Duck and especially goose fat have been used for frying the world’s tastiest potatoes for hundreds of years. Indeed in the depths of France, where people are not wholly terrified of animal fats, some people still do it. These fats are also used in the preparation of confits and cassoulets, although, again, only by the few and the brave.

The concept of “healthy” foods is one we tend to avoid. First, the human race has been consuming for centuries many of the natural foods now considered dreadful, and the human race continues to exist. Many processed and manufactured foods and blends have been around only for decades or even just years/months/weeks, and many do not raise the same alarm as the foods that many generations of our ancestors happily ate. Second, the general healthfulness or danger of many foods tends to go in and out of vogue as researchers conduct ever more research. Foods that many people have been taught to avoid are suddenly all right again, and foods that were OK before are now forbidden. Finally, with a little digging, it is possible to find scientific evidence for or against just about any food or group of foods that we now eat.

Your question is a perfect case in point. Some people are reading this with their eyes rolling and their heads shaking that someone, somewhere could ask such a misguided question. Yet Shirley Corriher, a respected scientist, cook, and author of Cookwise, says, “with our health fears, we may have overreacted to all animal fat. Some of the hydrogenated vegetable oils in margarines probably elevate serum cholesterol more than fats from fowls.”

The processing and chemical treatment of many fats does indeed alter their makeup considerably. The addition of hydrogen gas under heat and pressure not only changes a vegetable oil from a liquid at room temperature to a solid, it also transforms many of the oil’s polyunsaturated molecules to saturated molecules. According to Sharon Tyler Herbst, author of The New Food Lover’s Companion, “some researchers believe that hydrogenated oils may actually be more damaging than regular saturated fats for those limiting cholesterol in their diets.”

There are other related issues that raise concerns in the health arena, as well. The frying fats of choice, unsaturated fats, are much less durable than hydrogenated fats, and are more likely to go rancid. Some compounds found in rancid oil are poisonous, so it could be more beneficial in the long run to choose a saturated fat. While this is more of a concern for restaurants than for home cooks, many people we know eat in restaurants, and have no idea what their foods have been fried in, much less how fresh the fat is.

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