The daily assault of cooking oil ads are impossible to escape. They are all over the television, they are on every bus stand, they plaster massive billboards on our highways, they're between articles in our newspapers.
What is their message?
Rice bran oil is heart healthy. Sunflower oil will curb diabetes. Frying in olive oil is better for your family. Overall, they preach that industrial seed oils are the best for health.
Time to put an end to the madness and call bullsh*t!
In this article, we taking a dive into the golden, vitamin-rich, traditional fat of tallow. We will cover what it is, how to make it, how to use it and what the benefits are.
Trigger warning for vegans and vegetarians, tallow is an animal product. Mind feeling open? Read on! Feeling an immediate ick? Tune out and access one of our other many articles that don't involve animals.
TRADITIONAL VS MODERN FATS:
We need to set the scene a bit and we'll keep it brief. Traditional fats are from plants that readily and happily gave their oil (sunflower seeds, peanuts, coconuts, palm, olives, almonds) and from our animal kin. With traditional plant oils, they were pressed to remove the oil. We still see this today with stone-presses and lakdi ghana. Traditional fats are mix of polyunsaturated, mono unsaturated and saturated fats. These three types are not inherently good or bad, but they possess distinct properties that most of us have lost touch with. Namely, their stability. Saturated fats (solid at room temp) are the most stable and thus the best to fry with or cook at very high heat, for example coconut oil, palm oil (although that has it's own modern sustainability issues!), and rendered animal fats like tallow.
Modern fats are solvent-extracted (meaning using chemicals) and made from the waste of GMO industrial agriculture, which is why almost all processed foods will use cottonseed oil, soybean oil and mixed vegetable oils. These oils are all polyunsaturated and when digested cause inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies. So why are they marketed to us? So companies make profit on the waste from our industrial agricultural system.
The literature on fats is confusing and contradictory, largely because our regulatory agencies who set the diet recommendations are in bed with the big-ag industry.
The 'mediterranean diet' is frequently reputed to be the healthiest and recommends to use olive oil for all types of cooking, 'like how the Italian's have always done.' Welp, gotta bust that myth too. Traditionally, Italians cooked in lard, ie rendered pig fat. Olive oil would be used for dressing, for finishing or for light cooking -- never for frying or a hot saute. Why? Because olive oil, in all of its deliciousness, is not stable. As a monounsaturated fat, its molecular structure changes when exposed to high heats and renders it inflammatory in our bodies. Thus, lard was used for cooking, and olive oil for dressing.
WHAT IS TALLOW?
Tallow is rendered animal fat, usually referring to sheep, goat, buffalo or cow fat. Other terms are used to refer to the fat rendered from different animals: lard for pig's fat, schmaltz for chicken fat, and many others country to country and language to language.
Before you get scared off by that definition, tallow has been used ancestrally forEVER in human history. It has been used to cook with, to burn candles with and to nourish and moisturise our skin. Native peoples used whale and seal fat, duck fat, deer and elk fat, and so on. The fat of our animal kin, like their sacred bones and organs, was never wasted. It was, and is, a precious source of vitamin D, vitamin K and rich nourishment for our body and skin.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Stable saturated fat to use for high-heat cooking
Incredibly inexpensive to make
Easy to store in the fridge or freezer for long periods
Rich in vitamin K and vitamin D when sourced from grass/pasture raised animals.
HOW TO RENDER TALLOW AT HOME
This process could not be easier. The trickiest part is going to be sourcing quality fat. Of course, any animal fat can be used, but the animal is what they ate and we are what we eat. Seek out animal fat from grass-fed, pasture-raised, free and happy animals. Most local butchers are tossing out the fat, and would happy to sell it to you for cheap or maybe just give it to you.
The process is very similar to making ghee! In the case of ghee, we are rendering the pure fat from the milk solids. In the case of tallow, we are rendering the pure fat from the muscle/meat. In both cases, we want to do this low and slow until all the fat has released from the solids.
Cut the fat into large cubes. Use a sharp knife or a seraded knife and be careful.
Put the fat into a slow cooker or a heavy-bottomed pot
If you have a slow cooker, fill the cooker and simply turn on low. Let render for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally.
If using a pot on the stove, put it on the smallest burner on the absolute lowest setting. Render for 2-4 hours, stirring frequently as the heat will inevitably be higher than in a slow cooker.
Render at low heat, so it is barely simmering. Render until all the fat has seperated from the solids.
Remove from heat, strain, and jar up.
HOW TO USE TALLOW
Okay, wow, using tallow in cooking is delicious. It is rich and satisfying and earthy. Have you ever eaten french fries fried in duck fat and totally swooned? Yup, kind of like that.
Roast veggies in tallow
Fry potato wedges/french fries in tallow! This can be done stove top or in the oven. Amazing with potatoes or sweet potatoes. Drain on newspaper, salt and serve. This is definitely the healthiest that fries can get.
Use as you would oil/butter in the pan as you cook. Saute onions, cook meat, start currys or soups.
Use as a lotion in the winter months. Tallow has the same lipid structure as our own, making it deeply nourishing for dried skin and can be used even on the most sensitive of skin types.
Like all fats and oils, tallow is best stored in a cool, dry, dark place. All fats and oils are deteriorated by sunlight and warmth. One jar stays wrapped in a brown paper bag in my cupboard for daily use, while backup jars live in either the fridge or the freezer.
In a climate like like Mumbai, best so store it in the fridge at all times, or only have very small jars (less than 200 ml) out on the counter at a time to prevent rancidity.
Tallow should smell good. It should smell inviting and earthy. If it smells bad, than it has probably gone off.
TALLOW AS A PRACTICE
The process of rendering tallow is a sacred one. It is one of slowness and gratitude and tradition. As I do it, I can feel my grandmothers around me. I can feel that this process is ancient and holy; and I offer up my gratitude to the animal, to the farmer, to the butcher, and to the tallow itself, knowing it will nourish my household and my loved ones for months to come.