My health-consciousness slips a little. Or, In Praise of Crisco


When I was a kid, my mom was the classic semi-ex-hippie health nut.  She sprinkled wheat germ on everything, served us whole-wheat bread (often homemade), would NEVER allow Kraft Cheese Singles in our home, nor Kool-Aid, nor Twinkies and the like.  We had natural peanut butter and honey on that whole wheat bread.  At school, no one ever wanted to trade lunch items with me.  Carrot sticks for a Little Debbie cake just didn’t work.  As I suffered, I pledged to do differently when I was a grown-up, especially when I had kids.  I just wouldn’t do to them what was done to me.

Well, fast-forward 25 years, and guess what?  If anything, I’m healthier than my mom.  Obviously, since we’re gluten-free, there’s no wheat germ to be found in the house, but there is rice bran!  Hehehe!  I avoid processed foods, making as much from scratch as possible, saving us both money and exposure to unnecessary additives and fat.  I strive for whole-grain baking, putting brown rice and sorghum flour in my cakes.  We eat lots of fruits and veggies, and Kool-Aid has never passed my threshhold.  Another thing I scrupulously avoid is trans-fats.  Those artery-clogging baddies haven’t seen my pantry shelves in years.  My pantry is stocked with Spectrum Non-Hydrogenated Shortening.  (Spectrum is made of palm oil, which is semi-solid at room temperature.)  Since we’re now dairy-free, we use Smart Balance, which is trans-fat-free, as well as dairy-free.  No “regular” margarine for us — ever — though I really miss real butter.

However, in addition to striving to be healthy, I’m also practical.  Since 5/6 of our family is gluten-free, and 1/3 of it is completely dairy-free, and an additional 1/3 is dairy-reduced, I have to make most of what we eat gluten-free and casein/dairy-free.  Doing so is often an exercise more akin to a science experiment than to baking.  There’s so much that changes when you take out the protein of wheat and milk;  it makes many “standard,” simple recipes extremely difficult.  Multitudes of previously unexperienced problems crop up.  Baking really is all about chemical reactions, and GFCF baking breaks so many of the rules we rely upon for successful “normal” baking.

One problem I continually have is that of my cookies spreading too much.  I tinker with the sugar content, the moisture content, the temperature at which they bake, the kind of pan on which they bake, the kind of fat I use in them… still, I’m often left with unintentionally crispy, flat cookies.  They still taste good, but they don’t look (nor have the texture) that they should.

Enter Carrie, the Ginger Lemon Girl.  She’s a gluten-free blogger with a similar baking sensibility to mine:  she’d rather use one billion ingredients and come up with the PERFECT recipe than use fewer and have the results be simply edible.  I thought my recipe lists, intros, notes and explanations veered into the “Over the Top” category, but hers take the (gluten-free) cake.  She pays attention to the most minute of details, and writes about them in great detail, including tons of pics.

I almost laughed myself through her ultra-detailed description of making chocolate chip cookies.  Now, I haven’t yet made her recipe, but I will.  (I’ve been distracted for the last five weeks turning her bread recipe into a casein/dairy-free version, but that’s for another post.)  At the end of the post, though, I received a baking revelation:  using Crisco in lieu of non-hydrogenated Spectrum shortening stops the spread.  She even illustrates this pictorially. 

The lighter, “puffier” cookie on the bottom left is made with Butter-flavored Crisco, the darker, flatter one on the upper right is made with Spectrum:

This rocked my trans-fat-free world.  Even though they have recently reformulated, Crisco does contain some hydrogenated oils, which do contain trans-fats.  However, it is merely “technically” free of trans-fats, because each serving (1 tablespoon) contains less than 0.5 grams, so they’re allowed to list it as 0g.  I’d really like to know the exact gram-content of trans-fats in, perhaps, a larger amount.  So far, though, I haven’t been able to find it.

Anyways.  After seeing Carrie’s post, I bought some Butter Crisco on my next trip to the grocery store.  I’ve been using it everywhere:  in bread, in cookies, in cakes…  with stellar success.  Last night, the Butter Crisco went into some hot dog buns.  I used a recipe I’ve used before, but never with these results.  I’ve never had puffier, more wonderfully-textured hot dog buns, ever.  (MANY thanks, by the way, to Oscar Meyer for their new, nitrate/nitrite-free beef hot dogs, which are comparably priced to other branded “regular” hot dogs.) Those buns were SO good.

In fact, after heading home by myself from Bible study last night, I had this little conversation with myself, “Hmm…  Should I stop at Sonic and get some Tater-Tots?  Or, hey, their shakes are still 99 cents!!  No…  I think I’d rather go home and have a sandwich or hot dog on those buns I made this afternoon.”  They were that good.

I have to say, I’m sold on Butter Crisco.

EDITED TO ADD:  OK, I should have researched this better before writing the two paragraphs below on the potential of Butter Crisco containing dairy/casein ingredients.  I called Crisco, and after listening to an actually helpful recording on allergens, I had the option of talking to a real person.  She was extremely thorough and friendly — the best customer service rep I’ve talked to in a long time.  She assured me that the “natural flavorings” (as well as the artificial ones) in Butter Crisco are NOT, absolutely NOT, derived from dairy.  They contain no casein whatsoever.  Butter Crisco is gluten-free/casein-free.  She wouldn’t say, flat-out, the sources of the natural flavorings, because it’s “proprietary.”  However, if you have an individual allergen, beyond the standard “big eight” allergens, they will research it and call you back.  I asked her to check to see if it contained any carob.  Wes isn’t as violently allergic to carob as he used to be, but I still avoid it.

Woo hoo!!

Not that that makes Butter Crisco actually healthy, but at least it’s safe, and sometimes, for us, safe has to trump healthy. 

Now, for the allergen disclaimer:  Our family’s need to eliminate dairy is largely due to Wesley’s extreme allergy to casein (the protein in milk).  One Hershey’s Kiss has enough dairy to give him a full-on asthma attack.  Butter Crisco is flavored both naturally and artificially;  I’m guessing that the natural flavors are dairy-derived.  But, for us, if it is from actual dairy, it’s a small enough amount that it causes no reaction in Wes whatsoever.  (We can’t even get “butter-flavored” microwave popcorn, because he reacts to that.  But, so far, Butter Crisco?  No problems.)  Audrey is also allergic to dairy (though not quite as severely;  it causes skin and digestive problems), and I, as much as I care to ignore it, appear to be allergic to dairy, too.  Additionally, another of my sons has a learning disorder akin to Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism.  Many autistic children dramatically improve on a GFCF diet.  Grant has responded to a GFCF diet, but not “dramatically” and, honestly, I’m not as vigilant about him avoiding dairy 24/7 as I am with Wesley, or even Audrey. 

SO.  All that to say, if you’re on an extremely restricted GFCF diet, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Butter Crisco.  Maybe you could use “plain” Crisco — give it a try, anyways!  For everyone else baking gluten-free, I give a resounding recommendation to Butter Crisco.  In the world of g.f. baking, which is riddled with difficulties, it’s just lovely to eliminate one more problem.    


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on July 2, 2008, in Allergies, Celiac Disease, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Dairy-free, Digestive Woes, GF Recipes, GFCF, GFCF Recipes, gluten-free, Medical Stuff, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I’ll give that a “YAY”. We don’t use Crisco if we can avoid it, but Earth Balance Shortening is expensive and not very easy to find.

    Thanks for sharing this information!


  2. Hey, that’s great! My Mom baked a pie with butter flavor Crisco recently, but I declined because of the dairy factor. I think it had to do with the natural flavoring. How do you know when a natural flavor is derived from something hazardous? Should a person call every time?

  3. Jamie ~ Yes, if I’m not mistaken, Earth Balance is very similar to Spectrum, so I’m guessing that it would have the same “spreading” issues that Spectrum does. If I’ve done my math right, in the bread that I make, usually 2x/week, in which I use the most Crisco, still only amounts to a maximum of LESS than 0.1g of trans-fat per slice… to me, even though I would prefer NO trans-fats, it’s worth it to me to have loaves that turn out well and don’t cost me $5/loaf that the store-bought GFCF loaves do…

    Esther ~ You can eat the pie in peace! Natural flavors are the absolute trickiest place in which to hide potential allergens. Most manufacturers are now are faithful to list if something in them comes from one of the “big eight” allergen sources, but not everyone. And, if you have a “weird” allergy (like turkey 😉 ) and you’re really sensitive to even tiny amounts, the only thing to really do is call. Bummer, eh? That’s another irony of allergies — artificial flavors are safer by far than natural ones.

  4. We use the butter flavor crisco too and have always found it works really well!

    I would love to hear of your CF revamp of Carrie’s bread recipe when you have one you’re happy with. I’ve been trying to get a version of it that I’m happy with too — she told me to just sub tapioca flour for the milk, but the texture didn’t seem right. I’m still working on my version 😉

  5. Thanks so much for the tip! My GF cookies rarely turned out due to the spreading.

  6. Wow! Thanks!!! I’m fairly new at this. My 19 month old daughter is GF, Dairy Free, Egg Free and Peanut Free kid. Buttered Flavored Crisco is a huge plus! I’m skipping for joy as I head into the kitchen to make some cookies for her RIGHT now!

  7. Thanks so much for your reasearch! My children do not have allergies, but I’m making sugar cookies for a class that has two children who do. Since I’m new to all of this, you’ve really helped me in my quest to make a halloween treat for each and every kid to enjoy – no one will be left out!

  8. Just googled “Crisco Dairy Free” and came up with your blog! Thanks for the info – I can’t believe I bought Crisco, but I’m baking for a friend who is celiac but also can’t have dairy — my cookies taste great but I’m disappointed w/ how they spread and they taste greasy-ish to me … I did substitute for the eggs also, using the water & flax mixture (I can’t have eggs). Am baking for a few people who have food allergies. Thanks for the tips!

  9. I, too, did a Google search and stumbled upon here… what a blessing! We just learned that our 15 m/o boy is dairy-allergic (GI symptoms, mostly), which has caused more upheaval than I care to admit. Since I still breast-feed, this means our family is now half dairy/casein-free. However, I still want to BAKE with good results — so relieved to use that butter-flavored Crisco is “ok” in this regard.

    A note about Smart Balance: I discovered that this does have milk whey in it. Unfortunately, where we live, I could only find one brand of margarine (Nucoa) that appears to be dairy/casein free — the other brands you mention are not to be found out here. At least, not yet… but that’s what one gets for living in a relatively rural area.

  10. “Doing so is often an exercise more akin to a science experiment than to baking.” Love it. A google search led me here and I haven’t explored your blog yet, but I’m hoping to discover that you still write frequently. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these discoveries.

    • Christine, thanks for the comment! I’m a little embarrassed, though, because I don’t bake with Crisco any more… I was just thinking about deleting all my Crisco-containing recipes. I’m on a “continual quality improvement” hunt for my diet (and for that of my family) and Crisco is GONE. 🙂

      You work at IHOP? AWESOME. What do you do there?

      • Just went to your blog. I know it’s a pretty tight-knit bunch out there. Do you know Bethany and Jules Tompkins? They’re friends of mine. Longtime friends with Bethy’s family. 🙂 They moved back out here (Phx) in February, but they were both in KC for a number of years.

  11. I’ve actually been working on my dairy free, CF, GF chocolate chip cookie recipe for years. My friends and family have suffered through so many of my experiments that they should be sainted. I have been trying to recreate the semi-flat, golden, chewy type cookie that a favorite aunt of mine used to make with, of course, real butter and wheat flour. Last night I finally hit the jackpot – with butter Crisco and a blend of GF flours (I think the secret is sorghum). I posted my recipe on my blog, Unnecessary Dairy, with a picture. As fate would have it, I stumbled onto your blog less than 24 hours later. I’m thrilled to find out that my recipe is indeed CFGF and, though it is definitely not an all the time thing, I plan to incorporate butter Crisco into my baking. I have also started to use melted coconut oil with good results (no coconut taste), though it is very expensive. Thanks so much for the info!

    • Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad for your success!! I don’t use Butter Crisco any more, and was just having a bloggy conversation with an IRL friend who has older GF recipes on her blog that are not as healthy as she is… we kind of debated the benefits of deleting or re-doing them. But, similar to her experience, just when I think, “I really should get rid of all my Crisco recipes,” someone posts an appreciative comment!! 😀

      Now that you don’t need a recipe, I can recommend Carrie’s at Ginger Lemon Girl. She uses Spectrum Organic Palm Shortening, as do I, now. Have you tried it before? It’s nonhydrogenated, and though it’s pricey, it’s not quite as expensive as coconut oil.

  12. I was reading about how u were going to delete your crisco containing recipes but i have to say that this blog really made my night. my son has a severe dairy allergy and although I do usually use spectrum shortening, i only make him cookies during Christmas and I wanted something with more flavor and i stumbled on butter flavored crisco and wanted to give it a try but i was nervous about the “natural flavorings” you have totally re assured me that his once a year special treat can go on as planned. I dont have time to go tot the health food store before we head out for the holidays and if I didnt find something to reassure me that the crisco was safe I was going to skip his cookies out of safety concerns 😦 now im glad i dont have to!

    • Thank you for the comment, Carrie! Your situation is exactly why I have NOT deleted/changed all my recipes that have Crisco. It was a lifesaver for a while when my son was extremely dairy-allergic. And there are many in situations similar to yours… Blessings to you & your son, and merry Christmas!

  13. When you were using Crisco, did you straight substitute 1:1 for butter in recipes? My family is not dairy free, but I baking a cake and making buttercream for someone’s wedding who is Lactose Intolerant. My family (rather my daughter) is gluten free, so I’m not unfamiliar with the trial and error method. I was intending to use coconut oil, etc for the fat, but the bride doesn’t really like it so… I did find vegan “margarine” by earthbound, but it’s more than $6 a box and am not sure they want to pay for all that in a cake, ya know? Really bumps up the price.

    Outside of the fact that shortning is fatty, is there another reason why you have chosen to remove it from your diet?

    • Yes, Beth, it should be a one-to-one substitution. In fact, butter-flavored Crisco is sold in “baking sticks” akin to packaged butter, in some markets, for that purpose.

      I’ve stopped using Crisco because I’ve stopped eating (and serving anything to my family) that contains artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Butter Crisco contains artificial flavor, and the preservative TBHQ, which is actually a form of butane. It also contains mono- and di-glycerides, which (in large quantities) act as endocrine disruptors (they act as prostaglandins) and are unnaturally-derived emulsifiers. As far as ingredients go, mono- and di-glycerides aren’t HORRIBLE, but they’re definitely not a whole food. Crisco also contains trans-fats, which pretty much deposit themselves immediately into arteries and clog them. On the label, it says that there are 0 grams, but that is per 1 Tbsp serving. That means there is less than one gram per serving — about 0.5 grams, but that is still too much for me.

      My standard now is if I *CAN* avoid something that is potentially harmful for me, I will.

  14. Thank you for the information on Butter Flavored Crisco! Getting ready to make some cookies, but wasn’t sure it’d be safe to use. Yay for this!

  1. Pingback: Receipe: A Vegan & Gluten-Free Apple Tart That Does Not Taste Like Cardboard « Glutenfreehub

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