“Fat”, or more technically “fatty acids”, are an integral component of the foods which we eat. Fat is a very rich source of energy (i.e. calories) and certain vitamins which are critical to good health. While seemingly maligned by proponents of a healthy eating style, they are actually an excellent example of the precept of “everything in moderation”.
For many years the main source of fat in the diet came from animal sources – either as meat or as milkfat. Butter is an ancient source of milkfat, as are cheese and other products using whole milk. The quality of meat was historically based on the amount of fat, or marbling, that was laced through the meat, since fat adds flavor and tenderness. [USDA Prime beef was most heavily marbled, followed by Choice, and then Good.] For these reasons animals were bred to produce milk with the highest level of butterfat and abundance of fat in the meat. Until fairly recently vegetable sources of fats were limited to olive oil. At about the turn of the century, however, two advances were made which allowed many other vegetable oil sources to be exploited. Most crude vegetable oils contain substantial amounts of impurities which affect the taste and color of the oil. This problem was resolved with the development of the process of deodorization. The second problem was that most vegetable oils are fluid at room temperature and are not suitable for solid shortening. This was also solved with the process of hydrogenation, whereby hydrogen atoms are added to the fatty acid molecule to harden oil. [This process also creates trans fatty acids which may be unhealthful for some people –– see next article concerning Appetize.] These two developments allowed vegetable fats to compete successfully with lard and tallow.