The Truth About Beef Tallow: What Are the Health Effects?

Beef tallow, a form of rendered beef fat, has been a culinary staple for centuries. While its historical use persists, questions about its health effects remain. As interest in traditional and whole-food diets grows, so does curiosity about the healthiness of beef tallow. This article examines its nutritional content, potential benefits, risks, and its place in scientific dietary recommendations.

Nutritional profile of beef tallow

Beef tallow is a traditional ingredient commonly used in preparing various meat dishes. Its solid form at room temperature indicates its high saturated fat content, characteristic of animal-origin fats.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 g of beef tallow typically contains:

NutrientAmount (100 g)
Calories902 kcal
Saturated fat49.8 g
Monounsaturated fat41.8 g
Polyunsaturated fat4 g
Cholesterol109 mg
Choline79.8 mg
Vitamin E2.7 mg

Based on its nutritional content, beef tallow is notably high in saturated fat. While there is a limited amount of research specifically on beef tallow, let's delve into the studies that have examined its nutritional profile.

Health effects of beef tallow

According to a study conducted by the Cochrane group, a renowned center of meta-analysis research, reducing saturated fat consumption reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 21%. This strategy typically involves replacing saturated fats, such as those found in beef tallow, with healthier alternatives like polyunsaturated fatty acids or nutritious carbohydrates.

However, one animal study might cause confusion as it suggests positive effects of beef tallow on lipid profile and other health markers. It compared a high-fat diet with one containing beef tallow, and surprisingly, found that replacing other fats with beef tallow reduced serum total cholesterol and non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.

Furthermore, mice on the high-fat diet with beef tallow had lower fat levels in their fat tissue. Also, switching to a diet with beef tallow, which had a healthier balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fats, boosted the activity of an enzyme called phospho-AMP-activated protein kinase. This enzyme helps regulate how cells use energy and reduces stress in the liver and fat tissue.

While these findings may suggest potential benefits of consuming beef tallow, it's crucial to consider the study's comparison. One group was fed a high-fat diet containing soybean oil and lard (saturated fat from pigs), while the other group had some of the lard replaced with beef tallow. However, since the amount of lard was reduced in the second group, we can't conclude that beef tallow is healthier than other fats, like vegetable oils, based solely on this study.

Nonetheless, for some cooking techniques, the use of beef tallow can actually give us an advantage compared to several vegetable oils with low smoking points, such as sunflower oil. This is particularly true for high-temperature cooking applications, where beef tallow tends to remain more stable compared to vegetable oils.

Is beef tallow better than other forms of fats?

Alongside high-quality and nutritious fat sources such as olive oil, which have proven protective effects against metabolic diseases and possess qualities such as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, claiming that beef tallow is healthier would only be speculation.

Beef tallow generally contains fewer unsaturated fatty acids compared to vegetable oils, making it more stable for cooking. This stability suggests fewer harmful substances are produced during cooking, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and lipid oxidation. However, a study comparing burgers made with beef tallow versus those made with vegetable oil found intriguing results. While burgers with beef tallow had less lipid oxidation, they also had higher levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, especially when beef tallow wasn't replaced with vegetable oil or was replaced with canola oil.

Although beef tallow may seem an advantageous type of fat in high-heat cooking, the emphasis should not be on promoting its widespread use but rather on recommending the rare use of high-heat cooking techniques. Because, as it is known, these cooking techniques can lead to the release of carcinogenic substances as well as loss of nutrient content. However, as long as these cooking methods are rarely used, there is no harm in using beef tallow instead of vegetable oils.

Within this context, it's important to consider the differences between olive oil and beef tallow when incorporating them into your meals. For salads or vegetable dishes, olive oil may be a preferable choice due to its potential health benefits. And when it comes to grilled or fried meat dishes with beef tallow, moderation is key.

How to choose beef tallow

You can choose beef tallow sourced from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals. These animals are typically raised in more natural and humane conditions, resulting in higher-quality fat. Beef tallow should appear creamy white or pale yellow in color, with a mild odor. Avoid tallow that smells rancid or has a strong, off-putting scent, as it may indicate spoilage. For packaging, glass jars or vacuum-sealed pouches are preferable options.

Make sure to read labels to see if there are any additives. It is better to choose beef tallow that is minimally processed and free from additives or artificial ingredients. Pure, unadulterated tallow is the best choice for culinary use.

If the brand doesn’t provide the necessary information that we mentioned above, think twice. Choose brands or suppliers that provide transparency regarding their sourcing and production methods. This includes information about the farms or ranches where the animals were raised, as well as any certifications related to animal welfare and sustainable practices.

How to make beef tallow

The following is a step-by-step guide on how to make beef tallow yourself:

  1. Begin with high-quality beef fat, also referred to as suet. Remove any surplus meat or connective tissue from the fat to ensure purity. Heat the beef fat in a large pot.
  2. Render the beef fat by allowing it to simmer at a low temperature for 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. If necessary, scrape the spatula along the bottom of the pan to release any fat or beef remnants stuck to prevent them from burning. Avoid boiling the fat. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
  3. Complete the rendering process when there are no visible white or solid fat pieces.
  4. Strain the rendered fat by turning off the heat and letting the tallow cool slightly. Prepare a large bowl with a strainer. Carefully pour the tallow from the pan through the strainer into the bowl, catching the larger pieces of crispy rendered beef.
  5. Strain the tallow again into a glass jar. Attach a funnel to the glass jar and insert cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a paper towel. Slowly pour the tallow from the bowl into the funnel to further remove any remaining impurities. It is ready to use immediately or cover it with a tight-fitting lid to store in the fridge.

The verdict

Beef tallow can provide advantages, especially in certain cooking techniques like grilling and frying, and occasional consumption poses no harm. However, declaring beef tallow as the healthiest fat source based solely on this would be a misguided practice. Most importantly, in a balanced dietary pattern, plant-based products — including vegetable oils like olive oil or seeds — play a protective and therapeutic role against chronic diseases.

Trends in the nutrition industry rapidly evolve with numerous speculations or misinformation. Therefore, when selecting the foods we consume, it is crucial to pay attention not only to the conclusions reached in scientific sources but also to the conditions under which these scientific studies were conducted. However, understanding a scientific study directly from its source can be quite challenging. Hence, when encountering confusing information online, consulting an expert in the field would be the most appropriate approach.

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