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The Beans About Crisco

Crisco Pure Vegetable (All-Soybean) OilSoybean oil.  That’s it. That’s it?
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Yes. After learning that Crisco got its name from crystallized cotton seed oil and waxing nostalgic about the big red-white-and-blue shortening can Mom used to keep in the cupboard for baking, I was shocked to find that a typical 32-ounce bottle of all-natural, cholesterol free Crisco Pure Vegetable Oil had just one ingredient.  Not cottonseed oil but soybean oil.

Soybean oil is another surplus crop more frequently used for whatever the processors, marketers, and packagers come up with. Cottonseed oil isn’t in the cooking oil or shortening ingredients.  It appears Crisco has given in to the cheap grain trend of government-subsidized crops making more of our food.  It’s probably better than fattier cottonseed oil that’s increasingly fed to dairy cows as a fiber source that converts to butterfat in milk.

To learn more, I did a Google search on October 8 and read blog posts on FreeTheAnimal that accused the Proctor and Gamble-owned firm of everything from dishonesty to demonizing to murder in selling a fatty cooking oil since 1915 that contained synthetic saturated fats and giving away cookbooks with Crisco recipes.  Some said the company should be sued for fraud and negligence for not letting the public know about the human health hazards of their concoction  — from vitamin E deficiency to obesity and heart disease. Pretty inflammatory for a product now made from soybeans.

Other blogs recognized that scientists make mistakes and that “let the buyer beware” applies.  Perhaps the biggest issue these posters raised was that Crisco has government subsidies to thank for its market share and that “this type of trash is pretty standard marketing fare for most new products early to mid 1900s. Artificial was routinely touted as better. For foodstuffs, too.”

Interestingly, Crisco’s Web site says “We’re proud of our past and look forward to remaining a key ingredient in kitchens everywhere.” The same paragraph cites recent innovations such as Canola, Corn and Natural Blend Oils; Crisco Sticks for baking ease; and alcohol free No-Stick Cooking Sprays, all made with surplus grain products, as Pollan noted in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

For me, the issue seems to be government subsidies and the need for accurate information about product and the nutrition benefits and risks.  I’d almost rather have Crisco make its original cottonseed product and not get government money.  No matter which way it goes, we need better nutritional information about specific fats and oils so consumers can make better choices.  We can also strive for balanced eating, with maybe an occasional Crisco chicken fry with homegrown vegetables and fruits on the same plate. What we need less of is fried foods every night or the processed fast-food chicken with HFCS soda, which too many of us choose while using the drive-thrus of life’s fast lane.

3 comments
  1. Steve

    I am confused. Is soybean oil bad?

    Not really. Local food crusaders such as Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have included soybeans as one of two addictive crops, the other being corn, that are used to produce highly-processed food. It’s probably healthier than cottonseed oil that’s used to help cows make butterfat and used t]o flavor all of our snack foods.

  2. Becky Striepe

    I wish I could remember what brand it was now, but at the grocery store a few months ago they were selling fancy bottles of “Soy Oil” alongside pricey specialty oils like walnut and avocado. Amazing.

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