If you've ever baked a pie or prepared biscuits, chances are high you've used lard at some point to give the crust that characteristic crunchiness.
It's an incredibly versatile cooking ingredient that will find love in all corners of the kitchen.
The one concern you'd be right to have, though, is 'does lard go bad?' Most people use it and dump the container in the pantry until the next time they'll need it, so it must be fine, right? Well, not really. Storing it like this will lead to it getting rancid and unusable faster than usual.
This article presents some quick and dirty tips on how to store lard and ensure maximum shelf life.
What is Lard Anyway?
As ubiquitous as it once used to be in the kitchen, what is lard, really?
The gist of it is that lard is pig fat obtained from parts that contain large amounts of adipose tissue (that's where the fat is stored in the body).
The lard is normally rendered by boiling it in water or steaming it. According to Certified Nutritional Therapist Jenny McGruther, rendering is the process where insoluble fat is separated from bone and protein.
This fat is collected and undergoes further processing such as clarifying to make it suitable for cooking.
What really sets lard apart from normal cooking oil is? First things first, the taste.
It's described by Georgia Clarke, a Nutritionist from Southern Cast Iron as having a 'smoky flavor' that many people might recognize as the secret ingredient in the best lies they've had.
Little wonder, then, that lard can be used in almost any baked or fried meal: you can fry eggs, confit ducks, saute veggies and baste chickens.
How Long Does Lard Last? Does Lard Go Bad?
How long your lard is going to last depends on how you store it. Typically, the best by date that comes with the lard packaging is a good idea estimate of how long you should keep your lard.
Most times, proper storage of the lard is going to extend the shelf life by a few months or more since it's pretty much just fat.
Lard belongs to a class of hydrocarbons that are incredibly stable and are not easily broken down by bacteria (source).
As such, the date listed on the bottle is simply an estimate of how long it can stay without raising any food safety concerns. Afterward, freshness is not guaranteed.
Additionally, with lard, it doesn't matter whether you open the package or not because it's not typically preserved with air suction or added preservatives. As long as it has been properly wrapped and stores in temperatures below room temperature, you should be fine.
And lastly, it's pretty difficult to give an estimate of how long after the best by date that lard can be used without having to worry about getting sick.
The only real way is to check whether or not it's gone bad. In which case, you might have to throw it away to avoid contracting a bacterial infection
How to Tell If Lard Is Bad?
The most obvious signs of spoilage when it comes to lard is any kind of discoloration, odor or presence of mold. In which case, get rid of that batch of lard and get a new one.
The easiest way to tell is if the lard has a terrible smell. If so, throw it away. You can also taste a small amount to make sure the taste is still okay, too.
Rancid lard is going to ruin your whole recipe by making the crust break apart while cooking and, even then, add a terrible taste.
Lastly, lard doesn't have to go bad for it to be unsuitable for use any longer. If it stays in your freezer for longer than a year last the recommended use-by date on the label, get rid of it.
It's very likely stale and will, once again, ruin your recipe.
How to Store Lard?
The traditional way of dealing with lard was to leave it in the pantry and hope for the best, but that's before fridges became an absolute necessity in the kitchen. It's not recommended to leave lard out in the open, especially if it's uncovered.
Uncovered lard is an easy way to attract all manner of insects and rodents to your home. Not to mention that lard left on the shelf is going to go bad in a month or less time.
The best way to preserve lard is to store it in the fridge. This way, it should last for about a year or so. If you don't expect to use it any time soon, throw it in the freezer. Its shelf life should be extended by a year or two if it remains unused.
In this, the most important point to remember is that lard easily absorbs odors and flavors from the air. When storing lard, it's an absolute necessity that you close the container with lid. This should help to further push its best by date because it doesn't interact with the bacteria in the air.
When refrigerating or freezing lard, for example, the optimal way of keeping air out is to wrap it in wax paper and cover it with a piece of foil. Alternatively, the lard can also be cut up into small pieces and placed in a baking sheet with parchment paper. This should be placed in the freezer for about three hours then transferred to a freezer bag and left to sit in the freezer for two years or more.
An important point to remember is that once unfrozen, lard should not be put back in the freezer. It's going to lose its flavor this way. Instead, it should be used in the next few days or so.