The Truth About Lard In Mexican Cooking

Mexican food is a delight for the senses in so many ways. As SBS points out, the country's cuisine is often made with bold tasting, aromatic ingredients such as chiles, oregano, coriander, garlic, onion, and lemon. Depending on what part of the country you're visiting, you're sure to find a wide variety of regional dishes. For example, in northern Mexico, meals favor meats like beef, goat, or ostrich; while in the southeastern region of the country you're more likely to find fish and chicken on the menu.

In terms of the fat used in Mexican cooking, lard has been a prominent ingredient for quite some time now. According to The Spruce Eats, many chefs prefer using the fat (which is derived from pigs) instead of oil or butter when preparing foods like refried beans or tamales. The Los Angeles Times shares that lard was not, however, historically used in indigenous Mexican cooking, as pigs are not native to the country. The animal was brought over by the Spanish sometime in the 1500s, which NPR describes as the country's middle history. So is lard necessary for Mexican cooking? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Lard is a delicious addition

According to the Los Angeles Times, lard works really well for certain Mexican foods (such as tamales, as mentioned above) because of the fact that it makes dishes fluffier and crispier, and imparts a distinct taste.

In terms of prominence, home cooks in Mexico now frequently choose to forgo lard, even in dishes that it is know to shine in, as lard tends to be a bit pricier than something like vegetable oil. One Quora user offered more perspective on this topic. "For home cooking, by far the most commonly used oil for cooking is vegetable oil," wrote John Lee Ward. "Mexican street food will often use lard (Think carnitas!). Also, in very traditional homes where beans [are] made from scratch and consumed as a staple, lard will be used. In these households, both lard and vegetable oil will be in the pantry."

Another reason some cooks might choose a plant-based option over lard? Health concerns. One commentator on Quora explained that many cooks have switched to using ingredients like olive oil "due to a more health conscious population." Either way, if you love Mexican food you can't go wrong with any option.