Primarily famous in France and around the Mediterranean Sea, duck fat is slowly but surely entering the mainstream western market as well. Though it’s much more expensive than olive oil and hence is not convenient for daily cooking, it makes for a much healthier option in comparison to the many other fats and oils available widely- due to the ratio in fatty acids-. But, how does it stand against olive oil?
What is Duck Fat?
Duck fat is the clear and silky fat that is rendered from ducks. Golden in color, duck fat is also known for its savory and slightly sweet flavor and the richness it adds to any dish fried with it. With a high smoking point, duck fat is safe to be reused, unlike olive oil or butter. It is famously used in France for frying French fries, vegetables, or even meats. And, with a balanced fatty acids make-up, it has great heat stability and hence preserves the rich flavor even after cooking.
What is olive oil?
Olive oil is a liquid fat produced by pressing olives. It is oil primarily produced around the Mediterranean Sea, specifically in Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and has an array of uses in the kitchen. It can be used in frying, sautéing, and salad dressing. With a long shelf-life and a high smoking point, olive oil becomes ideal for daily cooking. Moreover, due to its make-up in fatty acids, olive oil has commonly been viewed as a healthier option than many other oils and fats.
Duck Fat vs Olive Oil: Comparison
Smoking point- also known as burning point- refers to the temperature at which the fat or cooking oil starts to emit smoke or burn. It is recommended that fats and oils be used below their smoking point as smoking can cause the release of toxins.
The smoke point of duck fat is 375°F.
The smoke point of olive oil is also 375°F.
Duck fat has a savory and slightly sweet taste and a great depth and richness, yet without being overwhelming.
While the taste of olive oil may vary depending on the olives it is made from. Though, in general, it has a fruity, bitter, and peppery flavor. Olive oil is also known for its pungent fruity aroma.
Duck fat is an excellent choice for high-heat cooking, including frying both meats and vegetables. This luscious fat enriches flavors, creates a nice crunchy coat, and keeps the fried item crispy for much longer. An iconic recipe made with duck fat is Roasted Potatoes. Additionally, duck fat, unlike many other fats derived from animals, does not have a “meaty” taste. It’s actually quite neutral in flavor, so it does not compromise the taste of the meat or vegetable being fried, but rather enriches it with depth and texture.
On the other hand, olive oil is an extremely versatile oil. It can be used in grilling, frying, cooking, and even baking. Commonly, it is used in vinaigrettes, dips, and marinades as well. Olive oil adds to the flavor and increases the antioxidant levels of the cooked item. Due to its vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acid profile, olive oil is generally viewed as a healthier alternative to other fats and oils.
Duck fat is a good source of B vitamins and fat-soluble vitamin C.
Olive Oil is a good source of Vitamins E and K.
Fat is composed of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated acids. The figures below represent the fatty acid makeup of duck fat and olive oil in general, but these numbers will vary. Duck fat has more saturated fat than olive oil and olive oil has more monounsaturated fatty acids, but otherwise the fat profiles are not that far apart.
Duck Fat vs Olive Oil: The Importance of Sourcing & Recommended Brand
The quality of life of the duck that you source the fat from determines the quality of the duck fat.
The highest quality duck fat may be found at a farm near you. Some farms may sell already rendered fat, but if not, you can always buy duck and render the fat yourself. Rendering that yourself is a fun and very hands-on way to get your cooking fat.
Some questions to ask the farm where you source from:
- What do the ducks eat?
- Do they get to roam outside?
- Are they fed GMOs?
- Are they fed soy or given antibiotics/hormones?
Ideally, you want the ducks to spend as much time on pasture as possible. You also should ensure that they do not eat GMO or soy-based feed as this could alter the nutritional content of the fat.
Recently, since olive oil is a billion dollar business in the US, there has been some issues with counterfeit olive oil. Olive oil should be made from only olives, no oil blends. Olive oil also should only be extracted mechanically, not with any chemical solvents.
If you do not have any farms near you, or are simply not interested in rendering the fat yourself, there are some other good options.
For duck fat, 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. Fatworks and Epic also make high-quality, pastured duck fat and are good options.
For storage, I highly recommend these Souper silicone trays for airtight storage in the fridge or freezer. I’ve found these trays to come in handy many times, as you can take out small portions to defrost as you need. I also like these Weck shoulder-less glass jars that shouldn’t crack in the freezer.
How To Render Duck Fat
Rendering duck fat is the process of slowly cooking fat from the fowl, generally in low heat, with very little water for the purpose of melting the solid fats into pure liquid fats that can later be used for cooking, frying, and more. Though ducks are extremely rich in fats all over their bodies, their breasts, legs, and skin hold the most fat.
To render duck fat:
- Cut off the fatty parts and skin from the duck.
- Chop them into small pieces.
- Place them in a pot over medium heat with ½ to ¾ of a cup of water.
- After a few minutes of letting it boil, turn the heat to medium-low or low as you don’t want to cook the protein in it, but rather just melt the fat.
- Let it simmer for about 50 minutes or until the water evaporates.
- After the water has evaporated, strain the pure fat into a clean airtight container. Optionally, you may use a cheesecloth while straining to make sure that no solid parts get through.
- Store it in a refrigerator and use it for at least six months.
Compared to many other oils and fats, both duck fat and olive oil make for much healthier options. The key differences are in the source, duck fat being rendered from an animal, the duck, and olive oil being a plant-based oil. Versatile and great enhancers of taste, both duck fat and olive oil make for tasty dishes and recipes. However, while olive oil is widely accessible and more economical, duck fat is more expensive and not as widely available.