Lard, the new Super Food?
Hola! My name is Jessica, and I am one of the five apprentices of the 2016 crew. Health and food are two very important topics I hold dear to my heart and are in my everyday thoughts. Essentially these are some of the main reasons why I decided to come to Costa Rica and apply for the 11 month apprenticeship at Rancho Mastatal. Some of my many roles here as an apprentice are harvesting, processing, and creating the delicious food we serve here at the ranch.
Everything we eat at the Ranch is homemade or made from scratch as we'd say on the east coast of the United States. It takes a lot of time, and is made with a lot of love, which makes it taste even better. Since I am someone who cares a lot about what is going into my body, I became very interested in how our food is grown, where it is coming from, and how it is being cooked.
During my first interview with Tim and Robin in the summer of 2014, they mentioned that the food at the Ranch is cooked in lard within the mix of all the details about the apprenticeship. After our hour long interview, the only thing that left me puzzled was the conversation on lard, and why would a sustainable center that grows such healthy food cook with lard?
What do you think about when you hear the word, Lard? Before coming to Rancho Mastatal I thought of lard as a sludgy, disgusting fat that was seemingly the most unhealthy thing you could put into your body and would make you obese. The name alone sent chills down my spine. All I could think about was a Family Guy episode where Peter chugged a whole barrel of lard and went from fit, skinny Peter back to overweight Peter. I never pictured cooking with or eating lard in my future. Tim assured me that the Ranch did their research on lard and it was the most sustainable and practical option for them. Feeling intrigued to learn more about this mysterious lard, I decided to dive into the research and see for myself. Was lard really unhealthy? Could it be a sustainable cooking oil? How does it compare to other cooking oils? These were some of the questions I set out to answer.
While conducting research using the Ranch's food cookbooks and articles about lard, I learned about the American history of lard. Did you know a hundred years ago lard was found in every household and was a big money maker within the meat packing industry? At the time, animal fats were the main use for all pan frying, until the invention of the light bulb. What does the light bulb have to do with lard?
Well, Procter & Gamble, a candle and soap making company, had all this extra oil from dropping candle sales and they needed to find a way to use the extra cotton seed oil. In 1907 a German chemist, E. C. Kayer came to Procter & Gambles' company with his invention of hydrogenated cotton seed oil. It looked and cooked like lard and it was cheaper than the American household staple. They called it Crisco. With an amazing marketing roll-out including advertisements, demonstrations, and free cookbooks promoting the use and purchase of this hydrogenated vegetable shortening, soon Crisco was all anyone was talking about. To top it off, in the 1950s, scientists claimed saturated fats, such as lard, caused heart disease which made consumers switch to the new vegetable shortening substitute.
Most of America soon ditched lard from their homes and restaurants. Today's health studies now say having a moderate consumption of saturated fat in your diet is not unhealthy. For example, coconut oil is a popular oil to cook with today and it has an 86% saturated fat level.
Given what we know now; why is lard the best choice for Rancho Mastatal and its guests? First, lard is local! We know exactly where it is coming from and it is very fresh. Secondly, we are supporting a small butcher in Puriscal, the closest town to Mastatal. The Ranch does all we can to eat only local and support small businesses. And finally, and most importantly, the taste test. The taste of a homemade falafel or yuca bammie made with pig lard is in no comparison to one cooked in sunflower seed oil. In a normal week, our meals are made with only vegetarian ingredients and the cooked dishes are sauteed in our local pig lard. We have all kinds of guests visiting the ranch for a tour or to take one of our amazing workshops, and between 5-10% of them are vegetarian or vegan. We always ask our guests if they have any dietary restrictions, some decide to opt out of trying our local based diet and instead have their food cooked in a mass produced sunflower seed oil. As a former vegetarian, I understand the reasons to not eat meat products, especially when you don't know where it is coming from.
Here at the Ranch we know where everything we eat comes from and it feels good knowing we are eating as sustainable as possible. Pig lard has a respectable 40% saturated fat and 45% unsaturated fat compared to butter which has a 60% saturated fat and 23% unsaturated fat. For our vegetarian and vegan guests, we use non GMO sunflower seed oil which has 13% saturated fat, 24% unsaturated fat, and a not so well known active ingredient TBHQ- 0.02%.
TBHQ is a chemical cleaning agent and stabilizer to keep the oil from going rancid due to the low percentage of saturated fat in the vegetable oil. Most vegetable oils have low saturated fats and need to be chemically altered to preserve the oil, especially oils that are okay to use at higher cooking temperatures. Lard on the other hand can sit at a room temperature without any alterations. With limited knowledge about the mysterious TBHQ and its health risks, the decision to cook with local lard seems to be a no-brain-er.
Since the Ranch takes such pride in what we grow, source, process, cook and eat, I thought it would be only fair to bring awareness to our future guests and reveal the reasoning behind why we cook our meals with pig lard. It feels good knowing our food is always fresh, we know where it's coming from, and have the opportunity to build strong relationships with the people who grow and process the food we put on our plate. With one bite of our homemade corn empanadas cooked to a crispy perfection, you will understand our love for locally sourced lard.
On Food and Cooking: The science and Lore of the Kitchen, Pages 799-802, Harold McGee
NEWS AND NOTES
We are planning some exciting new workshops for 2017 on plant propagation, soil re-mineralization, forestry and more. Keep an eye on the calendar for new additions. We still have space in the following workshops.
- Timber-Frame Construction--January 18th to 27th, 2017
- Earthen Walls, Plasters, and Artistry--April 11 to 22nd, 2017
We also have a few spots left in our Sustainability Primer program. If you know anyone interested in joining us please spread the word!
The Ranch Crew