Transformative Power of Trans Fats

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Heartwarming Memories

Tis the season for trans fats….tra la la la la!

What better time of year to don your apron, and get busy in your kitchen, baking heartwarming holiday treats to fill your home  and heart with the comforting scent of Christmas memories.

But this may be the final holiday season for those flaky pie crusts, melt in your mouth pastries and  feather-light cakes made with shortening, the king of hydrogenated oils.

vintage illustration housewife Xmas food 1920s

Before Crisco, Mother’s didn’t have a Merry Xmas. She slaved the whole day away preparing and serving Christmas meals. “Now Christmas is Merrier For Mother Too!” proclaims this Crisco ad from 1928.  “Crisco is a Christmas time saver. No more old-fashioned, time intensive holiday cooking. If you follow directions and methods carefully you will have what I wish for you all: ‘A merry and Easy Christmas.”
Vintage ad Crisco 1928

Baking and Crisco have been at the heart of every holiday for generations.

What is Christmas without Crisco?

A lot more heart healthy apparently.

This past fall a heartless Uncle Sam announced some heart breaking news.

If the FDA has their way about it, bad-for-you- hydrogenated oils, i.e. trans fats, will be banned from the American diet come next year.

Hard to Swallow

Vintage Crisco Ad cartoon

“Mother Learns Digestibility Secret -Vintage Crisco Ad 1936

It may be hard to digest but once upon a time vegetable shortening like Crisco was a smart, wholesome choice. Labor-saving, economical, character-building, and man-pleasing, this cooking fat was a miracle for the harried, health conscious  housewife.

For over a century, Crisco was as ubiquitous in the American housewife’s kitchen as the all American apple pie she would bake with it. Crisco and other partially hydrogenated fats were not just a substitute for other fats.

It was the healthy alternative. “A gift for your digestive system,” Crisco promised in a 1927 ad. This creamy white food was something “the stomach welcomes.”

Crisco’s  heartfelt promise to protect your digestion was sincere. They just never anticipated the long-lasting effect it would have on your cardiovascular system.   Many scientists erroneously believed that trans fats were harmless or even beneficial because they substituted for saturated fats.

Eat Well and Feel Well

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Before you french fry another potato or make another pie let me tell you some thing about Crisco that’s terribly important,” begins one ad. “Crisco digests quicker. Crisco doesn’t overtax the stomach!”
“For over a year a very noted biologist has been testing Criscos digestibility against all sorts of fats. And after thousands of tests this famous scientist told me ‘Everyone should know that Crisco digests quicker –more easily. Eat well and feel well.”

When Crisco first appeared in 1911,  they  tempted  a nation suffering from chronic heartburn  with this groundbreaking  news:

“A few months ago if you had told dyspeptic men and women that they could eat pie at the evening meal and that distress would not follow, they probably would have doubted you. Praise of Crisco by hundreds who at one time had been denied such foods as pastry, cake and fried foods but who now eat these rich yet digestible Crisco dishes.”

Endorsements by doctors, dietitians and scientists put the seal of health on the product.

The vast American waistline was about to expand.

The Road to Success is Paved with Crisco

Grandfather little girl eating pie vintage ad 1930s

“Why long for pie but fear to eat it? Why condemn fried foods as indigestible?” asks this Crisco ad from 1937. “Doctors know that Crisco gives easy digesting food for junior to Grandpa. Here’s the case where food that’s good for you tastes extra good.”
Vintage Crisco ad 1937

Crisco and capitalism just seemed to go together. In the depths of the depression it could actually help you succeed in life.

“A good digestion will mean much to the youngsters health and character,” explained one 1933 ad. “A man seldom seems to be stronger than his stomach for indigestion handicaps him in his accomplishment of big things.” Eating Crisco was good for the economy.

And it was never too early to start making deposits in your childs cholesterol bank, deposits that would last a lifetime.

“Equip you child with good stomachs by giving them wholesome Crisco foods means a healthier future. They may eat Crisco doughnuts or pie without being chased by nightmares.”

“Sweet dreams follow a Crisco supper.” Clogged arteries would follow a lifetime of trans fats.

Have a Heart

Vintage Crisco ad 1943

“Want him to say you’re wonderful when you make his favorite dishes? The way to a mans heart is surer than ever with Crisco.”
Vintage Crisco ad 1943

A sure way to your man’s heart was with Crisco.

“Want to delight the man in your life? Bake him a cake with real man appeal! Let him have “another” of those luscious foods fried crisp and tender in pure Crisco!”

“Remember  9 out 10 doctors say Crisco is healthy!”  ( of course those may be the same doctors who also preferred to smoke Camel cigarettes)

By the post war years Crisco was solidly in place in the hearts of Americans –literally and figuratively.

Scientific Discovery

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Once upon a time trans fats were the very symbol of progress

The turn of the last century was filled with wonders.

In an age of milestone scientific discoveries and advances, the development of trans fat rates right up their  with the electric light bulb when it came to convenience for the American family.

And in no small way the two are connected.

vintage ads P&G Soap Crisco

Crisco vegetable shortening was designed in a lab to replace lard. Made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil a process that turned cottonseed oil from a liquid to a solid like lard, but was more digestible.
(L) Vintage P&G Soap Ad (R) Vintage Crisco Ad 1934

In the 1890s Proctor and Gamble owned many cottonseed oil factories in Mississippi that produced oil for use in their P&G soaps and candles. But with the invention of the light bulb, the candle business was in decline. What to do with all that extra oil they now had?

A light bulb went off in their heads

At that time there really wasn’t any alternative to lard and butter for frying and baking.

In 1907 a German chemist EC Kayser arrived  at P&G headquarters in Cincinnati with a new invention. Creamy white, it looked liked lard, cooked like lard, but contained no animal product.

It was hydrogenated cottonseed oil.


Vintage ads Crisco and Lard

Doughnuts to Dollars Crisco went on an aggressive ad campaign. Crisco was presented as healthier, more digestible, cleaner, more economical, more enlightened and more modern than lard. Capitalizing on all the stories of adulterated lard , Crisco was endorsed and encouraged by doctors and dietician who lauded the product as one that would make food more digestible.
(L) Vintage Crisco Ad 1918 (R) Vintage Armor Lard Ad 1915

Perfect for baking and frying the new fat was cheaper than butter and easier than lard to use and best of all hydrogenated oils meant products could sit on shelves for months at room temperature … big profits ensued.

The hydrogenation process was developed in the late 1890s by a French chemist and it  was a German scientist Wilhelm Normann who in 1901 found that liquid oil could be hydrogenated to form trans fatty acids and patented the process in 1902 .

A German may have invented it, but it took good old American know how to turn a healthy profit.

The product was named Crisco a modification of phrase “CRYStallized Cottonseed Oil”

Winning American’s Hearts

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“Look for the Grocer Who Shows this Display” exclaims an ad from 1915. “It means that he recommends Crisco for all cooking purposes as a standard, high-grade cooking fat. In your pantry your kitchen cabinets and closets today you use dozens of labor savers and time savers your grandmother never dreamed of. The old countries look with amazement at the quickness of America women in adopting improvements. Alert American housewives consider Cisco indispensable today!
Vintage ad Crisco 1915

“Science has made a discovery of far-reaching importance to every human being,” P&G proudly proclaimed in 1911 when Crisco first appeared on the grocery shelves.  Housewives accustomed to cooking with lard and butter had to be convinced  that this new product was superior.

For the next decades Crisco wooed Americans with a massive advertising campaign until Crisco became the  modern indispensable product for the kitchen.

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It was advertised as pure and wholesome, a healthier alternative to animal fats and more economical than butter and then went right to the heart of the housewife…it saved work.

Crisco won over American’s hearts

Save Work

Vintage Crisco Advertisements

In 1939 Crisco introduced “its new million dollar Gyro-Turn Process- which whips and beats Crisco to new easy blending creaminess prepare yourself for the compliments.”
L) 1939 Crisco Ad (R) 1948 Crisco Ad

“Ladies why slave over baking! Spare your arm!” shouted  one headline in a 1934 ad.”  Whisk up your cakes with Crisco  creamed shortening”.

Making a cake with stiff shortening meant baking it until your arm ached, then you dribbled in the sugar but with Crisco you could dump the shortening sugar and eggs into mixing bowl because Crisco blended with sugar and eggs in one operation.

And because frying was now less of a greasy, smoky, chore than before, Americans went into a frying frenzy – if it could be deep-fried, Americans would fry it.

Vintage illustration housewife cooking Crisco

“My hurry-up suppers got lots of hurrahs…and I got a frying hint! From now on I’m taking the hint and frying with wonderful Crisco giving my family their fill of crisp tempting fried foods”
1947 Vintage Crisco advertisement

Thanks to the ease of Crisco, frying became the most popular cooking method especially deep-frying which  according to testimonials from satisfied housewives like Mrs Winifred Carter in a 1930 advertisement, was  a real lifesaver:“ Crisco saves me so much time and bother at meal time when there are so many things to do. Really I do not know how I could keep house without Crisco and all the good things it gives me.”

Vintage ad Crisco Contest 1939

In this 1939 Contest you were asked to write a slogan for creamier Crisco using 10 words or less for the chance to win $5,000 Cash or 500 second prizes of Sunbeam Mixmasters.
Vintage ad Crisco 1939

Proctor and Gamble  perfected the modern art of branding.

In addition to publishing a cookbook “The Story of Crisco” containing 615 Crisco recipes (all traditional recipes that contained butter or lard now contained Crisco)  that was distributed free of charge to housewives, it shipped samples to hospitals and schools, produced cooking programs on radio and ran dozens of contests.

Vintage ad Crisco Cook Book 1949

The all new 1949 Crisco Cook Book- Yours for just 15 cents!

Have Trans Fat Will Travel

All American Crisco boasted “that the entire culinary world was revising its cookbook on account of Crisco an altogether different cooking fat.

It would win over the worlds hearts as well.

vintage illustration international children

Crisco boasted “that it was adopted by people of all nationalities,” claiming “that the entire culinary world was revising its cookbook on account of Crisco as an altogether different cooking fat. The old countries look with amazement at the quickness of America women in adopting improvements. Alert American housewives consider Cisco indispensable today!”

“Crisco has been adopted by French Chefs who used olive oil, Japanese cooks who prefer coconut oil, by the old negro cooks in the south instead of cottonseed oil, in the Far west by Chinese servants who used butter, and in American homes where lard has been for generations the only cooking fat known.” Crisco explained in its book The Story Of Crisco. “This wide-spread adoption of Crisco has been one of the most convincing proofs of the universal need of such products.”

But it was the niche marketing to the Jews that was truly revolutionary , one for which Crisco claimed “the Jews have waited 4,000 years for!”

Stay Tuned: Transformative Power of Trans Fats PT II Crisco and the Kosher Kitchen

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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  1. (applause)
    Very well done.
    Your blog is a treasure trove. Are you turning all this into a book?


  2. Pingback: Crisco and Kosher Kitchen Culture | Envisioning The American Dream

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