What Is Shortening? Everything You Need To Know

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If you’re looking to eat healthier than you have been, you’re probably looking at what your favorite food products and specialty items are actually made out of. You’re also examining the benefits and drawbacks of using certain ingredients in your meal preparations.

If you bake a lot, you should examine ingredients like butter, shortening, canola oil, sugar, can syrup, agave syrup, and the various types of flour used to bake with to know how they affect your health.

Today, we thought we’d help you out with a review of information on shortening: what it is, when you should use it, and when you should substitute something else for shortening.

What is Shortening?

Simply put, shortening is any fat that remains solid at room temperature, and is used for food preparation. Many people mistake shortening for lard, but they are not the same. Lard is exclusively pig fat, which can be sourced from any part of the pig that has a lot of fatty tissue.

Shortening is almost exclusively made of hydrogenated vegetable oil, and is rarely an animal fat product these days, at least in America. Shortening is easy to produce, less expensive to produce, and doesn’t need to be kept refrigerated, unlike lard, margarine, or butter.

Shortening is used in baking to prevent the formation of a gluten matrix in certain baked goods. This helps make the dough pliable and soft. These are called “short doughs” and are crumbly in nature.

The oils used to create shortening can include soybean oils and various types of palm oils.

What is Shortening Usually Used For?

There is a large number of recipes that call for shortening. Things like:

When Should You Use Shortening?

The primary question you’ll hear with baking and frying with shortening is when should you use shortening, and when should you substitute, or plan on making something else?

Prior recipes on shortening included heavily saturated fats and trans fats that are exceptionally unhealthy. This gave shortening a bad reputation, and has made people shy away from using it in their baking and cooking in recent years.

However, because of the various research studies that have come out on the negative effects of trans fats, shortening has changed over the past several years. Crisco, for example, probably the most famous brand of shortening, has changed its formula to significantly lower the trans fats in its ingredients list. Every serving now contains less than 1% trans fats.

Other studies have shown that we need fats in our diet. Healthy unsaturated fats are beneficial to our health for a number of reasons, including helping us to control cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and prevent abnormal heart rhythms.

We primarily find these healthy fats in the oils that come from vegetables and fish. Sources of these fats include:

  • Olives
  • Canola oil
  • Peanuts
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Flaxseed
  • Fatty fish
  • Soybean oil
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu

Because shortening is made from the healthy fats and oils our bodies need for optimum health, you can use shortening for any recipe that calls for it. The main thing to remember, like with all good things, is that you should use it in moderation.

Moderation is one of the main keys to eating healthy. This involves everything from portion control, to choosing to eat a certain kind of food on occasion.  Studies show that rather than completely cutting a favorite food from your diet you should eat a smaller portion of it – or choose to eat it less frequently.

There are different methods for finding the right moderation in eating for you and your family, so be sure to work through that to determine when you should and should not use shortening in your recipes.

When Should You Substitute for Shortening?

Nearly every baked good requires some kind of fat to keep the taste, moisture, and texture desired. These fats are usually oils and shortening, or butter – and all of them have different uses. Sometimes, you can substitute butter for shortening, or applesauce for oil.

If you’ve already exceeded the limits for the shortening quota you’ve given your dining fare for the week, you should consider substituting other ingredients. Consider using olive oil, which has absolutely no trans fats, or using applesauce for other recipes, if possible.

The Skinny on Shortening

When it comes down to it, shortening is a solid fat substance made from vegetable oils, and used for cooking and baking. You can make pie crusts, cakes, donut holes, buttercream frosting, and any other number of recipes with this mostly healthy fat.

Make sure you practice moderation with shortening, though, and substitute healthier options – like applesauce or olive oil – at least some of the time when recipes call for shortening.

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