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Hangry April 20, 2019 The story of Crisco

Marion Harris Neil tells us in the Introduction to “The Story of Crisco” (1916, The Procter & Gamble Co., Cincinnati):

‘The word “fat” is one of the most interesting in food chemistry. It is the great energy producer. John C. Olsen, A.M., Ph.D., in his book, “Pure Food,” states that fats furnish half the total energy obtained by human beings from their food. The three primary, solid cooking fats today are butter, lard and Crisco.

The culinary world is revising its entire cook book on account of the advent of Crisco, a new and altogether different cooking fat.’ 1

Indeed, it was the first time cottonseeds, “discarded and deemed a nuisance,” became a foodstuff. 2

‘Many wonder that any product could gain the favor of cooking experts so quickly. A few months after the first package was marketed, practically every grocer of the better class in the United States was supplying women with the new product.

This was largely because four classes of people—housewives—chefs—doctors—dietitians—were glad to be shown a product which at once would make for more digestible foods, more economical foods, and better tasting foods.[italics in original].’

Neil uses novelty, an appeal to status and health claims to help make the appeal wide. Meanwhile, the growing availability of electricity made the market for cottonseed oil as a lamp oil decline, and soon enough, candles were no longer needed. 3

‘The story of Crisco begins innocently enough in pre-Civil-War America when candle maker William Proctor and his brother-in-law, soap-maker James Gamble, joined forces to compete with fourteen other soap and candle makers in Cincinnati, Ohio. P&G entered the shortening business out of necessity. In the 1890s, the meat packing monopoly controlled the price of lard and tallow needed to make candles and soap. P&G took steps to gain control of the cottonseed oil business from farm to factory. By 1905, they owned eight cottonseed mills in Mississippi. In 1907, with the help of German chemist E. C. Kayser, P&G developed the science of hydrogenation. By adding hydrogen atoms to the fatty acid chain, this revolutionary industrial process transformed liquid cottonseed oil into a solid that resembled lard.’4

The recipe book, with its drawing of a pound of butter, pail of lard and plate of large fluffy looking Crisco normalized the product. 

‘Meanwhile, in 1924, the American Heart Association was formed. As Nina Teicholz reports in her book, The Big Fat Surprise, it was not the powerful behemoth it is today, but just a collection of heart specialists meeting occasionally to discuss professional matters. In 1948, this sleepy group of cardiologists were transformed by a $1.5 million donation from Proctor & Gamble.’ 5

The whole sad tale of the lipid hypothesis (real food bad, imitation food good) is painstakingly told in “The Oiling of America” by Mary G. Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon (2009). 6 Ancel Keys (Boo! Hiss!) is, of course, featured. 

Finally, turn to The Diet Doctor for some straight-forward advice:

‘So how do we know which are healthy fats, and which are unhealthy fats? Unsurprisingly, natural fats, whether they come from animal (meat, dairy) or plant sources (olive, avocado, nut) are generally healthy. Highly processed, industrial seed oils tend to be unhealthy. Let’s face the facts – we ate vegetable oils because they were CHEAP, not because they were healthy. ‘7



2. “Cinderella of the New South: A History of the Cottonseed Industry, 1855-1955,” by Lynette Boney Wrenn. From

3. From

4. From





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