Source: Flickr User tellumo
The term shortening generically refers to any baking fat that's solid at room temperature, like butter and margarine. But more often, it describes a semi-solid fat made from hydrogenated vegetable oil that's used in baking to achieve a "short," or flaky, texture.
By adding hydrogen gas to vegetable oil at a high pressure and temperature, the flavorless substance goes from being a liquid to a solid at room temperature.
Although shortening has fallen out of favor in recent years because it contains trans fat, the ingredient remains a staple around the world for many reasons. It has a higher smoke point than butter or margarine, meaning it won't burn in a sauté pan. It also requires no refrigeration, and can lengthen the shelf life of baked goods. What do you use shortening for?
Source: Flickr User VirtualErn
Even the products that were once essentially made from trans fats are going trans fat free.
Crisco, which was known as the first shortening product having lower saturated fat levels than butter, coconut oil, palm oil or lard is now reformulating its shortening products to be trans fat free.
The company has actually already introduced a zero grams trans fat formula (sold in a green can) once before but that formula was more expensive and has since been discontinued.
The new formula of Crisco uses less partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oils and more fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil — which contains no trans fat. Hydrogenated oils are what gives shortening its semisolid consistency and high performance cooking attributes.
Don't go ahead and eat spoonfuls of the stuff -- Crisco will still have a small amount of trans fat but the FDA allows any product with less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving to list zero grams trans fat in its nutrition facts.