Lard is making a comeback, and it ain’t just for biscuits anymore. But how does it compare to butter?
Butter, a dairy product, is made by churning milk or cream. It has a nutty aroma; a milky, creamy flavor; and a smooth, silky consistency.
Lard, a type of animal fat, is made from pork fat that’s melted from the fatty parts of a pig. It has a meaty, porky smell and taste to it; and a firm, flaky texture.
Butter and lard—both fats derived from an animal—can be used for a multitude of cooking methods, be it frying pork chops in a skillet, roasting whole birds with stuffing and all on a sheet pan, or baking rustic and decadent loafs of Dutch-oven bread.
That said, butter is more suitable for gentle-heat cooking because it’s quicker to burn (burnt butter turns black and develops and acrid taste) than lard is. For the same reasons, lard is the better choice of the two for intense-heat cooking, such as deep-frying battered foods, sautéing vegetables, and searing meats.
In baking, use butter when you want to make your baked goods taste rich and pasty, and lard when you want to make them savory and flaky. In frying, butter adds creaminess, whereas lard adds meatiness to your final dish.
The two are very different, and they can’t necessarily be used interchangeably.
Which Tastes Better?
Taste is a subjective thing and, at the end of the day, whether you prefer the taste of lard or butter comes down to you and your personal preferences.
When choosing between butter and lard for a recipe, my golden rule is as follows: If you want to impart your dish with a milky creaminess, use butter. Suppose you’d like to give it a slightly porky, somewhat animalistic smell and taste: use lard.
The Aroma and Flavor Profile of Butter
The typical smell of butter is sweet, caramel, butterscotch, and nutty, sometimes grassy (especially if the butter was made from the milk of pasture-raised, grass-fed cows). The milk fat and milk solids in butter are responsible for all of its aromatics.
The taste of butter depends on the type of animal milk from which it was made. For example, cow’s milk butter tastes creamy and milky; goat’s milk butter tastes tangy and lawn-like; buffalo’s milk butter is velvety and decadent thanks to its high fat content.
When in doubt, try cow, goat and buffalo milk butters over the course of a few months to find out which type of butter it is that you like the best—then make it a staple in your fridge.
The Aroma and Flavor Profile of Lard
Lard, especially when heated, has a distinct smell of pork to it that some swear by and others find off-putting.
Many who’ve never cooked with lard imagine that it smells and tastes like bacon grease, but that’s not necessarily the case. Bacon is cured meat, and the fat that renders and pools in your skillet when you cook it is so delicious mainly thanks to the flavors that develop during curing (and bacon’s high salt content).
Compared to bacon fat, pork lard has more of a porky, raw-animalistic smell and taste. If you’ve ever cooked pork over very low heat, where the meat cooks through but doesn’t brown and form a crust on the outside, then you will know exactly what smell and taste I’m talking about.
Personally, I think the smell and taste of lard goes perfectly with pork chops, German brats, Viennese schnitzels, and French fries. Many like to use lard for rustic breads and pie pastry, as it producers more savory loafs and flakier pie crusts in comparison to butter.
Is Butter or Lard Healthier?
The fats in your food can generally be classified into one of two categories: saturated fats, the bad kind, and unsaturated fats, the good kind. Lard, despite the fact that it’s made from pork fat, contains more of the good kind of fats than butter, which is made from churned milk or cream.
“The difference between lard and butter is that lard is made up of 50% unsaturated fat whereas butter is around 32%,” British nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert tells The Independent.
“This would suggest you get slightly more essential fats from lard,” he adds. Still, if you enjoy eating or cooking with butter, Lambert says you should nevertheless go for it.
Eating too much saturated fat can raise the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, which—according to the American Heart Association (AHA), a non-profit that funds cardiovascular research—increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
In contrast, the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health says that unsaturated fats are considered beneficial because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, relieve inflammation, stabilize heart rhythm, and perform a number of other functions inside the body.
The Smoke Points of Butter and Lard
All edible fats have a smoke point, the temperature at which they cease to glisten and shimmer and begin to decompose and burn.
Heated beyond their smoke point, fats will burn onto the bottom and sides of the pan, emitting a steady stream of bluish smoke that builds up on the walls of your kitchen.
Always match the choice of fat to the heat required for the recipe:
For heat-intensive cooking, such as sautéing and sautéing, use a fat with a high smoke point. For medium heat cooking, such as pan-frying, deep-frying, and roasting, use a fat with a medium smoke point. For cooking over low heat, such as melting, browning or caramelizing, use a fat with a low smoke point.
Lard has a smoke point of 375°F, while butter’s smoke point is 300°F. This means that butter burns at a lower temperature than lard does, and is therefore less suitable for cooking over relatively high heat.
This is because lard consists of 100% pork fat, whereas butter consists of 80-82% milk fat, 15-16% water, and 1-2% milk solids. At high heat, these milk solids burn, giving your food a black color and imparting it with a bitter taste.
All in all, butter is a good choice for baking breads, slow-roasting Thanksgiving turkey, and sweating vegetables over medium heat in a skillet. Lard, on the other hand, is more suitable for shallow-frying pork chops and Viennese schnitzels or deep-frying French fries and mozzarella sticks.