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If vegetables don’t make oil, what’s Crisco?


I remember the days of summer camp. I went to a Jewish camp where there were meat meals and dairy meals to keep in line with the kosher rules. What this meant was that the universal fat used in every single thing we ate was Crisco. I remember bowls of Crisco on the tables to smear on toast, and the blocks of Crisco we would schlep along on our canoe trips. By the end, these unchanging hunks of white fat would be coated in a sprinkling of twigs and leaf bits.

It’s taken me this long to brave the truth about Crisco.

In my book UnDiet I wrote the following:

“These oils are highly processed and most commonly genetically modified, unless specifically labeled organic. Many of them, such as cottonseed and soy, carry loads of chemicals. The high heat processing destroys any nutrients that may naturally occur like vitamin E and omega-3 essential fatty acids. To make margarine the spreadable consistency people seem to dig, the oil must be hardened. This is done by hydrogenation or bubbling hydrogen through the vegetable oil at high temperature, a process that enables it to be solid at room temperature. This is the same property that makes it perfect as frosting on cakes. When the carbon bonds are saturated with hydrogen, the product is called a saturated fat or a hydrogenated oil.

We’ve all seen the declaration on margarine tubs that it contains “polyunsaturated oil.” However, the processing or hydrogenation removes the flexibility, or natural liquid state, of these oils; hence, it stays solid at room temperature and loses any polyunsaturated fat benefits. Because of this solidifying process, margarine usually contains some trans-fatty acids, no matter what the label says. These are bad kinds of fatty acids that can promote inflammation in the body”.

Crisco is worse. You can spray it. You can pour it. You can spread it.

Crisco, first used to make candles,  was invented in pre-civil war days by candle maker William Proctor and his brother-from-another-mother, soap maker James Gamble (get it — Proctor and Gamble?)

The meat industry (bullies then as they are today) controlled the prices of lard and tallow which were necessary to make soap and candles. As a result, prices were high and so Proctor and Gamble took to acquiring cottonseed mills and with the help of a chemist, developed the process of hydrogenation — turning liquid cottonseed oil into a thick, solid fat, much like lard. And so they marketed it as a replacement to lard.  The name “Crisco” came from what they called “crystallized cottonseed oil.”

P&G marketed Crisco as more digestible, cleaner and more economical than lard – perhaps making them the first ever healthwashers, a similar strategy they later used to make us think the chemical cocktail of margarine is healthier than butter.

If vegetables don’t make oil, what’s in Crisco? via @MeghanTelpner

What is actually in Crisco today?

Crisco Ingredients

Since the original cottonseed cocktail, the formulation has changed to be able to throw a few healthwashing claims onto the canister. The cottonseed oil has been replaced with hydrogenated, genetically modified omega-6 rich soybean oil and fully hydrogenated palm oil (a very different substance than extra virgin, cold pressed palm or coconut oil).

This is where it gets confusing.

They call this product an “all-vegetable shortening.” Soybeans and palm fruit (the oil is derived from the pulp of the fruit) are not vegetables. Incidentally, cottonseed oil also doesn’t come from vegetables. Vegetables don’t make oil. Corn is a grain. Soy is a grain. Olives are fruits. Coconuts are fruits. Flax and hemp? Seeds. Carrots and celery? Nope… No oil (though you can get oil from the seeds of carrots- great for sunshine).

So then why use Crisco? To make pastries flakey, of course.  This is a requirement of a happy life, right? What would we do without a flaky pie crust?

We likely wouldn’t be abusing the planet to grow the crops needed to create these oils which includes deforesting sacred lands, displacing indigenous people, losing biodiversity and increasing air pollution with insane levels of carbon emissions.

Without flakey pie crusts, we also might be that little bit healthier.

Gram for gram, fat is fat – whether it comes from coconuts, cows, olives, chemistry experiments, or chemical-laden, genetically modified soy and cotton crops.

There is no caloric difference, but there is a huge quality difference in terms of what you get for every calorie.

You can choose real, unprocessed fats and get nutritional benefit, increased vitamin D absorption, anti-viral and anti-bacterial benefits, vitamin K2 (from butter- essential for dental health), improved nervous system function, improved hormone regulation, healthier skin and hair, and an overall improved mood and libido.

Or you can choose hydrogenated, processed, chemical-filled fats and take on a hearty serving of increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer with a side helping of flakey pie crust.

Every choice counts and some choices are difficult to make. This one isn’t. Eat real food. Crisco just isn’t part of that club. Crisco? Crisco is just gross.

What is Crisco really made of? via @MeghanTelpner

Get empowered! Enjoy this directory of Healthwashing resources that will empower you to understand food labels. Learn More

58 Responses to “If vegetables don’t make oil, what’s Crisco?”

  1. Delila Dimery said…
    Yes, and Yes! Thank you. I have been so conflicted of shortening that stated vegetable? There's no oil in Vegetables. Learn that in Home Economics. So from this day forward, I will switch to Lard. I know everything in moderation. Thank You so much for the truth. On one note. I had read some time ago that crisco was bleached? that turned me off completely. Thank you! 01/17/2019
  2. Erin quinn said…
    I’ve used Crisco to coat cast iron pans for a year now. Didn’t use one pan for 6 months now I try to boil the Crisco out ant it breaks down into this ugly gooey mess that is hard to wash off my impetruscible trays. Imagine what it does to your body. No more Crisco in my house.
  3. Kay Sauer said…
    I’ve had similar issues lately that I never had with Crisco before. It turns hard and glue like in the pan and on the spoon rest. It worries me now what it does to our insides. It is also of s thinner consistency than before. I threw away a new large container of it because I thought something was wrong with it. Only to find my new one does the same thing. I will not be buying it again. 😳
  4. Miriam said…
    Thank you for this great article. The crisco I bought is going to be thrown out and my pie crust will be perfectly crumbly.
  5. Natalie said…
    I had no idea people were still using Crisco in 2019. I didn't think they were even still selling it. I wonder if perhaps it's use is a regional or cultural thing? Fascinating.
  6. Atomsk said…
    Wait a minute...Jews spread Crisco ON TOAST and use it as cake frosting? Did I just read that right?
  7. Vkroo said…
    I cannot get past the taste of avocado oil...
  8. Robert said…
    Actually anything that grows is a vegetable; technically fruits, seeds, grasses, etc are all part of a plant, part of a vegetable. Animal, vegetable, or mineral!
  9. TootsnStud said… April 7, 2021
    WOW! We definitely had no idea to the extent about this. This is absolutely not okay the poison that is given to people in our foods. And yet its done and people are making big money to poison the everyday foods that we eat. Not cool! How did this world become so far gone to where its so bad that its almost no fixing it. Hopefully people get their heads out of their behinds, stop being niave and start having reality checks to whats really going on in our world and whats really in our foods.

Before you post your comment, please note that I am unable to offer nutritional advice or recommendations via my blog.

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