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Fat, Fabulous Fat

Mar
31
2008

Like most (all?) humans, I love fat. And there’s good reason at the root of that love. Fats are essential to our metabolic process. They’re the way plants and animals store energy for future use. Because we can readily and quickly convert fat to serve immediate energy needs, it appeals very strongly to us.

There are many kinds of fat with even more tastes and flavors. So we’ve evolved to enjoy fat primarily by its feel in our mouths. This enables us to recognize both animal fat and vegetable fat; Saturated fat and unsaturated fat or bacon grease and avocado oil.

Even within those classifications, there are differences. Olive oils come from Spain, Italy, Greece, and California in hues of gold, some with a green patina reminiscent of oxidized copper, other glowing like sunshine on a fall vineyard. They come in flavors from the lightest hint of something almost lemony to assertive proclamations of their birth as Kalamata, Arbequina, or Manzanillo olives. They come packaged in two liter tins and elegant eight ounce bottles.

Butters, too, have personality. Whether the grassy notes of an Amish butter from Ohio or the creamy tang and bright yellow color of Ireland’s Kerrygold, each offers its own interpretation of deliciousness. But because fats don’t share a common taste humans needed another means of recognizing them – mouth feel worked.

Recognizing fat by mouth feel is an intriguing process. For the most part we rely on tastes to tell us if something is good for us or bad for us. Evolutionarily, sweets were almost always good for us in the form of fruit and a few other foods. Bitter tastes are often a sign of the alkalines that are part of many plant poisons — a warning taste. Salt is the only mineral we need in large quantities and so requires a source other than the trace amounts found in food.

Most people (at least those who pay attention to what they eat) have probably changed their fat intake over the past few years. My adaptation has been to pay a lot more attention to the fat I use and it’s function. I’ve cut back somewhat on all fat, but primarily on saturated fat – the stuff that comes from animal fats, like butter and lard. For instance, I now often sauté ingredients in a neutral olive oil and then add a bit of butter just before serving for flavor as opposed to sautéing entirely in butter.

Out of curiosity, I took a moment to list the fats I have on hand and found I had six bottles of various olive oils (my primary fat); a bottle of fresh canola oil and a bottle of canola oil I’ve used twice for deep frying; spray oil; sesame and peanut oils; salted and unsalted butters; bacon grease; homemade lard; duck fat; shortening; and pork fat back. Sometimes I have a few more kinds, sometimes a few less. But these are typical of my pantry – enough variety for almost any everyday cooking situation.

This list may be longer than the one you have. But keep in mind that fat doesn’t make you fat. It doesn’t cause your arteries to harden. It’s not bad for you. Eating too much fat makes you fat, causes your arteries to harden, and is bad for you. Some fat, whether olive oil or bacon grease is important to health. Olive oil is a healthier choice, but sometimes bacon grease is the right choice.

Share  Posted by Kevin Weeks at 5:00 AM | Permalink

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