best natural foods

Duck fat - delicious and healthy!

Potatoes fried in rendered duck fat was a recent treat for me during Christmas 2011.

I am amazed that even at my age - I am 56 - I continue to discover new foods all the time. And it is not as if this is such a rare dish.

Potatoes fried in duck or goose fat is very common in Europe, especially in France, and is gaining popularity in the United States. Several of my friends had eaten it before and they rave about how delicious it is.

From the first bite of potatoes fried in duck fat, I knew I was eating something different - and that it had to do with the cooking oil.

I must admit that I was initially suspicious. I thought maybe it was fried in Canola oil - which is something I would not want to eat.

I had this suspicion NOT because canola oil tastes good but because it is widely used and I don't know what it tastes like, since I don't cook with canola oil.

When I checked with the cook (my nephew Joseph's wife Sharon) and learned that it was rendered duck fat, I happily helped myself to second, third and fourth servings. No worries. This is healthy stuff!

Is rendered duck fat healthy?

Yes. Very,

But not many people know this. When I did an internet search, I found several blog posts raving about how delicious it is, but written with a tinge of guilt - because most of the bloggers are under the mistaken impression that rendered duck fat is bad for health. They give ths usual advice to "eat in moderation".

And while some people may have heard about the health benefits of duck and goose fats, I also found a Los Angeles Times article with the headline, "Duck fat health claims are overstated, expert say." (21 Mar 2011).

One such expert, Dr. Freny Mody, director of cardiology for the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, was quoted in the article saying: "It may be a peg closer to olive oil, but it's still miles away."

These "experts", unfortunately, are just regular doctors who are grossly ignorant about the health effects of different oils and fats. Those who specialise in the study of oils and fats, such as Dr Mary Enig of the University of Maryland and the Weston Price Foundation, are more upbeat about duck and other animal fats.

Here are some reasons why duck fat is, in fact, healthy...

Monounsaturated vs saturated fats

Most people regard animal fats as being saturated fats that are bad for health. This is what they have been told by doctors, nutritionists and other "experts" and this is what most people accept, without checking the facts for themselves.

I, too, used to have this misconception. So imagine my big shock when I discovered a few years ago that chicken, duck and goose fat, along with pork lard, actually consist of mainly monounsaturated fatty acids - the form of fat that is widely regarded as being the most healthy.

Among the commonly used animal fats, only beef and mutton fat (also called tallow) as well as butter contain mainly saturated fatty acids. The table below gives the approximate composition of various animal fats, plus that of olive oil for comparison:

Type of animal fat Saturated Monounaturated Polyunsaturated
Duck / Goose 35 52 13
Chicken 31 49 20
Pork 40 48 12
Beef / Mutton 55 40 5
Butter 65 30 5
Olive oil 13 75 12

Saturated fats are healthy!

The table above shows that duck and other animal fats are quite different from olive oil. In particular, animal fats contain a lot more saturated fats compared with olive and other vegetable oils. This explains the comment by Dr Freny Mody above about duck fat being "miles away from olive oil."

BUT... having more saturated fat does not mean that animal fats are less healthy or even harmful. This is another widespread misconception. Far from being harmful, saturated fats are necessary for healthy functioning of the body.

Among other things, saturated fats maintain the integrity of cell walls and prevent cells from being attacked by viruses. Certain types of saturated fats, such as lauric acid and caprylic acid, further protect against diseases by destroying harmful bacteria, fungi and parasites.

Saturated fats also needed for the absorption of calicum for building strong bones. They protect the liver against toxicity and even protect the heart against heart disease. Yes, you read correctly there. Saturated fats do not cause heart disease but actually protect the heart.

Click the following links to better understand why:

A healthy COOKING fat

Comparing rendered duck fat with olive oil is actually meaningless and irrelevant because they have different uses.

Olive oil is commonly used as a salad oil or, at most, for light cooking. This is because it has a low smoke point - the temperature at which oils start to break down, lose flavour, lose nutrition and turn harmful. The typical smoke point of cold-pressed, unrefined, extra-virgin olive oil - the highest quality olive oil - is about 320ºF / 160ºC.

True, there is also olive pomace oil, which is sometimes marketed as "olive oil suitable for high heat cooking". But this is the lowest quality olive oil extracted from olive pulp after the first pressing, using high heat and chemical solvents. This oil, along with other refined vegetable oils with high smoke points, is extremely harmful to health.

Duck, chicken and goose fats have a naturally high smoke point of about 375ºF / 190ºC. This makes them suitable for deep frying and other forms of high heat cooking and is the reason why they are widely used in Europe for frying potatoes. Incidentally, duck fat and goose fat are preferred to chicken fat also because of better flavour.

Beef tallow has an even higher smoke point at 420ºF / 220ºC, while pork lard has a slightly lower smoke point at 360ºF / 185ºC. Many oils from nuts and seeds also have high smoke points of above 400ºF / 200ºC. These include rice bran, sesame, peanut and camelia (tea seed) oils.

The high smoke point and stability also mean that it can be re-used several times before the fat turns rancid and harmful. After using, just filter away any sediments and burnt residues and refrigerate the rest.

Click here to understand about healthy oils and fats for COOKING as opposed to oils for salads and other uses.

A natural fat

Another plus point for rendered duck fat is that it comes from a poultry that is farmed under relatively natural conditions.

Unlike chickens, ducks cannot thrive in "factory farm" conditions where they are kept in cramped cages, eating processed feed all day, without sunlight and without any opportunity to move around and "exercise". Instead, ducks have to be raised in an open, natural environment. Chances are, ducks are healthier than most other farmed animals.

Cooking with duck fat

Most discussion about rendered duck fat talk about using it for deep frying potatoes. This is probably when its unique flavour comes of best.

However, duck, goose and other fats can be used in just about any form of cooking - frying an egg, stir-fried vegetables, baked vegetables, deep fries, etc. I have heard about pork lard being excellent for making pastry and although I have not tried, I suppose duck fat will work just as well.

What I have tried is using rendered duck fat instead of olive oil in pasta dishes - especially oil-based dishes like spaghetti aglio olio - and its delicious. Doing so also made me realise one thing - that duck and goose fats, while they seem costly, are still much cheaper than good quality olive oil.

You can buy rendered duck and goose fats at some of the more "high-end" supermarkets (like Marketplace in Singapore), or at specialist stores like Huber's Butchery and Swiss Butchery. It costs about S$10 for a small jar of rendered duck fat and S$12 for goose fat.

However, you can produce your own very cheaply. Click here to learn how to make rendered duck fat.

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Healthy cooking oils
Monounsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats - the dangers
Saturated fats - why they are not harmful
Saturated fats - health benefits
Saturated fats and heart disease I
Saturated fats and heart disease II
What is canola oil
Canola oil dangers
Duck fat
How to render duck fat
Choosing olive oils - what to look for
Extra virgin oilve oil / olive oil fraud
Olive oil health benefits
Olive oil types and grades
Olive pomace oil
Premium olive oils
Rapeseed = canola
Rice bran oil
Cooking with raw / toasted sesame oil
Sesame oil health benefits