The Fats and Oils: a General View

By Carl L. Alsberg and Alonzo E. Taylor

V. Conditions and Trends of Consumption

Development of Lard Compounds and Margarin

The degree of adaptability of fats to different culinary practices is a result of their physical behaviors (consistency, flavor, etc.), not of their nutritive properties. It is the constant effort of technologists to widen the adaptability of fats to different uses. One of the more notable of their achievements is the production of lard compounds, as a result of which the use of lard seems relatively declining, that of lard substitutes increasing. (The lard production figures of the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry cannot be used to controvert this view. It may well be that the per capita consumption of lard is increasing absolutely, while decreasing relative to lard substitutes. Also, it may well be that the per capita consumption of lard is increasing while the per capita consumption of hog fat is decreasing, owing to diminished use of salt pork and other fat cuts.) And there has also been a pronounced decline in the use of tallows as cooking fats in the factory and the home. The principal use of lard is as a shortening and cooking fat. In the United States lard compounds are substituted for it in these uses to a considerable degree. This means the substitution of beef stearin and cottonseed oil (hydrogenated as well as unmodified) for lard (see III. Fats and Oils Technology -- Margarin). This very extensive substitution has been possible partly because lard compound is a very good imitation of lard, partly because there is no adverse legislation (such legislation was proposed in Congress around 1890), but also because sentimental considerations on the part of the consumer favor rather than hinder the substitution. Lard compounds usually lack the flavor of lard. They are for the most part quite bland, and this lack of distinctive flavor causes them to be preferred by a considerable portion of the population. Many brands of lard compound are made wholly from vegetable oil. They contain no animal fat whatever. The manufacturers have been clever enough to feature this fact and thus to appeal to that portion of the population that assumes the vegetable fats to be purer, cleaner products than animal fats. Indeed, manufacturers have gone so far as not to represent their products as lard substitutes at all but as vegetable shortenings, sold commonly under their own distinctive brand names.

Manufacturers of margarin, the other notable achievement of technologists in the food-fat preparation field, have not been equally successful. This is due in part to psychological and esthetic considerations (taste, color, spreading qualities). Against esthetic and sentimental factors successful substitution is difficult. Success demands that the substitute be a nearly perfect imitation. Margarin manufacturers have not always been wholly successful in making their product resemble butter exactly -- no doubt in part due to adverse legislation. Within the industry itself there has been a drift from animal fats as raw materials to vegetable fats -- especially coconut, cottonseed, and peanut oils. The use of peanut oil continues in the face of the competition of cottonseed oil because of the legal requirement that margarins represented to the consumer as being nut products must be made of nut oils. Peanuts are classed by botanists as nuts whereas cottonseed is not.

The drift of the production of margarin predominantly from animal fats to its production predominantly from vegetable oils is shown by Table 5, giving the production of oleomargarin in the United States from 1918 to 1926. In the latter year that made exclusively from vegetable oils slightly exceeded all other kinds.

The table shows that margarin made exclusively from animal fat is now so scarce as to be almost negligible from a statistical standpoint. The all-vegetable product amounted to 116 million pounds in 1926, while the mixed animal and vegetable product was somewhat less. In this country there is a tax of 10 cents a pound on colored margarin and consequently its output is small, although it has averaged somewhat more than 10 million pounds during the more recent years. Accompanying this drift toward greater use of vegetable oils in margarin is a largely increased use of coconut oils, at least in the United States. This is shown by Table 6. An examination of this table shows that coconut oil in recent years has been more important than oleo oil and neutral lard together, accounting for 41 per cent of the total consumption of fats and oils in margarin. In 1912 a negligible quantity of coconut oil was used, while in 1926 (fiscal year ending June 30) its consumption had grown to 98 million pounds. Cottonseed oil and peanut oil were the other most important vegetable oils used.

Table 5. Production of Oleomargarin in the United States,
Calendar Years, 1918-26
(Thousand pounds)
Uncolored: made of
Colored: made of
Animal and vegetable oil
sively vegetable oil
sively Animal oil
and vegetable oil
sively vegetable oil
sively Animal oil

Data from Agriculture Yearbook, 1926, p. 1086, and Crops and Markets, August 1927, p. 313.

Neutral lard and peanut oil are the most expensive of the products that ordinarily go into margarin in any considerable quantity; accordingly, in case of a general price advance, their use is most likely to be curtailed. Oleo oil is practically always cheaper than neutral lard, but as a regular thing higher than coconut or cottonseed oil. When the cotton crop is large, cottonseed oil is cheaper than any other ingredient; when it is small, coconut oil is usually cheaper. Its relatively low price has undoubtedly been the most important reason for its increasing use.

Table 6. Consumption of Fats and Oils in the Manufacture of Margarin in the United States, Averages of Data for Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 1912, 1914, 1916, and 1922-26*
(Thousand pounds)
Fat or Oil
Vegetable fats and oils --
Animal fats and oils --
Oleo oil
Oleo stock
Unidentified as to origin --

Data from U.S. Tariff Commission, Certain Vegetable Oils, Part 2, 1926, and Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 1925 and 1926.

Only a portion of the margarin produced is used as a substitute for table butter. Other very important uses are in the making of bakers' cake and pastry. Cake margarin ordinarily has a slightly lower melting point than table margarin, while pastry margarin on the other hand has a distinctly higher melting point. It is apparently not the universal practice to use milk (see III. Fats and Oils Technology -- Lard compounds) in the manufacture of these latter types of margarin. Otherwise the ingredients are similar to those going into table margarin, except that in the case of pastry margarin higher-melting point fats are substituted for the lower ones, for example, oleostearin for oleo oil, and, at least in Europe, hydrogenated fish oils are also used.

Substitution in Other Food Uses

Restrictive legislation, an important influence in margarin manufacture, is also completely preventing substitutions in other foodstuffs. The manufacture of filled milk is prohibited, and the manufacture of filled cheese has been taxed practically out of existence. Filled milk is skim milk in which coconut oil has been emulsified -- in other words, it is milk in which the natural fat has been replaced by coconut oil. Filled cheese is made from skim milk and some fat foreign to milk or from partly skimmed milk and such fat.

Ice cream is another product in which expensive milk fat might be replaced by a cheaper one -- for example, coconut oil. This substitution is not generally permitted by food-control officials, though it is reported that such a product is sometimes made for purely local consumption.

In the confectionery industry there are similar possibilities of substitution. Chocolate is made from the cacao bean by first roasting in revolving steel cylinders, after which the hulls are removed by machinery. (Not to be confused with the coconut. The cacao bean is the seed of Theobroma cacao, L., a tree native to Central America but grown commercially in many places in the tropics. The seeds are borne in large pulpy fruits, each about 10 inches long and 4 inches thick and containing from 20 to 40 seeds. The coconut, on the other hand, is a true nut produced by a palm, Cocos nucifera, L.) The beans are then crushed and freed from the germs. The coarsely crushed product, freed from hulls and germs, is known as cacao nibs. The nibs, finally, are thoroughly ground between stones, the material being reduced to a thin paste which, on cooling, sets to a firm cake. It is known as unsweetened or plain chocolate. It contains over 50 per cent of cacao fat, which is known as cacao butter. It is produced from chocolate by expression, and is a soft solid much prized for certain uses in pharmacy. The press-cake that remains is known as cocoa or, when ground up, as powdered cocoa.

Many kinds of confections are coated with chocolate. They are made by dipping the center into a melted mixture of chocolate and sugar. If much sugar has to be added to the chocolate coating to give it the desired sweetness, it is necessary to add cacao butter in order that the melted mass may be sufficiently liquid. It would be perfectly feasible to substitute for the expensive cacao butter a cheaper fat such as coconut oil. The addition of such a fat with its higher melting point would, moreover, be advantageous because the candies would be less likely to become soft, sticky, and unsalable in warm weather. It has been held that the use of a fat other than cacao butter is not permissible if the confections are to be sold as chocolates, for the consumer would be deceived into believing that he was receiving a product made solely from the cacao bean with, of course, sugar, etc. In the case of confections not so sold but offered for sale under some fancy distinctive name the use of coconut oil is permitted. These are mostly cheap products sold by the unit for a nickel or a dime. Coconut oil may also be used in frozen products of the type of Eskimo Pie. Owing to the need for using additional cacao butter in products sold as chocolates it often happens that when the price of cacao beans is very low cacao butter is produced without any cocoa as a by-product. The beans, hulls and all, are simply run through an expeller to extract the butter while the press-cake, which contains all the cocoa, is used as fuel or thrown away.

In short, the trends in the use of fats in dietary uses may be summarized thus: The per capita use of fat as a fuel, a staple, has declined. Fats and oils are used in more specialized states, more discriminatingly, in our present diversified diet. Substitutions are widely practiced, but they are less varied and diverse than in the arts, partly because more stringent demands are made by the consumer in regard to the adaptability of a given fat to a particular culinary use, partly because of esthetic and sentimental considerations, and finally because of legislative restraints.

Fats and Oils in the Arts

The preparation of fats for food uses is on the whole comparatively simple. The use of fats in the arts involves in many cases intricate, complicated, and multiple manufacturing processes. Many of these processes are secret -- at least when first introduced. In consequence, in studying consumption and trends of consumption in industry all the difficulties of studying consumption of edible fats are encountered and in addition many others. Changes are more rapid, as well as less easily recognized, than in the food field. Yet since many fats can be used either in food production or in the arts, the trends of consumption of one class of fats cannot be understood without knowledge concerning the other.

In many directions, the industrial uses of fats and oils have been expanded through technological improvements; in a few directions there has been contraction. The increased use of soap and cleansing materials is one of the characteristics of our times. Indeed, the per capita use of saponaceous materials is almost an index of civilization, considered either from the sanitary, the hygienic, or the esthetic point of view. The consumption of soap in the United States reached 1,189 million pounds in 1925.

The principal materials used in soap making in this country, as reported by the Tariff Commission (see U.S. Tariff Commission, Certain Vegetable Oils, Part 2, p. 168; the latest year covered in this investigation was 1923), in the order of their importance in the years 1921-23 were:

Tallow is consistently, year after year, the principal ingredient. Coconut oil, which is second to tallow in importance, has increased in recent years far more rapidly than any other ingredient except palm oil. The consumption was over 250 million pounds in 1923. Before the war a certain amount of palm kernel oil from British colonies in West Africa was imported into the United States, but during the war and until 1925 this trade was diverted and little was received here. Recently -- i.e., in 1925 and 1926 -- American imports have increased again and palm kernel oil has doubtless been substituted to some extent for coconut oil, which it closely resembles.

In most years cottonseed oil is not an important ingredient of soap, but foots (see III. Fats and Oils Technology -- Refining) are used to a more important extent. Both commodities have diminished in importance during the period that coconut oil has been increasing. The principal reason cottonseed oil is not used in greater volume is that it brings a better price in the edible-oil market and consequently, unless there is ample surplus, the bulk of it goes to edible uses. Foots, on the contrary, can only be used for soap or be distilled for their fatty-acid content. The various grades of greases are also used in soap; and the volume so used may have increased materially, perhaps keeping pace with the rapidly increasing production of grease and the striking recent development of the rendering industry. Ordinarily coconut oil is more expensive than the other fats used in considerable volume in soap. Its special characteristics give it a premium over other materials. Tallow, white grease, and palm oil are ordinarily about the same price, although palm oil is apt to be cheaper than the other two and white grease at times is far higher, probably because it is now and then wanted in European markets as a substitute or adulterant for lard.

There has also been a greatly increased use of oils and fats in the manufacture of linoleums, artificial leathers, rubber substitutes, and a host of specialized products.

Economies have been introduced in the use of oils in tin plating and in the manufacture of woolen cloth. Undoubtedly, the use of vegetable oils as illuminants is declining to the vanishing point. The vegetable- or animal-oil lamp and the tallow candle have ceased to exist in households, except for special occasions. There is, of course, a small persisting use of oils as illuminants for sacramental purposes, and there is quite a material use of fats for stearic-acid candles. To some extent, stearic acid is being replaced by paraffin. With the decline in number of work animals has come reduction in need for harness dressings. The relative use of fats and oils as belt dressing has probably declined, though the absolute quantity may have increased. In pharmacy, with the exception of cacao butter, fats have been replaced in ointments and salves by petrolatum and lanolin (wool grease).

The position of fats and oils as lubricants is difficult to determine. The amount of lubricants used has, of course, expanded enormously; but in this expansion animal and vegetable fats and oils have shared relatively much less than lubricants derived from petroleum. The absolute quantities of animal and vegetable fats and oils used in lubricants may not, however, have been reduced (indeed, an increase may have occurred), even though their proportion in the total mass of lubricants has been substantially lowered. Large amounts of animal and vegetable fats and oils are being used mixed with mineral oils in the preparation of special lubricants. Most of the manufacturers of lubricants use secret formulas, and it is not possible to learn what is the trend in these directions.

In estimating the trend of the use of animal and vegetable fats and oils in paints, difficulties are again encountered. The proportion of wooden buildings, requiring exterior painting, is declining relative to buildings constructed of other materials and requiring little exterior painting. For many of the coarser and cheaper paintings mineral substances are being widely used. In the treatment of floors, waxes are rapidly replacing paints. For interior household painting, and for high-grade painting and varnishing in general, the drying oils held their place until the advent of plastics derived from cellulose. These have practically replaced paint and varnish on new automobiles and are making heavy inroads with furniture, railway cars, refrigerators, and for interior uses in rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms. To what extent the application of these plastics may be so cheapened as further to encroach upon paints prepared with drying oils, remains to be seen.

Special Demands for Peculiar Properties

The several fats and oils have many properties in common; but some of them possess peculiar qualities. It follows that they are both complementary and substitutable. When a particular fat has unique properties, the commercial use will be inelastic to some extent. When a particular fat has only properties common to them all, the commercial use is elastic. In so far as fats have peculiar properties, there is a range of uses within which they are not substitutable, where competition between them is subordinate. In the range within which fats and oils have properties in common and are substitutable, competition is predominant. Fats possessing peculiar properties carry a premium, within limits; fats possessing only common properties compete with each other on a close margin. The long list of commercial fats and oils represents a series of overlapping raw materials, with ascending prices in proportion to their peculiar properties or particular desirabilities. The lowest reclaimed grease stands at the bottom; at the top stands unsalted butter. The technologist is continuously endeavoring to enlarge the list and range of substitutable uses and to narrow the list of premium uses.

A few illustrations will make the commercial situation clear. The outstanding drying fats are linseed and tung oils, and for certain of the most particular paint and varnish uses they stand alone. But in the manufacture of common paints, it is practicable to add a proportion of semi-drying oils such as soy bean and fish oil. For the finest paints and varnishes the demand for linseed and tung oils is inelastic; for the commoner paints, the demand is elastic. There is little price competition from the other fats at the top, but sharp price competition at the bottom. Linseed oil is an edible oil, but it is too valuable as a drying oil to serve as an edible oil in the United States, quality considered. The drying oils cannot be used as lubricants.

Candles are made from stearic acid. In the manufacture of candles, therefore, fats containing a high proportion of tristearin must be sought out, or else triolein must be converted into tristearin through hydrogenation, which is usually too expensive to be practicable. This tends to give a certain priority in this use to fats containing a high proportion of stearic acid, and such fats are commonly purchased on the basis of the titre test (see II. Properties of Fats and Oils -- Other useful tests), by which the content of stearic acid is judged. This applies particularly to superfine hard candles; for the commoner candles, softer fats and paraffins are substitutable.

Substitutability in Soap Making

Tallow is regarded as one of the fats most desirable for soap because it yields a soap that is both hard and of good color. It has gradually come to be displaced to a certain extent by other fats so that at present little if any soap is produced from tallow alone. It is practically always blended with other fats, partly because of price considerations, but perhaps even more largely because better soap can be made from such blends than from tallow alone. While tallow soap gives a good and lasting lather, it dissolves rather slowly and so lathers slowly. This is remedied by adding other fats which yield soaps that dissolve more quickly and so lather more easily. A number of oils are used for this purpose, but especially coconut oil, which has the further advantage of retaining a large proportion of water in the soap, thereby increasing the soap makers' yields. Soap containing coconut oil is more soluble in salt water than most other soaps except palm kernel oil soap. It therefore lathers in sea water; hence coconut oil is used in so-called marine soaps. Palm kernel oil soap has properties very similar to those of coconut oil soap and may be used for the same purposes. In the United States this oil is relatively little used, but in Europe it is very largely employed interchangeably with coconut oil. Coconut oil, moreover, is especially valuable in soap chips because its soap, while hard and brittle, is very soluble. The washing machine has created a wide demand for such soap chips. Coconut and palm kernel oils occupy a premier position in the manufacture of marine soaps and laundry chips. For these uses other fats cannot be substituted for them, though both oils can be substituted for other fats over a wide range of other uses.

There is a wide range of adaptation in the manufacture of toilet, laundry, and household soaps. In these, a number of animal fats and vegetable oils are substitutable, under technological procedures, largely on the basis of price. Manufacturers of trade-mark soaps endeavor to keep them uniform in order to retain established markets. There is a certain range within which they can substitute the raw materials and still maintain uniformity in the soap, and within this range they purchase the raw materials on the basis of price. Outside of this range they cannot substitute fats with maintenance of uniformity, but must buy certain fats at going prices. The properties of trade-mark toilet soaps are held more rigid and invariable than those of trade-mark household and laundry soaps. The properties of trade-mark household and laundry soaps are held more rigid than in the case of soaps not carrying trade-marks. The lower the usage, the less the necessity for uniformity. Under these circumstances, the range of substitution varies inversely with the price of a soap. Since common soaps are manufactured on a price basis, soap makers under efficient technological practices draw their raw material from every conceivable vegetable and animal source. Indeed, they sometimes substitute other raw materials for fats and oils.

Thus in yellow laundry soap there is a good deal of rosin if the price warrants. Rosin acids form sodium salts which are freely soluble in warm water, lather well, and have good cleansing action. Rosin, however, is not used in white soaps; it makes them not merely yellow but also sticky. Hence also, it is not used in soap chips. Besides rosin, a variety of other substances are used at times, some of which are merely fillers or adulterants. The commonest is sodium silicate, familiarly known as water glass, of which as much as 20 per cent of the weight of the soap is sometimes used. Opinions differ as to whether this is to be regarded merely as a filler and make-weight or as a useful ingredient. Indeed, the substitution of other materials for fats and oils in many directions has been the endeavor of chemists for some time with considerable success, especially in the substitution of mineral products for fats and oils in lubricants, and of new types of varnishes and lacquers, free from vegetable oil, for the older types in which drying oils serve as the medium. Of course, such substitutions are not possible in the edible field, in which substitution is limited to one fat for another.

The uses of coconut oil are of interest in this connection. It is widely used in soap, especially marine soap, and in margarin. It is, however, a poor lubricant, and compounds containing a large proportion foam badly when used for deep frying. Coconut oil is therefore a premium material for marine soap, an available material for common soap, but not to any important degree available for lard compounds or for lubricants.


Taking the situation as a whole, about all that can be said in the absence of more adequate statistics is that the trend of per capita consumption of fats and oils is probably on the increase, owing largely to increasing consumption of soap. Probably per capita consumption for food is somewhat decreasing. In industry, aside from soap, per capita use is possibly decreasing because of substitution of petroleum and synthetic products, though it is not improbable that the total amount of fats and oils consumed in industry outside of soap factories is increasing due to population growth. What the exact quantitative relations are, it is at present impossible to estimate.

Next: VI. International Trade in Fats and Oils

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