What is Tallow? Uses and Health Benefits
When you think of glowing skin or disease prevention, melted animal fat is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, tallow is a saturated fat you’ll want to keep stocked in your pantry for its numerous health benefits and countless uses.
Many refer to tallow as an ‘old fashioned fat’ because historically, it was the primary fat used for cooking and frying thanks to its unusually high smoke point. However, tallow was replaced with refined vegetable oils (such as canola), when incomplete studies claimed that saturated fats cause heart disease. (Spoiler alert: there’s still no scientific evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease)(1).
What is Tallow?
As a saturated animal fat, tallow almost looks like a hybrid of coconut oil and butter, but with a dry, waxy texture. It’s generally made from cattle fat, but can come from any animal, except pork — pork tallow is called lard. So, tallow is basically cow lard.
Beef tallow is: 50% saturated fat, 42% monounsaturated fat and 4% polyunsaturated fat.
Tallow is made from rendering suet, which is the hard, white fatty layer that surrounds an animal’s organs, specifically the loins and kidneys.
Tallow Health Benefits
As suggested above, saturated fats were wrongly accused for causing heart disease. The study done on saturated fats and heart disease was biased, and we now understand that chronic systemic inflammation is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, which is the result of chronic stress and eating a diet high in refined sugar and trans-fats (2)(3)(4).
The high saturated fat content of tallow is what makes it an ideal cooking fat. Saturated fats are most resistant to high temperatures, unlike delicate polyunsaturated fats, which oxidize when exposed to heat and form free radicals (5). Free radicals can damage our cells and cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to a whole host of other chronic health problems, in addition to cardiovascular disease.
Tallow, on the other hand, has a smoke point of 420°F, which makes it one of the most resistant cooking fats to heat. By comparison, coconut oil has a smoke point of 350°F, and butter has a smoke point of 250°F(6).
Tallow is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fatty acid which, according to some studies, can help burn fat. (7).
Believe it or not, tallow is the original ‘body butter’.
Sure, slathering beef fat all over your body may not sound appealing at first, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it.
The structure of our cell membranes is made up of approximately 50% saturated fats, which is very similar to the percentage of saturated fatty acids in tallow. Fatty acids are also the building blocks of healthy skin cells, which makes them an important nutrient for skin repair and regeneration.
Since anything we put on our bodies is absorbed through the skin, you can get some of the health benefits of tallow by applying it topically, as well as by eating it.
Fat is needed to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which help support your immune system. Adding tallow to your food can help increase the healthy fats in your diet, which in turn will help you absorb these nutrients more efficiently.
Other Uses for Tallow
In addition to cooking, tallow can be used for many DIY home remedies, and fits into certain special diets.
Keto Diet Recipes
The ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carb diet plan that helps boost energy levels, metabolism and fat loss. As a saturated fat, tallow is encouraged in the keto diet to help meet daily fat requirements, and can be used as an alternative to coconut oil and butter.
Fat is a naturally moisturizing nutrient, and tallow has the perfect texture to make whipped homemade body butter. When whipped and mixed with essential oils, such as peppermint or lavender, tallow makes the perfect hand and body moisturizer. Just be sure to also use a carrier oil, such as jojoba, olive, or almond oil, which helps dilute the essential oils in homemade body care recipes.
Now, we’re not saying you can’t use tallow as a moisturizer on its own, but as melted animal fat, tallow may leave you smelling like…animal fat. Mixing it with essential oils helps mask the scent.
Believe it or not, most commercial soap bars are made with tallow! Tallow hardens and lathers well, and can be used in place of other vegetable oils, such as palm oil, that are commonly used in soap making. To make tallow soap, all you need is sodium hydroxide, water, tallow and essential oils. We like this simple tallow soap recipe from Wellness Mama’s blog.
It’s believed that the original candle was made from beeswax, but tallow candles followed soon after. Tallow candles are simply tallow that has been melted, then cooled in a canning jar with a wick placed in the middle. Candlemaking doesn’t get any easier than that.
Where to Find Tallow
You can buy tallow online through natural food stores (such as Thrive Market), or in grocery stores. It’s important to consider the health of the animal when sourcing tallow, because the health of the animal will determine how nutritious your tallow is. In other words, you’ll want to find organic tallow sourced from grass-fed cows, which receive more omega-3s in their diets.
The only downside to purchasing tallow is that it can be really expensive. In this case, you may want to consider rendering your own tallow at home (and it’s easier than you may think).