Before you lose your mind, I’m not here to tell you that coconut and all of its lovely, luscious derivatives are bad for you. Hell no. But maybe, just maybe there is an alternative that is better for the planet and just as good, if not better, for you too. Let’s talk about Tallow and all of its lovely uses! If you know me at all you know I use coconut oil for just about everything, so trust me when I say this 10 minute read is worth your time.
Tallow is the nicer, more marketable name for rendered beef fat- generally collected from around the organs, especially the kidneys. Once processed, the fat turns into a solid substance used in candles, soaps, skin salves, and, for the purpose of this article, YUMMIES. In the past, it was common to use tallow as a cooking oil due to a high smoke point, stable shelf-life, and relatively easy extraction. As the ketogenic and paleo lifestyles continue to gain popularity and we begin to reframe our feelings on fats, we can turn back to tallow as viable source of some essential nutrients.
Before discussing these nutrients, it is of the utmost importance to get on the same page about sourcing. Tallow, as with any fat you plan to consume for your health, must be rendered from only the most natural animals possible- factory farm animals need not apply. Just as many of the nutrients, vitamins, and good-for-ya’s are stored in the fats of healthy animals, so are the toxins and bad-for-ya’s stored in the fats of unhealthy, grain-fed animals. Think of it this way- any time a cow feels stress, a cocktail of stress hormones will course through its body, ultimately solidifying in the fat cells. If you are consuming a poorly fed animal with high stress levels (due to poor diet, limited space, and generally bad conditions), you are essentially consuming the aftereffect of the buildup of those hormones as well. While the horrendous environmental effects of large-scale conventional farming are beyond the scope of this article, suffice to say destroying the land for a bit of tallow would be overkill. So, if you are unable to come across a beyond-organic, pasture-raised cow on a sustainably designed operation…it’s best to just pass.
What’s in the box
Tallow is a rich source of the good fat Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a fatty acid known best for its immunity-building, inflammation-fighting, and fat-burning properties. In some preliminary studies, CLA helped to reduce cancerous tumors as well. Cows that are able to eat their natural diet of grass will have a more balanced omega-6 to omega-3 content, which translates to higher levels of CLAs. CLAs have also exhibited insulin-resistant properties, meaning they help to reduce circulating glucose in our bodies.
Tallow is also a great source of vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as a range of antioxidants and antimicrobials, meaning it is great for your skin! Because the cellular structure is similar to that of our own skin’s sebum, we easily absorb the vitamins when placed directly on the skin. These vitamins nourish the skin, improve elasticity, and promote cellular regeneration. You can therefore use tallow as the oil to make soaps, salves, and lotions (I made a fan-freaking-tastic lavender + eucalyptus massage cream that far exceeds any deep tissue lotion I’ve ever bought!), but in this article I’ll speak specifically to use as a cooking oil.
How can I get me some?
Making your own Tallow is quite simple, especially if you have access to a local butcher. We worked with the cows at Hacienda Sur, an artisan beef farm on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. These cows are some of the happiest, healthiest cows I have ever encountered. They are a cross between Wagyu, Angus, and Brahma, bred specifically for a superior meat that can stand the climate without getting stressed out. The farm pays such close attention to the herds that their stress levels are taken into account at the time of butchering- the less stressed they are, the healthier the product. I know that the idea of butchering cows will send some folks into a squeamish tailspin, but I challenge you to consider learning about truly sustainable practices, because they do exist. Naturally raised (not “natural” in the sense of USDA standards…really natural- as according to the ruminate’s true nature) animals produce far less waste and can actually help the land as well. When combined with natural irrigation and solar power, it gives the farm a carbon-negative footprint while also building up the grassy habitats for other creatures too. The methane gas produced by the cows is not nearly as toxic when they aren’t eating toxic food…imagine that! But I digress. Where were we?
If you can get your hands on this high quality fat, the rest is cake. Simply put the fat in a large cheese cloth, tie the cloth, and set it in a crockpot on low for 10 hours (or more, or less, you’ll see!). As the fat begins to melt, it will seep out of the cheese cloth while the tissues remain inside. The tallow will be a nice, golden color with a slightly sweet smell (however, if it smells rancid, it probably is and something went wrong!). While it is still warm, transfer the liquid tallow to a glass jar for storing, and wring out whatever you can from the cheese cloth, discarding the rest. As it hardens, the tallow will turn a crisp, pure white and stay solid even in higher temperatures- we carried ours through the dry season in Central America without any melting issues. You can use it to cook just about anything; I generally reach for the tallow when cooking/sautéing at high heats on the stovetop, or as a bit of extra flavor when making rice, beans, and soups.
Well, why bother with anything? Because it is a simple, healthy, sustainable way to lower your own footprint and utilize your human-ness for good! Sure you could use coconut oil from the store instead, but there is something magical in creating your own foods, especially when they are so rich in nutrients and cultivated in your local community. So often this part of the animal is tossed away to rot and never used. Whether you eat meat or not, I am a firm believer in extracting the highest amount of nutrients and uses from any organism that I consume, plant and animal alike. We get so caught up in generalizations about the cost-benefit analysis of veganism vs. ominvourism, most of the time pointing fingers at each other just to highlight how we’re all wrong, and quite often this analysis comes without ever having stepped foot on a food-producing farm. Rather than arguing about our food philosophy, can we all agree that the more efficiently we use any food, the less we waste? Isn’t that what matters most? I have been living in Costa Rica for about two months and am utterly astonished by the amount of mono-cultivation I see here: pineapple, banana, and PALM. Hundreds of thousands of MILES of jungle have been routed out by plantations to produce these goods. Planes whiz by at all hours of the day to fumigate. Fruits are marked and covered in plastic bags to signify time to harvest. It is an atrocious mark on an otherwise highly sustainable country. As a coconut worshiper myself, seeing these plantations has helped me to truly acknowledge my role in monoculture and waste, regardless of what the labels on the packages I’ve so carefully selected say. I promise myself to learn more about the process of coconut cultivation before buying any more products. It’s true what they say, Knowledge is Power, and if I don’t fully know, then my power to make a decision is compromised. Perhaps ridding myself of coconut altogether is not the answer (part of me hopes this is true!) What I do know is this: In choosing to harvest your own tallow, a byproduct otherwise thrown away, you are directly contributing to a more sustainable and healthy mission, and I can get on board with that!