Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Crisco kid

A couple of weeks ago, Sharon made another batch of her world famous chocolate chip cookies, filling the house with a marvelous aroma, and replenishing the supply of tasty treats in our glass cookie jars.

Naturally, she used Crisco as one of the ingredients, which got me to pondering the following question:

Where did Crisco come from?

In order to keep fats solid at normal storage temperature, it is necessary to hydrogenate the substance. The hydrogenation process was discovered in the late 19th Century, and was patented by a man named Wilhelm Normann in 1903. The patent was acquired by the Proctor and Gamble company a few years later. Although the original purpose of the patent was to produce soap, Proctor and Gamble used it to produce the world’s first shortening made entirely of vegetable oil. The name “Crisco” is actually a modification of the phrase “crystallized cottonseed oil”.

Even though the formula has been changed in recent years to reduce the fat content in Crisco, some nutritionists still feel it may not be good for your health, but it’s better than the alternative.


Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and engendered form, and can be obtained from any part of the pig as long as there is a high concentration of fatty tissue. Despite its higher fat content (as compared to vegetable shortening) lard is still popular with many chefs and bakers because of its distinctive taste and wide range of applications. Rumor has it that lard was even used in Mrs. Wagner’s pies, which were made famous by Simon and Garfunkel in 1968. Sadly, even though Mrs. Wagner’s was the largest pie bakery in the country in 1940, the company went out of business in July of 1969.

Crisco contains less total fat than lard, even though it has a higher amount of polyunsaturated fat. Surprisingly, it also has less total fat than most other vegetable oils, including olive oil.

Trying to determine the health effects of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils can be enormously difficult, but it appears that the real villain is something called “trans fats”, which can result from the hydrogenation process. Even though the can of Crisco in our pantry includes both fully and partially hydrogenated palm oil, it has ZERO trans fat.

Those delicious chocolate chip cookies in our cookie jars may not be the healthiest way to end a meal, but I’d heartily recommend having a couple for dessert on occasion.

After all, life is short.

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