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Is Lard Vegetarian? A Nutritional, Dietary, and Culinary Overview

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Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

Hey there! Are you a vegetarian who’s been wondering whether lard is fair game for your diet?

It’s a valid question, considering that lard is derived from animal fat. While it may seem like an obvious answer, the truth about whether or not lard is appropriate for a vegetarian can be a bit more complicated than you might think. 

When it comes to cooking, there are a wide variety of ingredients that are used to add flavor and texture to dishes. One of these ingredients is lard, a type of fat that is derived from pigs.

Lard has been used in cooking for centuries, but its status as a vegetarian ingredient can pose some confusion. In this blog post, we will explore the question, “Is lard vegetarian?”

In this article, we’ll explore what lard is and how it’s made to help you determine if it aligns with your dietary choices. So let’s get into it!

Vegetarianism and Animal Products

Remember, you decide what you’re comfortable eating, not someone else’s definition or interpretation.  That being said, there are some general definitions or descriptions, of different types of vegetarians or other people that avoid various animal products.

Here are some different categories of vegetarians:

  • Vegan – excludes all animal products, including honey and, sometimes, figs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian – excludes animal products that require the animal to die.  They include dairy (lacto) and eggs (ovo)
  • Lactovegetarian – includes dairy, but not eggs.
  • Ovovegetarian – includes eggs, but not dairy.
  • Pescatarian – includes fish but no other animal flesh.
  • Pollovegetarian – includes chicken/poultry, and sometimes fish, but no other animal flesh.
  • Flexitarian – eats primarily vegetarian but does include meat under certain circumstances, such as special occasions, with low frequency, or other determiners that vary from person to person. The Mediterranean Diet is an example of a Flexitarian diet pattern.

Most people following the above categories will avoid lard, perhaps with the exception of the flexitarian.

What is Lard?

Lard is essentially pure pork fat. It is often chosen for the high smoke point, texture in the final product, and the mild flavor that it can add to the recipe.

Lard tends to be fairly neutral in flavor and smell compared to bacon grease, meaning we have the potential of finding vegetarian substitutes that won’t lose a lot of flavor.

Lard is white, solid at room temperature, and has a waxy consistency.

How is Lard Made?

More specifically, lard is fat harvested from the back and around the kidneys of the pig. In contrast, bacon fat is procured from the belly of the pig. It is then rendered.

Rendering fat means that the manufacturer removes any water from the fat to make it more shelf-stable. It also makes the product consistent and predictable to use in cooking and baking.

Nutritional Information About Lard

Like other cooking fats, lard is almost 100% fat.

Gram for gram, butter, lard, olive oil, shortening, and more all contain the same amount of calories, or energy.  What changes is the proportion of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats, as well as various trace nutrients. 

For our purposes, we’ll focus on the types of fat first.

Lard contains roughly 40% saturated fat,  45% monounsaturated fat, and 15% polyunsaturated fat. See some comparisons to other cooking fats below.

Fat% Saturated Fat% Monounsaturated Fat% Polyunsaturated Fat
Lard404515
Coconut Oil8362
Butter46173
Ghee60364
Vegetable Shortening254128
Margarine172524
Olive Oil15709
Avocado Oil127114
Canola Oil76325
Source; results are rounded, and may account for values not equaling 100%

It is important to remember that the breakdown of fats in a cooking fat is only part of the story. 

Trace compounds in the fat, the frequency the various fats are eaten, other components of your diet, genetics, and other lifestyle factors all work together to determine your health outcomes.

Seeking help from a dietitian that knows you and your medical history well can help you determine what cooking fats are appropriate for you.

Which Foods Commonly Include Lard

Because of its fairly neutral flavor and high smoke and melting points, lard has a wide range of uses in traditional cooking. British, Chinese, Central European, and Mexican cuisine all feature lard in traditional recipes.  Here are some examples of recipes that traditionally contain lard:

  • Mince pie
  • Frying fat for fish and chips
  • Christmas puddings – more similar to our fruit cakes in the US
  • Liver pate
  • Spanish coca – a breakfast pastry
  • Several European countries have a version of “lardy bread” or pork drippings sandwiches
  • Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, and parts of China serve dishes roughly translated to “lard rice,” essentially rice, lard, and soy sauce.
  • Japanese ramen often contains fatback lard.
  • Lard is a common cooking fat for stir-fries and deep-fried dishes in many parts of Asia
  • Germans use plain or seasoned lard as a spread for bread. However, vegetarian versions became popular during economic hardship and are still easy to find.
  • A common Polish appetizer is lard mixed with fruit (such as chopped apple), then spread on thick cut bread.
  • Mexican refried beans traditionally contain lard. Make them yourself, or choose one labeled vegetarian or fat-free at the grocery store.
  • Medialunes, the Argentinian version of croissants, are made with lard instead of butter and often topped with a rum-and-sugar glaze.
  • Svíčková is a Czech dish of marinated beef served with carrots, celeriac, and parsley root.
  • Piadina Romagnola an Italian sandwich that was once called “the bread of poverty, humanity, and freedom.” The flatbread recipe includes lard.
  • Spanish and Portuguese Migas include a base of softened bread cooked in lard.
  • Mexican tortillas often contain lard. Most commercial products found in grocery stores do not, but you may want to ask if the restaurant is making its own.

In addition to food, lard may be found in biofuels and soaps. It can also be used as a lubricant for some large machines, though this is less common now.  In the past, lard was also used in industrial fermenting processes, such as brewing, but newer products are now used instead.

Why Lard is Not Vegetarian

Because lard comes from an animal, it is definitely not vegan. And because the pig must be slaughtered to get lard, it is not considered a vegetarian product either.

Additionally, lard is not appropriate for many that adhere to religious dietary restrictions, such as halal and kosher laws.

Ultimately, the decision to include lard in your diet depends on your own ideology.

People choose to exclude animal products for a variety of reasons. The differences in those reasons will likely be the determining factor in whether or not a person that considers themselves a vegetarian opts to eat an animal product that isn’t technically meat.

Vegetarian and Vegan Alternatives to Lard

Butter/Ghee – butter is likely the vegetarian cooking fat that most mimics lard, as it comes from an animal source. The higher melting point and dairy flavor are often desired in certain dishes, but won’t overpower seasonings in other dishes. 

Butter would likely work better than liquid fat sources for baking.

The other fats on this list are all vegan-friendly.

Vegetable Shortening – you will sometimes find shortening under the name “vegetable lard.”  Shortening has no flavor, so if you use it in your food to replace lard, you may need to adjust your seasonings considerably.  Some people like to mix shortening with butter for this reason.

Because shortening is solid at room temperature, it makes a better choice for baking than oils unless the recipe specifically calls for a liquid fat source.

Margarine/Vegan Butter – made to mimic butter, margarine and/or vegan butters will make a good option to spread on toast or other breads. Most margarines available today do not contain hydrogenated oil (trans fat), but be sure to check the label.

Coconut oil and palm oil – these are both plant oils that are high in saturated fat, so they are naturally solid at room temperature. Coconut oil is easier to find but does impart a coconut taste that is usually noticeable in the final recipe.

Note that despite claims often found on social media, coconut oil is NOT considered a heart-healthy cooking oil and should be used in moderation.

Other oils – olive, canola, and avocado are all common cooking oils. Other options are oils made from soybeans, peanuts, almond, corn,  sunflower, and safflower.  These products are liquid at room temperature because of their higher proportions of unsaturated fat. 

While great for cooking and salad dressings, these will be a poor substitution for a solid fat in baking.

Mashed banana or avocado – When baking, you can sometimes eliminate the use of fat altogether and use mashed banana, mashed avocado, or applesauce instead. Use half the amount of lard that the recipe calls for.  This may take some experimenting though.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the debate over whether lard is vegetarian is a complex one. While it is made from animal fat, which goes against the principles of vegetarianism, it is still used in many traditional dishes and has its own unique flavor profile.

This makes it hard to eliminate for many people, even some vegetarians.

However, for those who choose to follow a vegetarian lifestyle, there are many plant-based alternatives to lard. From vegetable shortening to coconut oil, there are many healthy and delicious options available that can provide similar results.

It’s ultimately up to each individual to decide whether or not they want to include lard in their diet, but hopefully, this post has provided useful information to help readers make an informed decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is vegetarian lard? or What is vegan lard?

Usually, if you see the ingredient vegetarian (or vegan) lard, the product is actually vegetable shortening. It may potentially also be margarine.

Can vegetarians eat lard?

Lard is not considered a vegetarian food or ingredient. However, each individual can make their own choices on which foods to include or exclude from their diet.
No judgments here!

Why is lard not suitable for vegetarians?

Lard is fat from pigs. Because the pig must be slaughtered to get the lard, it is not considered a vegetarian ingredient.

Why does Chinese cuisine seem to use lard in cooking?

The use of pork is very common in many Asian cuisines, so it makes sense that pork fat, or lard, would also be utilized. It’s right there, right?
Because of this, you may find lard in dishes that may seem vegetarian otherwise, such as vegetable ramen or Chinese egg tarts. When ordering from a restaurant, look for an indicator that the dish is actually vegetarian, or ask the server.

What restaurants have vegetarian refried beans?

Most Mexican restaurants will have traditionally made refried beans, so they are not vegetarian-friendly. Taco Bell (if you choose to call them a Mexican restaurant) is a notable exception, as there is no “hidden meat” in any of their foods. All of their beans are certified vegetarian.
Luckily for us though, restaurants often offer a black bean vegetarian alternative to refried beans. And most grocery stores have at least 1 vegetarian refried bean option on the shelf, so you can have them at home as well.

Where is the vegetable shortening or vegetarian lard in the grocery store?

You can usually find these products, along with other cooking fats, in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.

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