Crystallized Cottonseed Oil (“Crisco”)

Tom Naughton is going to be placing some of his additional Fat Head footage up on YouTube. Here’s the first installment, which features Sally Fallon of the Weston A Price Foundation, biochemist Mary Enig, PhD, and Dr. Michael Eades, MD. Listen as they expose the Big Corporation lies Proctor & Gamble and others engaged in in the early 1900s to demonize relatively expensive but healthful natural fats like lard, butter, and coconut oil in favor of "frankenfats" — chemically extracted, then deodorized, hydrogenated, interesterified, and so on.

Crisco, for example, is a consequence of electrification and light bulbs. For, you see, Crisco was originally intended to replace the expensive animals fats used to make…candles. From Wikipedia:

When William Procter and James Gamble started the company Procter & Gamble, they hired chemist Edwin C. Kayser and developed the process to hydrogenate cottonseed oil, which ensures the shortening remains solid at normal storage temperatures. The initial purpose was to create a cheaper substance to make candles than the expensive animal fats in use at the time. Electricity began to diminish the candle market, and since the product looked like lard, they began selling it as a food. This product became known as Crisco, with the name deriving from the initial sounds of the expression "crystallized cottonseed oil".

I suppose the "logic" must have gone something like this: "well, since we can use food (animal fat) to make candles, let’s just feed people candles!"

Then, they marketed the hell out of it by giving away free cookbooks, every recipe calling for Crisco. They also dishonestly, manipulatively, murderously demonized natural, real food, scaring people away from it in order to replace it with a money-making killer. While other factors and variables surly contribute, it’s just too much of a coincidence that cardiovascular disease really took off with the advent of frankenoil, Crisco being among them. [Added later: see this from Stephan.]

Here’s a 1915 Crisco Advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post (click the image to enlarge).

1915 Crisco Shortening Ad

There’s a lot of talk of "Tea Parties," these days, in which I have not the slightest interest. I might could get interested in Pee Parties, however — wherein certain graves are urinated upon by righteous crowds seeing to some justice, if only in symbolic form.

Might I suggest beginning with William Procter and James Gamble?

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Monica on May 13, 2009 at 15:00

    To be fair, I don't think the case is made here — or in the video above — that animal fats were "demonized", at least from a health perspective, until decades after the hydrogenation process was developed. Telling customers your product is superior does not "demonize" the competition. Perhaps that is actually the case, but the case isn't *made* here. All of the health campaigns they mention happened in the 60s and thereafter. Soy plantings also did not really take off until after WWII, well after hydrogenation was invented.

    Obviously the Proctor and Gamble ad is absurd. It's ridiculous to think that this artificial stuff could possibly be healthier than foods we've been eating for eons. But the fact is that it does keep well, it's extremely cheap (much moreso since the subsidies that began in the 1930s), and it's pretty damn good for making pastries. Mike Eades has a post on the history of Crisco:

    I don't see anything terribly objectionable in the ad above. It reads like any ad from this period in history. If people actually are dumb enough to think that Crisco is richer, makes foods more digestible and appetizing than lard (which is what the ad claims) then they are idiots, aren't they? (I suppose there might be something to the idea that people do want their pie crust to taste like pork.) The marketing is somewhat dishonest and manipulative, but *murderous*? Maybe now, but in 1915 when no one had a clue and the unhealthiness of trans fats would not be discovered for over 5 decades?

    By now you probably think I'm paid by Crisco to write puff pieces and love the stuff. No, I don't have Crisco in my house anymore, obviously. But I don't believe Proctor and Gamble *initially* set out to make money off a product they *specifically* knew was unhealthy. There's nothing intuitively wrong about making fats more saturated artificially — which is what this process does as they understood it at the time. Particularly in light of the culture and conventional wisdom at the time that thought that *everything* artificial must be better. Even so, all my great-grandparents, who used suet, etc. for baking knew the difference. Crisco really took off during WWII rationing, then skyrocketed thereafter with subsidies that made vegetable oils super cheap, and of course, the public health campaigns of the 60s, both of which were decades later. Without those market distortions, I question just how widespread Crisco ever would have become solely based on marketing.

  2. Monica on May 13, 2009 at 15:03

    By the way, cotton received ENORMOUS protections in the form of price supports/production quotas starting in the late 20s and has been politically connected ever since. That did not help matters. The government, too, has had a huge role in this.

  3. Richard Nikoley on May 13, 2009 at 15:19


    The anarchist, free marketer in me says that in no way should Proctor & Ganble face or have faced any governmental interference, objection, or other intransigence motivated machinations for political cheer leading.

    That leaves it to us. Is my post highly inflammatory? Youbetcha. Just as inflammatory as crystallized cottonseed oil.


  4. Richard Nikoley on May 13, 2009 at 15:27

    I didn't mention the government's role because I always assume it.

  5. Monica on May 13, 2009 at 16:49

    Yes. Pathetic, no?

  6. Monica on May 13, 2009 at 17:02

    I'm just saying that if they didn't have a "right" to one penny of my money through farm subsidies Crisco would never have the market share it does today. Seriously, who dreams up the idea of eating parts of cotton seeds. (Actually, I could go on about this, the late 1800s and beyond are rife with examples of invented food uses for useless agricultural products. But I won't.)

    As for the rest, I agree with you that it's up to us. Caveat emptor sort of thing. BUT, if they actually withheld information from the public on the danger of their product (plenty of companies have) then I think they should be sued for fraud and negligence. I just don't think there's a case for that in *this* case, that's all. 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.

  7. Pam Maltzman on May 14, 2009 at 15:32

    IIRC, cottonseed oil is problematic from a health standpoint–at the very least it increases the body's need for vitamin E/depletes the body's stores of vitamin E. I read some other stuff, but can't remember all the details right now.

    I avoid any and all canned foods packed in cottonseed or soybean oil nowadays.

    My mother used to fry chicken in Crisco, and use it in baking, all the while decrying the fact that people used to use lard for all these things. It may not have been healthy, but her fried chicken was delicious.

    Since we were of Jewish descent, there was yet one more reason for avoiding lard (at least back then), although we frequently ate bacon.

    Supposedly lard is just wonderful in baking. If you're making pastry, supposedly nothing else gives the fantastic texture that lard does. Have not tested this out myself, as I do not produce any kind of baked goods anymore (other than meats).

  8. jhoni on May 14, 2009 at 09:09

    Your post is very good

  9. John Campbell on May 14, 2009 at 22:23

    You have to think that cotton seed oil is healthier than polyester seed oil or at least more natural!

    Sorry, I had to make that silly comment after wearing some pretty ugly polyester shirts in my youth – thanks Mom.

    Kidding aside – excellent post, but Monica has a point. Society as a whole has been caught up with scientific improvements on nature for a long time and this is one symptom of that. I am all for scientific progress, which includes missteps and back tracking at times. The involvement of government makes turning back more difficult as the status quo becomes institutionalized with powerful lobbying by parties feeding at the public trough.

    Errors by scientists and corporations are one thing – they are inevitable in a free society (and even more so in a regulated collectivist society), but are subject to correction when open debate is possible. Government subsidies and direct involvement in health care and agriculture are by far the biggest problems in perpetuating many of the myths that are killing people prematurely. Most people are smarter than the governments that claim to know best. Many corporations simply want to make money and the easiest way to do that when you are already big and powerful is to foster the status quo and feed the political machine that makes the rules. Unfortunately, many corporations are happy to encourage governments to protect us from our freedom to choose.

    Real political freedom would lead to faster positive changes in our health and wealth – I am not holding my breath. Governments and too many businesses would lose their ill-gotten power.

  10. Monica on May 15, 2009 at 15:49

    We were big users of Crisco growing up. It's really awful that a whole new generation does not know any better.

    my great-grandparents never used Crisco. They did a lot of baking with "suet." 🙂 There are short generation times in my family, I knew 11 of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Most of them did not eat this processed junk. My maternal grandmother's father lived to 88. While he did eat an awful lot of sugar, he was an avid gardener, ate lots of homegrown veggies, and he was always known for eating the fat on his steak first. He would chew it between his front teeth with his mouth open in order to gross all the kids in the family out. Now I know how smart he was! (The fat, not the bad table manners.)

  11. Richard Nikoley on May 15, 2009 at 16:32

    I enjoyed my four grandparents and a great-grandmother my entire childhood. They were all vibrant and healthy past my 20th birthday. All gone now, but I surely count myself very lucky.

    Yea, though they were all ignorant about the dangers of processed foods, they all prepared Real Food regularly and it was really the mainstay. One of my grandfathers, ion particular, was an avid hunter, fisherman, and and gardener.

  12. Pam Maltzman on May 16, 2009 at 19:31

    Eeeeeeewwww… open-mouthed chewing of anything truly grosses me out. It's one of the many reasons I absolutely hate gum chewing… but I also cannot stand the smell or the sound of gum chewing, in addition to the obnoxious endless open-mouthed mastication.

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