The 4 types of shortening, explained

Shortening is a baker’s best friend. This solidified fat results in flaky crusts, crispy baked goods and tender cakes, according to British. Fat like this is often incorporated into baked goods to produce workable doughs and crumbly cake textures.

Crisco may be synonymous with shortening to many people, but the company didn’t start making its famous product until 1911. Before Crisco came along, lard – a product made from animal fat – was used for cooking and baking. But Crisco found a way to make an all-vegetable solid fat that was considered more economical, according to the Crisco website.

The word shortening itself refers to any type of fat that is solid at room temperature (via spruce eats). This type of fat gets its name from its role in creating “short” doughs that have less elasticity than what we call “long” doughs. Food Network explains that shortening separates gluten strands in a dough, resulting in flaky, tender baked goods; instead of having longer strands which would result in chewy products like bread. The longer the shortening – or shortening – stays solid, the more pockets of steam it creates, giving that melt-in-the-mouth flaky layer of many cookies and pastries.

There are four different types of shortening, and they all have different fat-to-water ratios: solid, liquid, all-purpose, and cake or icing shortening, according to The Spruce Eats. Each serves a unique purpose and thrives in specific types of recipes.

Solid shortening is perfect for pie crust

Solid shortening comes in cans or sticks like butter, explains spruce eats. This type is especially good for pie crusts because it holds its shape while baking — unlike butter, which softens on heating and causes the crust to fall apart, according to Food Network.

This is because solid shortening is 100% fat and contains no water, meaning vapor pockets will not develop unless mixed with something that contains water. like butter. However, make cookies with shortening will result in a softer batch than if you used butter (via Bob’s red mill). Another benefit of using solid shortening is that it has little to no flavor, according to Food Network. For this reason, it is adaptable to recipes of any flavor profile.

Liquid shortening is good for frying

Liquid shortening is great for frying, but spruce eats notes that it’s also good in cakes or recipes that call for melting solid shortening – as oil is a more common household item. This type of shortening is sold in bottles because these fats remain liquid even at low temperatures. They are usually derived from corn, soybeans, palm nuts (like coconut) and peanuts, according to British.

They have a mild flavor but have been processed so that the flavor and color are lighter. Unlike pure white solid shortening, these liquids are often light yellow in color. Besides frying, this type of shortening is great for recipes like bread, rolls, or other firm baked goods (via Britannica).

All purpose shortening is intended for commercial use

The all-purpose shortening boasts a trans fat-free nutrition label, according to Perspective. Acute awareness of the effects of trans fats emerged in the 90s and was later banned by the FDA in 2020 (via Health Line). Due to the underlying health issue of consuming trans fats, all types of shortenings are now trans fat free.

According spruce eats, all-purpose shortening is used universally in baking and frying and contains no emulsifiers, making it extremely versatile. This is an important distinction between this and cake shortening, which contains emulsifiers.

Cake shortening to make fluffy icing

Cake shortening makes baked goods and their fillings fluffy and fluffy. Pro Natural Resources says this type of shortening “supports the structure of baked goods with higher liquid and/or sugar ratios.” Frosting isn’t much more than fat and sugar, so what exactly does shortening do for icing?

Using shortening as the fat component will keep your icing stable; whereas a butter-based icing would melt over time even at room temperature (via Food 52). Along with adding stability to your perfectly placed icing, cake shortening’s white color and neutral flavor make it perfect for slipping into any recipe, explains spruce eats.

Although there are many small differences, you don’t have to stick to just one type of fat when cooking! According to Food 52, you can combine cake shortening and butter to strike a happy medium between rich flavor and structural integrity.