The darker side of duck fat
Duck fat might give roast potatoes a fabulous flavour, but does it deserve its reputation as a healthy fat?
The halo over duck fat comes from its relatively high (55 per cent) content of healthy monounsaturated fat. This is the main fat in olive oil and credited with benefits like helping to maintain ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol – and possibly lower blood pressure according to Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source. Duck fat has more mono than other animal fats such as butter (only 26 per cent monounsaturated fat) and beef dripping (43 per cent monounsaturated fat). As for coconut oil, only six per cent is monounsaturated.
Olive oil on the other hand has 75 per cent monounsaturated fat and contains antioxidants too.
“You could say that duck fat is healthier than butter – but olive oil still leaves it for dead,” says nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton.
The smoke point of duck fat is often held up as another advantage but while it’s higher than butter, unless it’s clarified butter, good quality extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point than duck fat – (210 degrees C for fresh Australian EVO ) compared to duck fat (about 190 degrees C), she explains.
“It’s also worth remembering that most foods that are fried are not taken to smoke point,” she adds.
But rather than focus on specific types of fat, it makes more sense to look at the quality of a food as a whole – rather than just one of its parts. When you do that, EVO with its antioxidants has it all over duck fat, Dr Stanton says.
“As an example, monounsaturated fats are the dominant fat in chicken noodle soup, eggs, olive oil, duck fat, avocado, and liquorice, almonds, rolled oats, chocolate chip muesli bars and chicken nuggets. It would be nonsense to assume these foods were nutritionally equivalent on the basis of their dominant fat. It’s as silly to praise duck fat for its monounsaturated fats as it would be to praise chicken nuggets or chocolate chip muesli bars just because monounsaturated fats are the dominant fat.
“The main advantage of using duck fat probably comes from its flavour. From a nutritional perspective, I’d say it’s fine to use occasionally but more isn’t better.”
While we’re clearing up a few things about duck fat, we could also spare a thought for the ducks who provide it.
As animal welfare issues go, the conditions in which ducks are raised for meat is low on our radar. Yet, like chickens, most ducks destined to become duck confit or duck pancakes are raised in an intensive system in sheds. This means that floating around in water isn’t an option – and that’s a problem for aquatic birds that were never designed to live entirely on their feet, says Elise Burgess, Head of Communications at Voiceless, the animal protection organisation.
“Ducks aren’t chickens but they are basically treated the same under farming guidelines. Their legs aren’t as strong because they use the buoyancy of water to support their weight – yet millions of factory farmed ducks in Australia have no access to water for bathing and swimming,” she says. “They are also bred to have large breasts which makes it even more difficult for their legs to support their weight – and this can lead to lameness, dislocated joints and broken legs. ”
The hope is that this might change. The guidelines for poultry welfare – the Model Code of Practice for Domestic Poultry – is under review for the first time in 15 years and animal protection organisations such as Voiceless are calling for better conditions for ducks including access to water, she says.
But a more likely result of the review is the introduction of a misting or showering system in sheds to moisten the ducks’ plumage and help clean their eyes and nostrils, according to a spokesperson for the Australian Duck Meat Association.
“We couldn’t accommodate swimming,” he said.
We may have had years of campaigning about the welfare of pigs and chickens in factory farms with consumers now demanding higher standards of welfare – but ducks have been ignored, Elise Burgess says.
“Consumers who care about animal welfare need to make informed choices and learn more about the realities of duck farming in Australia, and think twice before choosing duck products and supporting factory farming,” she says. “They can also speak to government and retailers and ask for improved welfare standards for ducks.”
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