The question of the use of free fats in cooking should receive careful and thoughtful consideration, inasmuch as any extreme course in either direction is fraught with consequences that are detrimental to health. Many of the edible plants are deficient in the fat element; and instinctively, it would seem, man puts cream or butter on his bread. Fresh vegetables, while they have their delicate and characteristic flavors, taste “flat” without the addition of a little cream or free fat of some kind.
Nature serves fats in the very best form to be utilized by the body; that is, emulsified. These wholesome fats are supplied in nuts and olives, also in the yolk of egg, and in milk and cream. When taken in this form, each minute globule of fat is surrounded with a thin envelope, which holds the fat particles apart, and protects the foods from the free fat, thus permitting them to be readily digested.
Free or neutral fats, if used too freely with meals, have a tendency to smear over the foods, and interfere with their digestion. The prolonged retention of free fats in the stomach favors fermentation and rancidity, often producing heartburn and intestinal catarrh.
Free fats, however, are more digestible when cold than when hot, because hot fats not only coat but intimately penetrate the food with which they are cooked. This is especially true of fried foods, where each part of food is coated with a layer of fat, which keeps the digestive juices from acting on the other food elements.
In the making of gravies where the flour is browned in hot fat before the liquid is added, it is well to bear in mind that when starch granules are so browned and crisped, they are beyond the fermentation stage, and are not inclined to cause distress from that standpoint. It is more particularly the soluble starches (boiled or steamed), being dependent on the ptyalin of saliva for their digestion, that, when soaked in fats, are not acted upon by the saliva, but must wait digestion until they reach the small intestine, where the fats are split up by the pancreatic juice. Thus delayed, they are more or less liable to set up fermentation, while with browned flour, the case is different, as it is less, if at all, liable to ferment.
In seasoning such foods as hash or baked dressing, where the cooked potato in the hash and the soaked bread in the dressing readily absorb fat, and thus tend to make the food difficult of digestion, let the free fat first be used in making a sauce or a gravy, and then add this to the food. In this manner, the fat is not liberated to coat the starch granules, as is the case when free fat by itself is mixed with the starch and baked.