What Is Shortening?

Shortening is a type of fat that can be used in cooking to reduce food’s overall calories and fats. However, there are many reasons why you may want to avoid using it for your diet or even for other purposes such as home remedies. Here’s what shortening does inside your body and how to find alternatives that aren’t so harmful!


Lard (fat derived from pigs/pork) was the first “shortening” used to produce crumbly baked items and fried dishes before the invention of artificial fats like margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oils. However, because of their cheap cost, extended shelf life, and convenience, hydrogenated vegetable oils replaced animal fats and other high-quality cooking oils in the early 1900s.

The usage of shortening has been reducing as more individuals have become aware of the possible risks of incorporating hydrogenated fats and trans fats into their diets. Fortunately, people realize that there are healthier fats to use in the kitchen, such as grass-fed butter and coconut oil.

What Is Shortening and How Does It Work?

Shortening is any solid at room temperature fat that is used in baking, most often to produce crumbly pastries or bread. It has a neutral flavor, aids in preserving baked goods’ form and texture, and is essentially 100 percent fat, making it a high-calorie meal.

What is the origin of the term “shortening”? Because of how it affects gluten in wheat, rye, and barley flour, it actually helps make dough shorter (less elastic).


What is the composition of shortening? It is dependent on the kind of shortener. Some are produced from animal fats, while others are derived from vegetable oils and are plant-based.

Is Crisco considered a shortening? Crisco shortening is, without a doubt, one of the most popular varieties of shortening in the world.

It used to be prepared using crystallized cottonseed oil, but nowadays, it’s manufactured with hydrogenated soybean and palm oils (Crisco all-vegetable shortening contains both partially and fully hydrogenated oils). As a result, it’s classified as a form of vegetable shortening.

Many people seem to be perplexed by the fact that Cristco is only one brand of shortening. However, the phrases should not be used interchangeably because there are numerous other types of shorteners than Crisco.

Is shortening a vegan product?

Some of them are. Vegetable shortenings (such as Crisco) are vegan, but animal shortenings (such as lard and butter) are not.

Butter vs. Shortening

Butter may theoretically be considered a sort of shortening since it is solid at room temperature, particularly as it is a common baking ingredient.

Most people think of butter as a separate form of fat — and rightly so, given how different it is from things like margarine. However, butter is typically utilized in the same manner as shortening is.

One significant difference is that butter includes more water, but shortening has no water and hence has a larger fat content.

Is it possible to use butter instead of shortening? Yes, most of the time; however, the final output may alter somewhat if you do so.

Shortening fats stay soft and whole after melting, while butter separates into oil and milk particles. As a result, shorteners tend to keep recipes supple, but butter makes them seem oilier and firmer as they cool.


Shortening often gives items like baked pastries and crusts for pie a crumbly, crunchy feel. On the other hand, shortening is used to make recipes more mealy, thick, and flaky. While bakers purposefully aim to produce certain meals, such as bread, airy, stretchy, and fluffy, shortening is used to make dishes more mealy, dense, and flaky.

Shorteners may be found in a variety of foods, including:

  • pastries
  • sweetbreads
  • biscuits
  • pie crusts
  • cakes
  • crumbles and crisps
  • cookies
  • frosting
  • meats that have been breaded and fried

Shorteners are popular among processed food and baked goods manufacturers because they are cheap to create, improve the texture and flavor of recipes, and don’t always need refrigeration (depending on the kind). In addition, compared to most other oils, shorteners have a high melting point and are called “heat-stable.”

What is the science underlying the operation of shorteners? Shorteners may help prevent baked foods from becoming stretchy, dried out, and chewy due to gluten. Because the shortener inhibits gluten molecules from stretching too much, dough retains its softness and form.

Nutritional Information

Today’s most popular shorteners are manufactured from vegetable oils such as soybean, cottonseed, or refined palm oil. These oils are produced solid at room temperature using the hydrogenation process.

Shortening is roughly 100 percent fat; however, it varies depending on the kind. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that one tablespoon of vegetable/lard shortening comprises about:

  • Calorie Count: 115
  • Fat: 13 grams (including a mix of unsaturated, saturated, and sometimes trans fat)
  • Vitamin K: 2.75 milligrams (up to 8 percent DV)
  • Choline: 3 milligrams
  • Vitamin E: 0.12 milligrams

Aside from fat and a small amount of vitamin K, it lacks all other necessary nutrients.

Side Effects and Risks

According to a pile of research, the consumption of items containing trans fats and partly hydrogenated oils has been linked to a slew of health problems during the last several decades.

The chemical process of hydrogenation transforms liquid oil into a solid fat with a spreadable texture. Partial hydrogenation renders fats semi-solid at normal temperature, but full hydrogenation makes oils completely solid.

The chemical makeup of partly hydrogenated fats varies throughout manufacture, which is why they are termed “risk foods.” When exposed to intense heat, they readily oxidize, perhaps contributing to the generation of free radicals, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

According to studies, partly hydrogenated fats/trans fats have the following detrimental health effects:

  • Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke are at higher risk.
  • Increased artery hardening and calcification
  • Increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
  • Inflammation has increased.
  • Negative effects on nervous system functioning
  • Death risk is higher.

The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration in the United States mandates all food labels to show the quantity of trans fat. This means you may hunt for newer trans-fat-free goods or, better yet, utilize natural fats and oils that haven’t been overly processed.

Alternatives That Are Better For You

Shortening substitutes are a good option since shorteners are often prepared with highly processed vegetable fats.

Shortening substitutes are becoming more readily accessible due to rising concerns about the use of these fats. Trans fat-containing items should be avoided at all costs.

Always read the ingredient/nutrition labels and avoid anything that contains “hydrogenated vegetable oil” (partially or totally) or has more than zero grams of trans fats.

What may be used as a substitute for shortening? Healthier shortening replacements include:

  • Butter made from grass-fed cows
  • Ghee is a kind of butter (a form of clarified butter)
  • Medium-chained fats may be found in coconut oil or cocoa butter (just note that it will give recipes a slight coconut taste)
  • Healthy oils like olive oil or avocado oil (which are vegan and may be used as a vegetable shortening alternative in certain recipes/baked goods) can be used depending on the recipe.

Keep these considerations in mind when using shortening replacements like butter in recipes:

  • Most recipes require “cutting” cold shortening into the dry ingredients before baking. The size of your pieces determines the outcome of the recipe.
  • Use pea-sized chunks of shortening to form flaky crusts. To produce crumbly dishes, cut the ingredients into extremely little bits that are approximately the size of grains.
  • By chopping the butter with a knife or using a food processor, gradually add tiny bits to your flour and other dry ingredients.


  • What is the definition of shortening? It’s any solid at room temperature fat that’s used in baking, especially to produce crumbly pastries and bread.
  • Many processed vegetable shorteners are prepared using hydrogenated oils and trans fats to increase shelf life and economic effectiveness. On the other hand, these fats have been linked to a variety of health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
  • Cooking using healthy shortening replacements like grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil is better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is shortening healthy to eat?

A: Shortening is unhealthy. Many harmful ingredients can be found in shortening, like hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup. These all negatively affect your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight when eaten every day for a prolonged period.

What is shortening used for?

A: Shortening is a process in which vegetable oils are turned into solid fats.

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