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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Duck Fat

In several of my articles, I have written about the wonders of the French Paradox. To sum it up, people eat a high fat diet, lots of pork, salt, and drink plenty of wine and other alcohol to wash it all down. Yet, as a whole they seem to be one of the healthiest countries in the world. Today I want to address what may be the most surprising secret to their success: that is, duck and goose fat.

Even though many people in France eat a lot of fatty foods, smoke cigarettes as if they were breathing air, and don't pay any attention to exercise (Paris is becoming an exception to the latter point), France has one of the lowest, if not the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease in the industrialized world. For example, according to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization's Multinational Monitoring of Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease (MONICA), on average 315 out of 100,000 middle aged men die every year in the United States from a heart attack. In France as a whole, approximately 145 out of 100,000 middle age men die from the same cause each year.

In the Gascogne region of France, there was a puzzling find. Though this region eats more saturated fat than any other group of people in the industrialized world, only 80 out of 100,000 middle aged men die from a heart attack each year. What is their secret?

Apparently, it is duck and goose fat.

These two fats are used for cooking nearly everything. While best known in France for adding scrumptious flavor to sautéed potatoes, the Gascons use duck and goose fat with nearly everything they prepare. Where one in Italy, Spain, or Provence might use olive oil, the Gascons use duck or goose fat. While in Brittany one might put salted butter on their bread, the Gascons use goose fat as a spread.

What is it that makes duck and goose fat so healthy? Apparently it is a result of the kinds of fats that make up its composition. Duck and goose fat are low in saturated (bad) fats, and very high in unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and can clog up arteries in the human body. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and go through the system much easier. Duck and goose fat are actually closer in composition to vegetable oils like olive and grape seed oil than they are to butter or lard. This is a reason that duck and goose fat need to be kept refrigerated, as it becomes liquid at a fairly low temperature (14° C, or 57.2° F).

Duck and goose fat are pretty easy to find in France, though I would say that duck fat is less expensive and more prevalent, at least here in Paris. One can buy duck fat in a jar, in a refrigerated section of almost any grocery store. It is pretty cheap (2-3 euros), and it can potentially last for years (though once you get in the habit of cooking with it, it is likely that you'll run out of it in a couple of months at most). It adds the taste of duck or goose to a simple meal, so its a cheap and healthy way to add a lot of flavor to your dishes.

This is just another mystery solved in how the French Paradox lives up to its name. Go get some duck fat and start living a healthier, and tastier life.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat, in addition to walking around some of Paris' best neighborhoods, take a look into my tours at culinarytoursofparis.com.

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