Since most of my recipes call for some type of fat for frying, sautéing, baking, topping, blending or just pensively rubbing into your beard while cooking, I figured it was about time I wrote a referenceable round-up on the topic. Most of the time, from an objective standpoint, it doesn’t matter which of the following fats you use to cook with, it really comes down to personal preference based on the specific dish you're preparing. You'll likely start to match up certain fats that combine well with your particular palate as you experiment.
When choosing a cooking fat, we want something mostly saturated and monounsaturated, while being very low in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Saturated fats have bonds that are the hardest to break and most resistant to oxidation, while poly’s are quite sensitive to heat and light. I've done you the favor of breaking down the fatty acid profiles of each fat, but keep in mind these can differ a bit depending on the exact source the fat comes from (what the animal eats, etc.), but it’s not going to be a huge difference.
So here we go, my six favorite cooking fats, starting with...
Coconut Oil likely has the most health promoting (some would say medicinal) benefits of any of the fats, due mainly to its high Lauric Acid content. Speaking of Lauric Acid, it is classified as a Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT), which act as an immediate energy source for the brain and body, particularly when in ketosis. Aside from Lauric Acid, you will also find other MCT’s in the oil, like Caproic, Caprylic, and Capric Acids, just to a lesser extent than Lauric. Coconut oil also has anti-bacterial/anti-microbial properties, helps regulate appetite, and has even been shown to increase resting metabolic rate. For a great review on all the cool stuff coconut oil does, see The Top 10 Evidence Based Benefits of Coconut Oil.
As far as flavor, it will offer a mild hint of coconut to most dishes without being overpowering. Personally I don’t like the way it makes fried eggs taste (scrambled is fine), but that’s just my preference. It should go fine with just about any other dish that calls for a cooking fat source. Coconut oil stays solid until it hits about 76 degrees Fahrenheit, then will start to shift to a liquid state above that.
Breakdown of Fats
You’ll want to look for unrefined, cold pressed, organic. I don’t have a brand I swear by, I use several different brands depending on where I happen to be when I run out. Just pay attention to price; you can get screwed pretty easily paying twice as much for the same brand at two different places. Trader Joe’s sells a pretty good one (TJ’s own brand) at about $6 for a 16oz. jar.
Now, you could grow your own coconuts and press the oil, but you’ll need to live in a tropical climate, and get really good at climbing trees barefoot.
And don’t be a dick, warn the neighbors so they don’t bust their lollipops.
Also, do not use “Liquid Coconut Oil” for cooking, as the reason it stays liquid is due to the removal of Lauric Acid. So it’s fine as a liquid MCT source (it still contains the other three MCT’s, and personally I use it as a pre-workout fuel source when training fasted, along with BCAA’s and sodium), but you’re sacrificing all of the health benefits from the Lauric Acid.
First off, it’s hard to argue that butter tastes awesome. While I’m not a huge proponent of going Full Asprey and eating the stuff like a protein bar, it’s certainly a great choice to cook with.
While lamented for decades, riding the wave of the largely flawed Diet-Heart Hypothesis, nutritionists and even some doctors are finally starting to loosen their grip on the anti-butter stance. And as they should, it’s a great source of healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats as well as the super gut-healthy short chain fat Butyric Acid (aka Butyrate).
While regular old grain-fed butter is still good, I recommend choosing grass-fed (also labeled as pastured, which is entirely different than pasteurized). Grass-fed cattle will offer the following advantages over regular butter:
CLA content: 3-5x that of grain fed cattle
Omega-3 Fatty acid content: 2-5x that of grain fed cattle
Vitamin K2: A crucial fat-soluble vitamin that works as a helper for Vitamin A & D, and directs calcium away from artery walls favoring bone. If you’re not eating grass-fed butter, egg yolks or organ meats, there’s a good chance you’re deficient in this important nutrient.
Higher levels of other nutrients: Namely, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, iodine, selenium and beta-carotenes.
Breakdown of Fats
Kerrygold is a great brand that is widely available, which is 90% grass-fed. Organic Valley is fine as well, but I’d go with Kerrygold if you have the choice. If you don’t have it at your local grocery store, because you live in Rich Hill Missouri, you can buy it on Amazon here. And there’s no need to go with “unsalted”, particularly when on a keto diet and you need all the sodium you can get.
Ghee is simply butter that has been clarified in a specific way. Now there’s a bit of confusion about this that I’d like to clear up, not all clarified butter is ghee, but all ghee has been clarified. Here’s how that works. If you take four sticks of butter and throw them in a pot on the stove, as they melt, foam will start to form on the top. This is all of the non-fat portions (casein protein, etc.), as well as most of the polyunsaturated fat, separating and rising. You basically spoon this away as it forms and discard it. Once the foam stops forming, you take what you have left and pour it through cheesecloth to remove any remaining solids, let it chill and you’re left with clarified butter. The only difference when making ghee, is you let the de-foamed liquid cook longer until the bottom of the pot starts to brown a bit, giving it a richer, slightly smokey flavor.
So with ghee, you get all of the benefits of grass-fed butter, with one major bonus. Most people with dairy intolerance issues are really reacting to the specific casein protein found in dairy, which is cooked out when making ghee. Because of this, you can think of it like a “dairy-free” butter. However, please be cautious when introducing ghee if you’re highly sensitive to dairy, as some people may still react unfavorably to it.
Ghee is a pretty versatile fat, and you can use it for pretty much any recipe. It definitely has a distinctly different flavor than butter, but I haven’t found anything it doesn’t go well with. It’s quite popular with Indian dishes, and tastes great mixed with any curry based sauces.
Breakdown of Fats
My favorite brand is the one pictured above, Purity Farms. It tastes better than other brands I’ve tried and it’s inexpensive. I’ve found it at several health food stores in multiple states. Trader Joe’s recently started selling clarified butter, which they call “ghee”, but it’s pretty weak in my opinion. The consistency and taste are just not great.
This is my current favorite, go-to cooking oil. It’s a specific product made by Green Pasture, blending up 75% Coconut Oil with 25% Grass-fed Ghee. Green Pasture is a great company that pumps out high quality products, so get on board with them if you’re not already. So with this choice, you get all of the benefits of Coconut oil and Ghee rolled into one.
Breakdown of Fats
You can pick this up direct from Green Pastures here, at $22 for a large 2.5lb jar. This one might be tough to find locally, I was able to find it at a Mom & Pop type health food store in North Carolina, but it’s unlikely you’ll see this at a Whole Foods or Vitamin Shoppe type chain anytime soon.
This one seems to be confused amongst the general public, with a general term connoting “shitty fat”. This all started back in 1911, when Procter & Gamble figured out a way they could make some money on that pesky byproduct from picking cotton, the cottonseed. They figured out if they pressed it into oil, and then hydrogenated it to make it solid, they could make candles and soaps. However, electricity was reducing the demand for candles and hardened cottonseed wasn’t working out well as a soap, so some P&G genius looked at it and said “This shit looks like lard! Let’s sell it as food!” They marketed it to housewives as healthier than lard, and cheaper than butter. And so Crisco was born, and if you bought a tub of this awesome alternative to lard, you got a free cookbook. Turns out this garbage was like heart disease in a can (hooray trans fats), and people should have stuck with lard all along. And you all thought Ancel Keys started the problem.
In reality, lard just refers to fat from pigs. And it is quite healthy, tasty, and super versatile for cooking. It has a very neutral flavor, so it won’t overpower anything with a distinct flavor. And it tends to improve the texture of many dishes, particularly if you’re into low carb baking (breads/pizza crusts/muffins). For more info, check out this great article from Lauren at Empowered Sustenance, 10 Reasons to Bring Back Lard.
Breakdown of Fats
Definitely try to find lard from a butcher shop that only uses local, pastured pigs. Yeah, not all pigs come from manure lagoons. The above pic of lard is from my local butcher in Charlotte, NC, What’s Your Beef, and I paid about $7 for enough lard to last me a month (and they do ship if you can't find some locally).
Tallow, for practical purposes, is the fat from beef, processed from the raw, solid beef fat called Suet. It’s actually pretty easy to make at home if you want to trim the fat off your beef and save it (personally I’d rather eat the beef fat and buy Tallow, but here’s how to do it for those interested.
Technically, it can also come from mutton, pigs and other sources (this vagueness is brought upon by the fact that these animal fats can be used for soap and animal feed, so for industrial purposes it’s all the same) but if you’re buying Tallow from a butcher for cooking, it’s almost certainly beef fat. Back in the good old days, around the time Patrick Bateman was killing it on Wall Street (that’s right, a pun inside a reference, deal with it), McDonald’s used Tallow to cook their French Fries. Sadly, now they use a combination of bleach and harvested ejaculate from Type II Diabetics. Ok, that’s not true, but it might be better.
With a high smoke point and great stability from saturated fats, this is another versatile option for cooking. Although dairy and beef cows are obviously different animals, Tallow does offer pretty much the same benefits listed in butter above (including a high CLA content), as long as it’s grass fed/pastured. It won’t really offer a strong flavor or alter the palatability of your dishes, so it’s really just another option in the toolbox.
Breakdown of Fats
This cool company called Fat Works sells grass fed beef Tallow in a sexy jar, so if you can’t score it at your local butcher, these folks would be happy to send you some.
Honestly, I prefer to consume this one at room temperature, like over a salad. Although it is probably safe to cook with even though it has a low saturated fat content, I still don’t find much use for it regarding the topic at hand, as the other fats tend to offer much better flavor when cooking.
Olive oil gained a ton of popularity for cooking during the nonsensical anti-saturated fat crusades, which is why so many recipes go this route. Don’t get me wrong, Olive oil is still a great, healthy fat, but it’s rare you’ll find a dish that won’t taste better with the incorporation of one of the above fats instead.
Breakdown of Fats
If you’re going to cook with it, probably avoid one that incorporates olives from like nine different countries, and use one that harvests all of their olives from the same place, like Kasandrinos out of Greece.
Happy cooking, my people.
Looking for a local place to buy some good cooking fats? Just click your state in this search engine from EatWild.com.