We all wonder what’s considered a healthy cooking oil. Reading labels in the store aisles will leave anyone in a confused daze.
The best fats for cooking at high temperatures are palm oil, peanut oil, tallow (rendered beef fat ) and lard (rendered pig fat). There are other suitable fats as well, but most specialty oils (macadamia oil, almond oil, etc.) are used to impart flavor rather than cook entire dishes.
We know about different fats and why they are good for us so let’s start talking numbers. After all, that’s what Crumbs is all about – eating nourishing, real food… on a real budget. What fat is going to be the most affordable and where can we get good quality fat?
Finding a Healthy Cooking Oil
First we need a slight distinction. “Palm oil” is often used to describe the oil that comes from the oil palm tree. However, there really are two types of oil and they BOTH come from the fruit of the tree (not the trunk, branches or leaves).
- Palm Kernel Oil: derived from the inner kernel of the edible seed of the oil palm tree. Yellowish in color and approximately 81% saturated fat.
- Palm Oil: derived from the outer pulp of the edible fruit of the oil palm tree. Reddish in color and approximately 41% saturated fat.
In either case, both oils are excellent healthy cooking oil for high-temperature cooking.
Local health food stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s should carry either variety, but read the list of ingredients (not just the nutritional label) to make sure they’re really 100% pure and not hydrogenated.
In general, quality palm oil is expensive. I don’t know what the shelf price is at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but reputable brands making 100% organic palm oil charge anywhere from $14 (Okonatur brand from Amazon) to $25 (currently backordered from Tropical Traditions) – and both prices are for a single 16oz jar (the equivalent to one pound).
Palm oil certainly has it nutritional benefits, but it also comes with a hefty price tag. I’m not sure this would be something I’d regularly stock in my pantry. If anyone has found an affordable, high-quality variety of this, please share with us in the comments!
Every time I think of peanut oil I think of turkeys. Could it be because a family member deep fries turkeys every Thanksgiving in gallons of it? Probably.
Peanut oil is MUCH more affordable than palm oil. Costco sells 35lbs of this great frying oil for $54, making it roughly $1.50 per pound. Plus if my memory serves me right, “peanut oil” is the only ingredient listed on the container.
There are a few online retailers that offer peanut oil for comparable prices if you don’t live near a big box store (or don’t feel like driving and lugging those extra 35 pounds around). Amazon has 35lb of expeller pressed 100% pure peanut oil for $43.
Spectrum brand comes up in several searches and is available at a variety of online retailers. All I know about this brand is that it’s organic and MUCH more expensive than the other options. 16oz will run you $10, which makes for one insanely expensive frying session!
Crisco and LuAnn are common brands too, but be on the lookout. They’re not necessarily “bad,” but I personally have a very hard time trusting anything with the word “Crisco” on the label. My mind automatically thinks of those yellow-colored, butter-flavored shortening sticks that contain nothing worth digesting. This doesn’t mean that they don’t offer non-hydrogenated oils. It’s just a reminder to once again, read all the labels.
One thing that tallow has over palm oil and peanut oil is that it has the potential of being free.
What was that? Did she just say free?
Sure did folks. If you ever trim the fat off your steaks and throw it away, THAT FAT could have been free tallow! You can render any portion of fat – big or small – and you’ll still end up with tallow. Of course it may not make sense to create a bunch of dishes for one small chunk of fat, but toss those chunks into a freezer-safe container and render tallow when the container is full.
Find the tutorial on rendering tallow and lard HERE!
There are two approaches to take when pricing out tallow. You can buy it already rendered (meaning someone else does the work AND the dishes) or you can buy the raw fat and do the rendering yourself.
If you want to buy it already rendered…
- From the Store: there’s a good chance it’s hydrogenated. Make absolutely sure you read the label.
- From a Local Farmer: some farmers will make tallow and sell it, instead of (or in addition to) selling the fat itself. Check EatWild.com for a local farmer and make some phone calls. Buying from a local farmer is an excellent way to verify the quality of the fat and reduce transportation costs. We want grass-fed fat and local is always better!
- From a Local Butcher: definitely worth looking into and makes me wish I had a trust worthy butcher. Note to self to make some calls. The prices will vary – some won’t charge you anything, some will charge up to $3/lb. Again, another avenue that allows you to check the quality of the fat.
- From an Online Retailer: this is my from-the-comfort-of-my-sofa preferred route. U.S. Wellness Meats is the leader in offering rendered tallow. You can buy it in smaller 1.7lb packages for $11.75 and in a larger 5 gallon pail (36 pounds) for $104.95. That sounds like a lot for fat, but it equals out to $2.92/lb. Consider splitting the cost with a friend and remember that a little bit of fat goes a long way.
If you want to buy the fat to render yourself…
- From the Store: this will be hit and miss. I’ve read that if you’re friends with the Whole Foods butcher, you can get beef fat without paying a dime. Hint, hint, Mr. Crumbs. I’ve also read that stores won’t give nor sell you the fat. It never hurts to ask, but be sure to ask about the quality of the fat while you’re asking questions anyway.
- From a Local Farmer: I haven’t had much luck finding a local farmer – apparently they use it all up in their ground beef (or they think I’m a crazy person for asking for the fat instead of the meat). You may have better luck though. Just like those who don’t want to dirty their dishes, check EatWild.com for a local farmer and make some phone calls. Check the quality (grass-fed is ideal) and ask if they’ll grind it up for you. THAT will save you quite a bit of time in the long run.
- From a Local Butcher: again, same answer as the one given to those looking for it already rendered. The prices will vary – some won’t charge you anything, some will charge up to $3/lb. Befriend the butcher and check the quality of the fat. If it’s not grass-fed, ask if he knows another butcher in the area. Networking is priceless in the real food arena.
- From an Online Retailer: once again, my preferred route with the choice of two high-quality sources: U.S. Wellness Meats and Grass-Fed Traditions. U.S. Wellness Meats has beef suet (the raw fat) priced at $20.95 for 5 pound bags, already ground up and ready to go. This comes out to $4.19/lb for 100% grass-fed and grass-finished fat. Grass-Fed Traditions offers the exact same deal – $20.95 for 5lbs – and their beef is 100% grass-fed as well. Both excellent buying options!
Like tallow, lard has the availability of being free too. And like tallow, you’ll run into many of the same issues when buying either rendered or raw. A good bit of what can be said for tallow applies to lard as well. Go back and read those bullets if you haven’t already.
If you’re looking to buy rendered lard, you may be surprised that the variety most often seen on store shelves (and on Amazon) is really lard AND hydrogenated lard. Don’t fall for the trick and buy this. Try a trusted source instead like U.S. Wellness Meats – they’re now offering 2 pounds of all natural pork lard for $11.75 ($5.88/lb).
Whether you buy rendered or raw, consider buying in bulk to save a few pennies. As of this post, U.S. Wellness Meats is currently offering $25 off an order of 40lbs or more. Grass-Fed Traditions and Tropical Traditions (best known for their coconut oil) are the same parent company. They often offer free shipping and buy one get one free sales on a huge variety of items. You can combine your purchases from both sites and pay for shipping (if applicable) once.
How to Decide?
Determine what you’re looking for in cooking fat and start there. We rarely deep fry in my house, so it would be very silly of me to buy 36 pounds of peanut oil – even if it is the best price per pound.
Since we stir-fry regularly, lard or tallow would work best. I also bake often, and I’ve heard that the best fat for pastries is lard. Taking both of these things into consideration, I’d have to choose lard.
I plan to render it myself for now (especially since its so easy!), but I’m certainly not opposed to buying if I need to.
Palm oil is my last resort. It’s simply too expensive for my meager budget!