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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

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

  1. Cindy said…
    YES ! Yes and YES ! After years and years of believing the B.S. I made our home go cold turkey from Margarine, and Crisco. I made the Leap after reading the labels. We feel Better. Our doctors can't believe our cholesterol is extremely low. I use Lard anywhere Crisco is called for. Best Bread, pie crust and SOAP (yes I make soap.) I use Lard to deep fry Donuts and tacos (try it.) I have my own Mother converted from Crisco back to Lard - all it took was the Label (she hates lies.) Because of the Health Nuts it takes a bit of searching to find Lard - you have to look in the baking section near the bottom of the shelf. Right now Facebook is whining because companies are still using Lard to make their goods - Makes me want to thank them for using pure ingredients instead of chemicals. Go out - buy a bag of cheetos, and a BK Whopper. Support the Pure and simple. You'll feel better for it.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Pretty sure lard or no lard- that Cheetos is just a bunch of crunchy chemicals.
  2. Scott Kennelly said…
    I believe that margarine is cheaper to produce than butter, so they push it to make more profit. I think I'll stick with "real" butter, the organic kind, from cows. Maybe I won't live to 100, but there are people who live to 100 today, who were eating butter for decades, before margarine became popular, so maybe they know something most people today don't.
  3. ginger said…
    You would think that we could just read labels and trust that this product I'm buying is safe for my family...but really the shock and horror that comes when you do finally read what those cheetos contain would be enough to make you stop buying Why? Because of bout learning the art of farming your own food? Bite that!
    • Monica Brenner said…
      I agree. How do they get away with legally being able to lie? I recently read a blog staying Libby's canned pumpkin actually had some similar type of squash but it's not really pumpkin. It's very upsetting to not be 100% sure of what you're feeding yourself and your family.
  4. Caroline said…
    Can I replace the Crisco in my grandmother's recipes with lard?
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      That might work! I'm not super familiar with working with lard but I'd love to know how it works.
  5. AllyR said…
    One thing, and I hate to nit pick this, but yes it is vegetable oil. See, a vegetable is any edible plant, or part of a plant. Basically, all fruits are vegetables but not all vegetables are fruits.
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      That still doesn't totally explain where Crisco comes from :)Pretty sure it's not olives or avocados!
  6. Richard Wynes said…
    Nearly all of what "they" have been telling us about fats and oils is wrong. Dr. Jason Fung of Toronto has much to say about saturated fats, vegetable oils, etc. in his series of lectures. See "Fat Phobias" in his Aetiology of Obesity lecture series here:
  7. Paula Graves said…
    I'm seeking ways to expand my 3 yr old grandsons diet as he gets bored with the same foods . Mostly vegetables with beef or pork. Soups .cereals . Quite often rice with beans or special veg margarine,coconut milk for rice cereal. He's beginning to like those gluten free snacks I.e. sugar. Worrying
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Introducing children to new foods can be difficult! You can find some great recipe inspiration here: and fantastic advice here:
  8. Frank said…
    Hydrogenation occurs over a nickel catalyst at 140 degrees F, so not really as high as you assert. All vegetable means it's plant based vs lard or tallow, which is animal fat.
  9. Linda Morris said…
    RE: Question above - "Can I replace the Crisco in my grandmother's recipes with lard?" Depends on how old the recipe is. When (?) Crisco changed their formula, older recipes no longer worked the same. My grandmother's cookies, made using Crisco and a Crisco recipe during the years after WWII, no longer came out the same in the 1970's when I tried to bake them for my kids. Maybe lard would have been the solution, since Crisco originally was a "lard substitute."
  10. Amanda C said…
    I just read some information that Crisco was originally made as an oil lubricant for machines (submarines) before it was sold to a british company and eventually ended up at proctor and gamble. There's a video on youtube. What are your thoughts on this? True or False?
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      I haven't heard that before and I'm not sure if it's true. I couldn't really find valid confirmation one way or the other.

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