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This article is about putting back oils and fats for cooking and survival. While I am trying to pick out good choices, I have to say that there is a new study every day that says one fat is superior over another or one does this or that. I am throwing this info out there to highlight some options but I encourage you to research health effects and benefits more thoroughly if that is something you are worried about.
The sad part is that the oils and fats with the longest shelf life are those that are the least healthy for you. Hydrogenated oils simply last longer. The solution may be to have a mix of different oils put back for a long emergency or SHTF situation and use them in order of expiration date and shelf life.
Quality varies depending on growing conditions of the nuts, fruit, grain, or animal that your oil comes from.
The quality of your fats is definitely related to growing conditions of the raw product and how carefully it is processed. Organic is going to cost more, but there are ways to get good natural fats that can help with the cost such as rendering your own lard from pastured pigs. We will talk more about that later on.
Tallow is made from rendering out beef fat. Some people like the bits of crispy meat that are left over at the end of making tallow but I thought they were not that great. On the other hand, our dogs thought they were the best dog snacks ever. Tallow makes the best french fries you will ever have! Some of the farm to table restaurants around here fry their potatoes in tallow rendered from their beef cows.
Tallow is also useful for greasing boots and for making candles. Some do not care for the smell of tallow candles, but I am not going to be that picky if times are hard.
I got my beef fat from the same local farm as our pork fat. Hickory Nut Gap is so good at providing special orders of fats. Beef fat is harder to come by as they are not as naturally fatty as a pig can be. Expect to pay more for beef fat than pork.
Here is a link to my article that shows you how to render tallow step by step!
I render the lard we put back. In order to get a lot of pork fat at a good price, I get mine from Hickory Nut Gap Farm. They will sell me 50 lbs at a time, and they offer quantity discounts. Why I choose to do business with them is that it is pastured pork fat like what I was used to when Matt and I raised pastured pigs. The fat is better for you from a grass-fed animal, and the farm uses no antibiotics unless necessary. Those pigs are not fed a ton of medicated feeds and kept in nasty conditions. If you have a local pork producer that raises them on pasture, talk to them about some pork fat. I covered how to render lard and the calories and benefits you get in my article “How To Render Lard.” It is such a cheap way to put back calories, and it is very easy to can.
Ghee is butter that has been heated, and the milk solids removed so that the resulting product is pure fat and extremely shelf stable even at very high temperatures. In some countries, there is a lot of dairy production, but people don’t have the refrigeration capabilities to preserve a lot of dairy products for the long term. Ghee is a popular fat in India and other very hot places. It is fairly easy to make and can your own ghee, but if you don’t want to do that, then you can buy the commercial version. Ghee can be expensive when bought at your local grocery store.
The only major brand of canned butter I am aware of that is commonly available in the USA is Red Feather. The butter is produced and canned in New Zealand using milk from grass-fed cows. The shelf life is exceptionally long. While this may not be the cheapest fat that you can put back, shelf life of 15 years makes it worth putting back a few cans for long term SHTF food storage.
Red Feather is very popular with preppers and gets excellent reviews as far as taste, quality, and value go.
We started using grapeseed oil from Spain a lot because it is a good alternative to olive oil and 80% of Spanish grapes are organic. At some point, we plan on pressing our own grape seed oil from our harvest because it would be more than enough to provide all our cooking year for the year plus some for other purposes like skincare.
I like to have olive oil for cooking and salad dressing since we do not buy pre-made salad dressing at all. Unfortunately, a lot of olive oil is mixed with other oils and sold as olive oil, so it is a food product you want to be careful about purchasing because it is really annoying to pay for something and get something else.
Worst of all is that the oils are often really cheap stuff even though you are paying olive oil level prices.
Here is a link to olive oil companies that have agreed to random testing to ensure the purity of their product.
I love to deep fry with peanut oil, and it is a reasonably priced oil to put back. Of course, there are a lot of people, especially younger people that are very allergic to peanuts so make sure that no one in your main group is sensitive if you plan on putting some back for a long emergency.
Peanut oil is best purchased in gallons at your local grocery store due to the weight and shipping costs.
Some people assume that Crisco and shortening will keep forever, but if you take a glance at the expiration date on the carton, it only has a best by date that is two years out. This type of fat will last a lot longer than that because it is hydrogenated and made to be very stable. If it is stored at room temps and the seal is not broken, I would be willing to bet that Crisco would last at least five years after you buy it.
It can be nice to have a few special oils for cooking and various other needs like oiling cutting boards or making wood utensils.
This is great for cooking Asian cuisine and adding flavor. A little goes a long way, so you will be surprised what you get out of a single bottle. It is very good for drizzling on noodles to make fancy ramen or similar.
I use this on my wooden cutting boards. I think it is worthwhile to have a bottle or two for woodworking and preservation. Some people like it in salads.
Sunflower oil is a decent alternative to olive or grapeseed oil. The price tends to be higher than grape seed, but sometimes if you catch a sale, you might do better.
Some potato chips are now being fried using avocado oil. I tried some chips that use olive oil, and I have to say that I like them well enough but they are harder to find and they cost more. Avocado oil is good for salads and for adding a little oil to baking veggies like potatoes.
I really love to keep coconut oil around because it has so many uses from cooking to medical and cosmetic needs. The price point makes it prohibitive for some to put back in large quantities, but you can catch some really good deals. The best value is the larger containers. The generic Vitacost Organic Coconut oil seems to be good quality and easy on the pocketbook compared to a lot of other brands. Amazon carries the Nutiva brand that we really like.
Remember that coconut oil comes in unrefined and refined versions. The refined version does not have a coconut flavor to it, so if you don’t care for the flavor of coconut oil in some dishes, it is an option. Some people say that refining cuts down on the positive nutritional and health benefits.
You can make oils go further if you watch your cooking method
A wok is a traditional pan to cook in, but one thing that is often not mentioned is that it allows you to get crispy fried results without using a lot of oil. This is a way to get the deep fried effect on chicken and other meats without using more than half a cup of oil, and maybe less than that. A wok is worth considering for cooking during a long emergency. A typically sized wok will hold a lot of food so you can feed a group. Even if you have to use it twice, the cooking time is great when using one.
On shelf life and fats going rancid
For those that are new to food storage, I always have to state the fact that a lot of the time you will be able to tell if something is bad or not by looking and most importantly, the odor. If there are any signs of black mold in a jar or it smells rotten then toss it. If you are unfamiliar with how animal fats smell when canned then I advise taking a whiff of a canned product that you know is good, so you have an idea of what is normal. Animal fats that are rendered always have a different smell to them, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. True rancidness is impossible to miss if you have even a slight sense of smell.
Most commercial fats and oils seem to go with a 2-year shelf life after purchased at the store. This will vary some, but it is a good measure in most cases. Check out this guide on storing cooking oil long term.
Used fats and oils
We do not waste oils and fats here. Depending on the oil or fat and what was cooked in it, we use oil as a dog food topping or mix it in with chicken or goose food. During a long emergency you will want to avoid waste whenever possible If you can’t eat it yourself then use it to feed animals or even as bait so you can hunt. Fry oil can be very smelly and attractive to wildlife.
I am not really familiar with how to make biodiesel, but usually, people do it that are collecting used oils from restaurants because you need so much to make it worthwhile. Here is a video for those that are more interested in learning how to make fuel from cooking oil.
What I choose to put back
My overall picks for oil to put back are lard, tallow, and peanut oil due to their low cost and some health benefits. I know that grass-fed pork and beef fat are going to be better for me than a bunch of oils and fats from the store, but it takes some work to render fats.
Of course, we have some ghee we canned when we caught butter on sale.
Matt and I also put back olive and grape seed oil, but we know that it needs to be used faster than some of the other oils, so we just try to keep a good rotation going.
Coconut oil is also always in the house, and we usually have a few extras on hand.
Extracting your own oils
I mentioned that Matt and I hope to one day be self-sufficient on cooking oil by extracting the oil from the grape seeds we get after processing 2 acres of wine grapes. An oil extractor is fairly inexpensive for a major piece of food processing equipment. If you live somewhere that you can get a lot of nuts for cheap or grow your own, then you might consider either a hand-cranked or electric oil extractor.
Of course, the manual oil extractor is the most economical, but if you want to produce a lot of oil now, the electric model may be worth it to you. I have no experience using home oil presses, so I encourage you to research oil presses well before you buy them and make sure you understand how they work.
Deciding what oils are best for you
Exploring different cooking oils can add flavor and valuable nutritional benefits to your cooking, but the following factors are some of the more important considerations when one really thinks about it.
- Allergies and food sensitivities of everyone in your family or prepping group
- Calories versus cost
- Health factors and personal considerations like organic versus conventional
- How you like to cook and personal taste preferences
Remember that it can be helpful to have ways to spice up dishes that might otherwise be bland. Oils, spices, and seasonings can help accomplish that. The benefit of oils and fats is that they add valuable calories, unlike spices and seasonings.
What are your favorite oils and fats to put back? Is there a brand that you like a lot that we should know about? Please share in the comments below!