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What Is Shortening, Anyway?

Know Your Ingredients: Shortening

While baking apple pie, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend, who took notice of the substantial amount of Crisco that was going into the pie dough. What exactly is shortening? he wanted to know. When I couldn't give him a solid answer (no pun intended), I decided it was time to find out.

The term shortening generically refers to any baking fat that's solid at room temperature, like butter and margarine. But more often, it describes a semi-solid fat made from hydrogenated vegetable oil that's used in baking to achieve a "short," or flaky, texture.

By adding hydrogen gas to vegetable oil at a high pressure and temperature, the flavorless substance goes from being a liquid to a solid at room temperature.


Although shortening has fallen out of favor in recent years because it contains trans fat, the ingredient remains a staple around the world for many reasons. It has a higher smoke point than butter or margarine, meaning it won't burn in a sauté pan. It also requires no refrigeration, and can lengthen the shelf life of baked goods. What do you use shortening for?

Source: Flickr User VirtualErn

Join The Conversation
Ruusu Ruusu 7 years
I don't use Crisco (for baked goods, I use Earth Balance or some kind of nut oil and applesauce or starch-based egg replacer). However, my mother, who was of Okie extraction, used it in just about everything--including on her face as a cold cold cream. Unusual, perhaps, but she had the softest, youngest-looking skin I've ever seen on a women her age.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I'm with Smacks--I use a mix of butter and lard. No Crisco for me.
neonbee neonbee 7 years
I don't really know any good alternative, so I tend to not bake anything with this ingredient. Sad, but true.
Food Food 7 years
Anonymous, if I'm not mistaken, I believe Crisco was reformulated in 2007 so that it contains less than 1g of trans fat per 12g serving, which means they can technically say it contains no trans fat.
filmgirl81 filmgirl81 7 years
I really need to find some good alternatives to shortening. I rarely use it, but it does come up in recipes from time to time. I want to use vegetarian suet, but that is only found in the UK
KrisB KrisB 7 years
Well I'm not a health nut so I put it in my pound cake and also use it when flouring and greasing the pan. Everything in moderation. I don't make pound cakes often so I don't feel guilty at all. The cake taste amazing with or with out the "trans fat" people are so afraid of. And the shortening makes an amazing crust on top.
flavacrisp flavacrisp 7 years
I would never use this stuff. I use veg/canola oil in my crusts and they come out perfectly. It says "No trans fat per serving" - this is misleading b/c I think if it is under a gram of trans fat they don't have to report it on the nutrition labels. But anything with hydrogenated oils has trans fat.
notinthemood notinthemood 7 years
Hydrogenated oils are not human-friendly! You can get non-hydrogenated shortening, such as this container I picked up at Whole Foods by Spectrum Naturals. It can withstand heat up to 450 degrees and is made from mechanically pressed organic palm oil. I'll use it for pie this Thanksgiving, but for a butter substitute I think I'll stick with Earth Balance margarine.
lekatvt lekatvt 7 years
I just use it to grease my baking pans to keep things from sticking.
Smacks83 Smacks83 7 years
Nothing! All those trans fats just can't justify using it. For the best pie crusts, a combination of butter and lard is what works best (lard is what gives it that "flaky" quality that shortening is trying to do). There are so many more natural options that shortening. Solid fats at room temp? Lard, suet, quality butter..etc. Need something with a higher smoke point? Ghee is fantastic, coconut oil and the normal animal fats. Quality lard doesn't even have that porky flavor people assume it will have. I buy leaf-lard from Flying Pigs Farm and it has a very neutral taste. Just say no to Crisco!!
katieb82981 katieb82981 7 years
I don't use shortening at all. Hydrogenated oil is gross.
Allytta Allytta 7 years
ew. i don't use it at all. makes me queasy. all that info we have now about transfats - i just can't get over it
komler komler 7 years
Nothing - it is not available in Norway, and I keep raking my head for ideas as to what to use as a substitute in recipes that feature it...
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