Crisco has been around for over 100 years. It is a shortening invented by Procter and Gamble. In 1911, Procter and Gamble came up with a stunning marketing campaign for Crisco. The punchline was, “It’s all vegetable, it’s digestible.” A recent podcast by Planet Monet painted them as the killers of lard. P & G were using cottonseed oil initially as they owned many cottonseed mills for their soap and detergent products. In 2002, P & G sold Crisco to the J.M.Smucker Company and the manufacturing formula changed in 2007.
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How Is Crisco Made?
It is misleading to call Crisco a vegetable product. Vegetable oil is not a derivative of vegetables. Have you heard of cabbage oil or beetroot oil? The Academy’s founder and famed nutritionist, Meghan Telpner, rightly points out that vegetable oils come from seeds such as flaxseed and cottonseed, from grains like corn oil and fruits, like avocados. It probably was a sign of the times.
So why did P&G label them vegetable oils? Telpner terms it ”health-washing.” In other words, a marketing ploy.
When Crisco hit market stalls, people differentiated less between plant-derived foods such as grains and vegetables. That notion persists. Many people mistake avocados and corn for vegetables still.
Why Crisco Is Vegan
The Founding Of Veganism
The year 1944. Donald Watson, a non-dairy vegetarian, called up five similar thinking friends. The idea was to propagate non-dairy vegetarian diets and lifestyles. They hit hurdles but forged on.
The Vegan Society was born.
Dairy-free diets and veganism are gaining in popularity. Butter, as we well know, is dairy and non-vegan. Finding a good substitute is easier said than done. Butter is a water-in-oil emulsion when cold, solid, and soft at room temperature.
Oil appears to be a natural substitute, but one cannot swap many baking recipes with oil instead of butter.
The evolution of Crispo is over 100 years. Looking back, it might appear dicey. But as it stood then, many facts of plant foods and processing techniques were not available. It was not till the 1980s that research became more focused on uncovering shortcomings. Regulatory bodies came out with advisories. Animal and environmentalists jumped in.
From their original cottonseed oil-based shortening, Crispo also modified its product.
Ingredients of Crisco
- Soyabean oil.
- Fully hydrogenated palm oil.
- Palm oil.
- Mono and Diglycerides.
- TBHQ ( tert-butylhydroquinone, a type of organic, aromatic phenol) is an additive to preserve processed foods.
- Trans fats 0%
- %0% less saturated fats than butter
- Excellent source of ALA Omega-3 fatty acid
How Unhealthy Is Crisco?
How Unhealthy Is Crisco?
Originally, hydrogenated cottonseed oil was in use to make Crisco. Cottonseed oil is not for sale in grocery stores. However, an online portal, Healthline, points out that processed foods such as cookies contain this oil. In addition, cottonseed oil needs refinement to remove gossypol, a naturally present toxin protecting the plant from insects and other pests. Gossypol has several ill-health effects like infertility and liver damage, high in saturated fats, and heart disease. Unrefined cottonseed oil is also in use as a pesticide.
The Transformation of Crisco
P & G developed the process of hydrogenation. This transforms the oil from a liquid form to harder lard-like consistency, suitable for baking and frying. The bad news is that these great qualities give rise to trans fats and heart disease. Around the mid-90s, concern over transfats began mounting. In 2015, The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) stepped in and removed artificial transfats from processed foods.
The Formula Change
The classic Crispo shortening switched to soybean, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and additives. The food industry has shunned the use of hydrogenated oils.
Crisco’s response was to alter the recipe and cut down the transfats to less than 0.5%g, legally allowing them to state on the label that the product is transfats-free. This ruling was by the FDA. So is Crisco completely transfats-free? The answer, in all fairness, has to be no.
In time this classic vegetable shortening branched its product line throwing in sprays, baking stings, and many different oils.
Other Health Concerns with Crisco
Food marketing is a game-changer. The FDA did not cook up the 0.5g level. Transfat cannot be wished off from meats and dairy because it occurs naturally. Edible oils are not exempt, even if the levels are much lower.
Crisco still uses hydrogenated oil. Visit their website, and it will become apparent to you. Hydrogenated oil is a surefire way to tell if trans fats are still a part of the product.
Crisco has seven other oil products in its lineup, including sprays. However, the truth is that 100% “vegetable oil” is a better option than shortening.
Sprays include anti-foaming agents and propellants.
The advice to vegans is to steer clear of sprays.
TBHQ has shown to be addictive and can also cause liver enlargement cause convulsions, as lab tests on animals proved (a no-no for vegans, by the way).
The FDA has laid down a limit of 0.02 % on TBHQ. Crisco passes this test.
Is Palm Oil in Crisco Sustainable?
Sadly no. Technically speaking, it is 100% plant-based. But vegans shun it.
The vegan lifestyle embraces two crucial aspects of any product. One is the impact on the environment their production or cultivation has. Secondly, vegans are deeply concerned about animal endangerment.
The cultivation of palm oil is directly at odds with these vegan concerns.
Palm Oil Cultivation Devastates The Environment
Palm oil comes from the African palm and is cultivated extensively in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, among many others.
Vast tracts of rainforest are cut down for this.
Picture crdits: https://www.vegknowledge.com/
Massive deforestation means loss of natural habitat and the release of tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases.
Secondly, they are cut down and burnt once they grow high and the fruit is out of reach. This has further serious consequences. Rain forests keep greenhouse gases locked in. When you cut down the trees, they escape. The burning of the trees further releases greenhouse gases by millions of tons annually.
An estimate indicates that Indonesia and Malaysia will destroy all their rainforest in the coming years.
The profits involved in palm oil production are enormous. It is high-yielding and low-cost. As a result, the cultivation process gains a significant economic edge.
Palm Oil Cultivations Harm Orangutans and Other Animals
A research paper in Current Biology, an online journal, estimates that 50% of the orangutans in Borneo are directly affected by natural resource depletion. They peg the number of lost orangutans to be over 100,000 between 1999 and 2000.
Facing extinction are rhinos, bears, tigers, monkeys, and leopards by this overproduction of palm oil. Only about 15% of these animals can survive in palm oil plantations.
Help Is At Hand
Fortunately, all is not lost. There has been a concentrated push towards sustainable palm oil cultivation. Groups such as GreenPalm and The Roundtable on Sustained Palm Oil are at the forefront of educating consumers about products with sustainably sourced palm oil.
Is Coconut Oil a Healthy Crisco Alternative?
Many vegans do prefer coconut oil as a butter substitute. The one big hassle with coconut oil is that it can act up when used for baking. Coconut oil is quite sensitive to temperature. When melted, coconut oil tends to seize rapidly when it comes in contact with cold products like milk or maple syrup. Newbie bakers may find their hair standing on the edge, dealing with the frustration.
Crisco markets pure coconut oil, which vegan fans swear by. It is a refined product meaning it neither smells nor tastes of coconut, which does not sit well with some people.
Refined coconut oil is meant for stovetop cooking, given its high smoke point of 450℉. When it boils down to baking, using a 1:1 proportion does the trick. For instance, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of shortening, go in for a tablespoon of refined coconut oil. The results will not be the same as butter but vegan.
The Bottom Line
So is Crisco vegan? Any oil consumed in moderation is unlikely to cause harm. The catch is consuming a lot of highly processed or hydrogenated fats, which strips oils of their nutrients.
Now that you have the lowdown on Crisco, I believe vegan is acceptable. But coming to think of it, I pretty much admire their concerns. That I, for instance, do not do enough is a poor showing. All I can recall is donating a small sum towards a project for saving tigers.
Give it some thought.
Picture credits: https://www.sciencedirect.com/