Animal fats, once long forgotten in favor of margarine and vegetable oils have come back in a big way. You can now find jars of tallow and duck fat on the shelves of many grocery stores across the United States. But how do these animal fats differ? And is one superior for cooking and health than another? In Duck Fat vs Tallow, which comes out on top?
What is Duck Fat?
Duck fat, sometimes called schmaltz, is a semi solid at room temperature animal fat derived from the fat of ducks. It is shelf stable at room temperature and adds an exquisite richness to any food. Duck fat is usually yellow in color and comes in a jar, though I’ve seen some duck fat in a spray can. It has traditionally used in French and Mediterranean cuisine, though it is becoming more popular in North America more recently.
What is Beef Tallow?
Tallow is just beef fat that has been rendered. The raw fat found around the loins and kidneys of cattle is called suet, and that suet gets melted, simmered and strained to form tallow. Unlike suet, tallow has a long shelf life, and does not require refrigeration. Tallow ranges from white to more yellow in color depending on the source and is stored in a jar as a solid. Tallow is an ancient cooking fat used in traditional recipes for as long as we have historical evidence, in this way it’s similar to ghee which has long been a staple in middle eastern cooking.
Both fats are traditional, foundational fats that are the basis of many ancestral cuisines, and are a healthy source of dietary fat.
Duck Fat vs Tallow Comparison
Smoke point is simply the temperature when the fat will start to smoke and burn. It is not advisable to use fats at temperatures past their smoke point, as it will usually produce a burnt and off taste. When fats surpass their smoke point, they generally will not be as healthy as the fats have been broken down by the heat.
Duck fat has a smoke point of around 375°F .
Beef tallow has a smoke point of 400°F . This high temperature makes tallow perfect for deep frying.
Both fats are flavorful and distinct. Duck fat has a sweet, mild flavor, and it’s definitely not overpowering. Duck fat is famous for making amazing roast potatoes. It not a fat that is good to use in baking, though.
Tallow very familiar beef fat flavor that is definitely not considered “neutral.” It’s the same flavor as if you were to bite into a piece of fat on a steak. Tallow definitely has a beef flavor, although I don’t think it is incredibly overpowering. I actually notice that beef tallow smells more beefy as it cooks than it actually tastes. That being said, it should definitely only be used in savory foods.
Duck fat is perfect for roasting, searing and frying. You can even use it to make mayo and salad dressings, and make deliciously rich popcorn. I mostly is used to sear and roast vegetables, though. It’s great in how it creates crisp exteriors that stay crispy, not turn soggy.
Tallow really shines when frying and roasting, especially when wanting to add a meaty richness to a vegetable dish. It’s no wonder that McDonald’s fries were originally fried in tallow until they were pressured into ditching saturated fats. Tallow makes fries incredibly crispy and flavorful, and adds great depth to roasted vegetables. Tallow is also great for pan frying leaner cuts of beef in order to add some flavor back in.
Tallow is nutritionally superior to duck fat, as duck fat only has some B vitamins and small amounts of fat soluble vitamin C. Although the vitamin content will vary, tallow is a great source of vitamin D, Vitamin E, and trace amounts of selenium, all of which are rarely found in food .
Fat is made up of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated acids. The numbers cited below represent the fatty acid makeup of duck fat and tallow in general, but these numbers will vary depending on quality and diet of the animal. For example, a mostly grass-fed cow will have a better, healthier omega fat ratio than a feedlot cow’s fat.
Duck fat’s fat profile is actually similar to that of olive oil, made up of mostly monounsaturated fat, while tallow has much more saturated fat.
Duck Fat vs Beef Tallow: The Importance of Sourcing & Recommended Brands
It’s important to source duck fat from ducks that live free-range and pastured and are fed organic, non-GMO feed. Your best bet is trying to find local farms who raise their animals with these practices. However, if you cannot find that near you, I highly recommend US Wellness Meats. Their duck fat comes from small farms in the Hudson Valley, NY, and the brand has a good reputation for high quality, pastured animal foods. Some other high-quality brands are Epic and Fat Works.
Again, like duck fat, the quality of life of the cow that you source the fat from is very important. It is best to get the beef suet from a 100% grass-fed, organic local farm and render it yourself. Though I know this is not always possible, some brands I’d recommend are Fat Works, Epic, and US Wellness Meats. If you’re looking for high-quality tallow for skincare, Vintage Tradition is a great brand carrying scented and unscented balms.
How To Render Tallow
How to Render Duck Fat
Duck Fat vs Beef Tallow In Short
Both of these animal fats are similar in their uses and culinary effect. The main difference between them is their nutrition profile. I would say that well-sourced tallow is healthier than duck fat because it has more fat-soluable vitamins and a better fat ratio than duck fat. I also believe it is harder to find very high quality (pastured, organic, non-GMO) duck fat than it is to find high-quality beef fat. That being said, they are both tasty, welcome additions to any modern, traditionally inspired diet.