Is Duck Fat Healthy? Nutrition, Benefits, Downsides, Uses

Duck fat is a byproduct of duck meat production that many people view as a useless part of the duck.

However, it has culinary uses similar to other cooking fats, such as vegetable oils and butter.

Duck fat can be rendered from the skin, abdominal fat, and meat of various species of ducks. The scientific community is exploring it for its similarities to olive oil: it has a health-promoting fatty acid profile that’s rich in oleic acid, and it may reduce heart disease risk (one).

Studied for its role in food preservation and the production of lower-fat meat products, duck fat holds high potential as a healthier alternative to pork and beef fat in the food industry (2).

In this article, we give you a comprehensive overview of duck fat, including its nutrients, potential benefits, and downsides, to determine whether duck fat is healthy.

Duck fat, just like other cooking fats like soybean oil, is high in calories and fats but does not provide protein or carbohydrates (3, 4).

Per tablespoon (14 grams), duck fat provides (4):

  • Calories: 130
  • Total fat: 14 grams
  • Saturated fat: 4.5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 15mg
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 0 grams

Made up of 28% saturated fat, duck fat is lower in saturated fats than beef fat (tallow) and pork fat (lard), which are used abundantly in the food industry to add flavor and cooking stability and to reduce food waste (one, 2, 4, 5).

Remarkably, duck fat is made up of approximately 65% ​​unsaturated fatty acids — mainly oleic acid and linoleic acid — with a fatty acid profile similar to those of olive oil and Hass avocados (6, 7).

Unsaturated fats like oleic acid are considered as the “healthy” fats with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Many people consider saturated fats “unhealthy,” but the health effects of saturated fat are still under debate (8, 9, 10, 11th).

Nutrition information regarding the vitamin and mineral content of duck fat is not readily available.

Summary

Duck fat is rich in unsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid and linoleic acid. It has a fatty acid profile similar to those of olive oil and Hass avocados. Duck fat is lower in saturated fats than beef fat and pork fat.

Duck fat may be considered as a healthier alternative to mainstream animal fats, such as pork lard and beef tallow, due to its comparatively lower saturated fat and high unsaturated fatty acid profile (2, 4, 5).

It contains the monounsaturated oleic acid — which is also the main fatty acid found in olive oil — that has antioxidant properties that may reduce risk factors of heart disease, such as insulin resistance and high cholesterol (6, 8, 12, 13).

Its linoleic acid is an omega-6 fat naturally found in some animal meat. Linoleic acid may be associated with an overall lower risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes, although scientific findings remain mixed (14, 15).

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of risk factors, including elevated blood cholesterol, insulin resistance, and elevated blood sugar levels that may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease (16).

However, current evidence does not demonstrate that eating duck fat itself offers these same health benefits, and duck fat is not currently classified as a healthy dietary fat.

Therefore, more research is needed to determine whether duck fat confers some health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Summary

Duck fat contains less saturated fat and high more unsaturated fats compared to pork lard and beef tallow, and it may confer some health benefits related to lowering blood cholesterol and glucose, but more research is needed.

Despite its high content of “healthy” unsaturated fats like oleic acid, research shows that consuming these from animal sources like duck fat may not have the same benefits.

For instance, oleic acid found in olive oil can reduce blood pressure, but oleic acid from animal sources does not have the same lowering effect. Its impact on blood pressure may be minor overall (13).

Furthermore, duck fat is high in calories, which, when consumed in excess, may contribute to excess body fat and weight gain (17, 18).

Excess body fat — or adiposity — may be linked to hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance, and the development of type 2 diabetes (19, 20).

The causes of weight gain and effective weight loss strategies are more complex than simply eating fewer calories, but monitoring your intake of high fat foods like duck fat may support your weight goals (18).

Summary

The healthy fat oleic acid is not shown to have the same heart-friendly benefits when consumed from animal sources like duck fat compared with plant foods like olive oil. Duck fat is also high in calories.

Both oleic acid and linoleic acid — the main unsaturated fats found in duck fat — appear to reduce the overall risk of heart disease (6, 13, 21).

However, when obtained from animal sources, these healthy fats may not lower risk factors for heart disease like blood pressure to the same extent (13, 22).

In fact, high-fat diets are shown to increase blood cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) (“bad”) cholesterol. They also appear to increase your risk of developing gallstones (23, 24, 25, 26).

Although duck fat’s saturated fat content is lower than those of beef fat and pork fat, the role of excess saturated fat intake on raising blood cholesterol and heart disease risk remains inconclusive. Some findings suggest a negative effect, while others show no correlation (9, 10, 11th).

Replacing saturated fats with linoleic acid is shown to reduce blood cholesterol, although this specific change may not lower your overall risk of heart disease (27).

As such, it is advised to adhere to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recommendation to limit saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calories (28).

Consuming duck fat in moderation as part of a balanced diet should not have a negative effect on your heart health.

Summary

Excess fat intake increases heart disease risk, but small amounts of duck fat as part of a balanced diet may not have a negative impact on your heart health.

Here is how duck fat compares to other cooking fats, per 14-gram serving (approximately a tablespoon):

At 130 calories per 14 grams, duck fat has slightly more calories than olive oil, coconut oil, lard, tallow and ghee. However, all the cooking fats essentially have the same total fat content of 14 grams.

Duck fat is lower in saturated fats than all the other cooking fats except olive oil, and has a comparable cholesterol content to lard and tallow, but half the amount found in ghee.

The plant-based olive and coconut oils do not contain cholesterol.

Summary

Duck fat has slightly more calories than olive oil, coconut oil, lard, tallow, and ghee but essentially the same total fat content. Duck fat is lower in saturated fats than all the other cooking fats except olive oil and has comparable cholesterol to lard and tallow.

Duck fat can be purchased in stores or online as an oil or cooking spray. Due to its saturated fat content, it may have a solid appearance at lower temperatures and become a liquid when heated, much like coconut oil.

However, you can also render duck fat at home. Rendering refers to melting the fat and straining it through a sieve to remove any impurities, producing pure duck fat cooking oil.

Here’s how you can render duck fat at home:

  • Trim the duck skin, abdominal fat, and other fat from the whole duck or breasts, legs, and thighs, using a sharp knife.
  • Place fat and skin in a stockpot and cover in 1/2–3/4 cups of water.
  • Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and allow to simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally. During this time, the water evaporates, and the duck skin and fat release their natural oils.
  • Allow to cool slightly, then strain the liquid duck fat in a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.
  • Store in an airtight container like a glass mason jar in the refrigerator for up to six months, or freezer for one year.

Be cautious of spatters that may occur during the rendering process when the water is evaporating. Wear the appropriate safety apron and mittens to avoid burns from spattering oil.

Summary

Trim and boil duck skin and fat in 1/2–3/4 cups of water for about an hour until the water has evaporated and oil is produced. Allow to cool, then strain in a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Store for up to 6 months in the refrigerator or a year in the freezer.

Duck fat is generally used in the same way as other cooking fats, but it is quite popular among chefs for its unique flavor and aroma.

Fats and oils with a smoke point — the temperature at which fat begins to break down and release smoke — of over 392 ℉ (200 ℃) are well-suited for deep frying (34).

According to several culinary websites, duck fat has a smoke point 375 ℉ (190 ℃). This lower smoke point makes it most appropriate for low- to medium-heat cooking like pan-frying and sautéing.

Duck fat is used in stir-fried vegetables, roasted potatoes, and seared meats. It’s used in duck confit, a French dish in which salted duck legs are lightly poached in duck fat and preserved for up to a year submerged in duck fat.

You can also use duck fat to make salad dressings, mayonnaise, and even popcorn.

In addition to these culinary uses, here are two ways duck fat is being explored in the scientific community and food industry:

Create and preserve processed meats

Duck fat continues to be research for its role in preserving meats.

It is shown to be a suitable, lower-saturated fat replacement for pork fat and beef fat in emulsion sausages like frankfurters or hot dogs (one, 2, 35, 36).

Duck fat meat coatings are shown to be a cost-effective method for reducing bacterial growth on the surface of chicken meat (one).

Replacement for soybean oil in margarine

Margarine is made up of 80% plant-based fats like soybean oil and fully hydrogenated soybean oil (37).

which may have detrimental effects on heart health, unlike trans fats naturally found in some foods (38).

When explored as an alternative to soybean oil in margarine, duck fat improved the sensory properties and quality and eliminated the need for industrial trans fats (37).

Summary

Duck fat is used to stir-fry vegetables, roast potatoes, and make salad dressing and mayonnaise. It’s also a part of the French dish, duck confit. It is scientifically investigated for its role an antimicrobial agent in raw meat storage and capability to replace hydrogenated plant oils in margarine.

Try these two simple duck fat recipes:

duck fat popcorn

  • Heat 2 tablespoons of duck fat in a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat.
  • Add 1/3 cup popcorn kernels. Cover and shake to ensure all the kernels are covered in the fat.
  • Allow to sit and the kernels to pop. When the popping frequency begins to slow, turn to low heat until the popping stops, then remove from the heat.
  • Serve in a bowl, lightly salted or topped with cheese.

Duck fat baked fries

  • Peel and cut a medium potato into thin slices.
  • Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons duck fat, salt, paprika, onion powder, and other spices.
  • Bake at 425 ℉ (220 ℃) ​​for 20–30 minutes or 5–10 minutes in an air fryer until crispy brown.

Duck fat is a byproduct of duck meat production that may often be viewed as a useless part of the duck.

However, it’s rich in heart-friendly unsaturated fatty acids and may confer some health benefits like lowering blood sugar and reducing your risk of developing heart disease when used in place of other, similar fats.

It is high in fat and calories, so it may be best to use this product in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

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