was going to guess Minnesota! A roller derby-loving baker in Wyoming. Who knew?

            Nice to know you, Dawn!

            – Joe

    2. Great comment, OB! Very observant. I shall be careful what stats I cite in the future.

      Cheer and enjoy the cake! 😉

      – Joe

      1. Woops. Perhaps I need to express myself better in the future. I wasn’t being critical, Joe. I guess what I meant to say was that you need to look at the bigger picture, apply some common sense, and figure out what works for you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think you are a good writer.
        Dawn, I’d love to share that cake, but that might be a bit challenging (geographically).

        1. Oh heck, OB, you didn’t offend me if that’s what you’re thinking! I’m being genuine when I say I’ll think a little harder about the WHI in the future. I didn’t consider that men and women’s cardiovascular systems are a little different. Rates of heart disease and age of onset would indicate that. I haven’t been as rigorous in my thinking as I should be — and I genuinely appreciate you pointing out my blind spots!


          – Joe

  2. AMEN. “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

    Thank you so much for all of the informative posts on lard! I’m about to embark on some experimental lard-based cakes for a client with a casein allergy. I’m pretty confident about the butter to lard substitution in the cake, but I’m a little less sure about what to do for the icing. Since lard can make icing really soft and messy, and I can’t use dairy at ALL, all I can think of is either a glaze, fruit topping, or some kind of marshmallow/meringue topping… I’d rather not use margerine, but what’s that they say about beggers and choosers?

    Do you have any icing suggestions?

    Thanks again!

    1. Scratch that. The cake needs to be casein-free (no dairy), gluten-free, AND soy-free, as well as hydrogenated oil-free. So that leaves Earth Balance’s “butter,” which is void of all of the above. That, or a simple sugar glaze.


    2. There’s always shortening, Helena!

      And thanks very much for all the kind words!

      – Joe

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