Decoding the Distinctions: Shortening vs. Lard

Shortening vs. Lard – What’s the difference?

When it comes to cooking with solid fats, two commonly used options are shortening and lard. While they may seem similar, there are distinct differences between the two. In this article, we will explore the differences in their production process, taste, consistency, variety, uses, melting and smoking points, health considerations, and storage and shelf life.


The primary difference between shortening and lard lies in their sources. Shortening is derived from vegetable oils, while lard is derived from animal fat. The manufacturing processes for these fats are also different.
Vegetable shortening is made by hydrogenating common vegetable oils. In this process, hydrogen is added to the oils, resulting in fully saturated fats. Lard, on the other hand, is made by melting and processing animal fat. The fat is typically obtained from pigs by steaming, boiling or dry rendering. The rendered lard is then bleached and preservatives may be added to produce a stable, firm product.


The flavor of both shortening and lard depends on how they are processed. Well-processed lard is virtually tasteless and has no distinct odor. Contrary to popular belief, properly rendered lard does not taste or smell like bacon grease. Similarly, shortening has no distinct flavor and was originally developed as a butter substitute in baking. However, some high-quality vegetable oils used to make shortening can impart a buttery flavor.
One potential problem with shortening is that it can taste greasy, especially in baked goods. This is due to the different melting points of butter and shortening. Butter melts completely when baked, while shortening only softens, leading to a perception of greasiness. However, many people do not notice or care about this difference, making shortening a suitable substitute for butter in baking.


Shortening comes in solid or liquid form. Solid shortening is typically sold in bricks or cans, while liquid shortening comes in plastic jars and is more convenient for frying. Lard is sold in either a solid or semi-solid form. The consistency of both solid shortening and lard is similar, with a creamy and spreadable texture. In addition, the color of lard and shortening can range from pure white to buttery yellow.


In terms of variety, shortening can be classified based on the vegetable oil it is made from. Some common types include palm oil, soybean oil, and cottonseed oil. In addition, shortening can be categorized as either all-purpose or cake shortening. All-purpose shortening does not contain emulsifiers, while cake shortening does.
Lard, on the other hand, can be classified by the type of animal fat from which it is rendered. While pork fat is the most common source, lard can also be made from duck or goose fat. Different types of lard can be made from specific fats, such as leaf lard, backfat or mixed fat. Leaf lard, known for its clean flavor and delicate texture, is the most commonly used type.


Shortening and lard have similar uses in cooking and may even be interchangeable for certain tasks. Shortening is widely used in baking because of its ability to impart desirable characteristics to baked goods. It does not add flavor and prevents the formation of gluten in doughs, resulting in crumbly and flaky textures. Shortening is particularly useful in pie crusts, shortbread and puff pastry. It can also be used to coat pans, baking sheets and for frying.
Lard, a versatile cooking fat, can also be used in baking for flaky pie crusts and shortbread. However, it is important to ensure that the lard used is pure and free of any pork taste or odor. When it comes to cooking, lard offers versatility beyond that of vegetable shortening. It can be used for frying, sautéing, spreading on toasted bread as an alternative to butter, roasting and grilling. Many cooks appreciate the richness and flavor that lard adds to fried foods.

Melting and Smoke Point

The melting points of lard and shortening are in a similar range. Lard’s melting point can vary depending on the type of fat it is rendered from, but typically ranges from 86-118°F. Shortening, on the other hand, has a melting point of 117°F. Both fats will soften slightly at room temperature, but will not melt completely.
When it comes to smoke point, lard can withstand high heat with a range of 250-424°F. Vegetable shortening, on the other hand, has a lower smoke point and can begin to burn when exposed to temperatures above 360-410°F.

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What is the main difference between shortening and lard?

Shortening is made from vegetable oils, while lard is made from animal fat.

Can shortening be used to replace lard in cooking?

Yes, shortening can be used as a substitute for lard in many cooking applications, especially baking. However, it is important to note that the taste and texture may be slightly different.

Which is more commonly used in baking: shortening or lard?

Shortening is more commonly used in baking because of its ability to create desirable properties in baked goods, such as flakiness and a tender crumb.

Does lard have a distinct taste?

Properly rendered lard is virtually tasteless and has no distinct flavor. However, if lard is not processed correctly, it may have a stronger odor and taste.

What are the health considerations when using shortening and lard?

Both shortening and lard are high in saturated fat. Therefore, it is recommended that they be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. However, lard contains a small amount of vitamin D, which is beneficial for bone health.

Can lard be used for frying?

Yes, lard is often used for frying because of its high smoke point and ability to add rich flavor to fried foods.