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Gourmet Hacks: 10 BEST Lard Substitutes for Tamales

Alright, folks, brace yourselves because we’re diving headfirst into the great tamale lard debate.

You’re whipping up tamales, ready to channel your inner kitchen wizard, and BAM!

You hit the lard wall. No lard in the pantry? No problemo!

We’ve got 10 kick-butt substitutions that will have your tamales tasting just as scrumptious, if not better.

Say goodbye to traditional methods and hello to a world where your tamales still reign supreme without the usual go-to.

Get ready to be the tamale hero you were always meant to be!

The 10 BEST Substitutes for Lard in Tamales

For centuries, traditional Mexican tamales have called for lard as the fat or oil of choice in the dough.

This is because the fat coats and protects the starches which results in a silky, moist texture that makes tamales so delicious.

However, lard has increasingly fallen out of favor with some folks due to dietary or religious restrictions, leaving many cooks wondering what’s a good alternative.

Here are 10 great substitutes for lard in tamales:

SubstituteKey CharacteristicsSubstitute Ratio
Grated, Cold ButterCreamy, rich flavor1:1
GheeClarified butter with a nutty flavor1:1
Coconut OilLight tropical flavor1:1
Vegetable ShorteningSolid fat with a neutral flavor1:1
Chicken FatSavory flavor with a hint of chicken taste1:1
Duck FatRich, distinctive flavor1:1
Avocado OilNeutral flavor and high smoke point1:1
Almond OilLight, nutty flavor1:1
Olive OilFruity and mild flavor1:1
Bacon FatSmoky and savory flavor1:1

Now, let’s dive into each substitute in more detail:

1 – Grated, Cold Butter

Making handmade tamales is a classic and comforting tradition; however, the use of lard can be off-putting for some.

Although lard is an essential part of making traditional tamales, there are healthy substitutions that many have come to love.

One of these substitutions is grated cold butter, which provides the same flavor and consistency that comes from using lard in tamales.

With very simple changes, like using cold butter instead of lard, one can enjoy the deep flavors or tamales without worrying about their dietary choices.

To substitute cold butter for lard in tamales, it’s as easy as simply taking some cold butter from your fridge and grate it with a box grater or food processor before adding it to the masa mixture.

The result is flavorful, delightful tamales everyone can enjoy.

2 – Ghee

Ghee is a type of clarified butter made from the milk solids of cow or buffalo milk.

It can be found in many Indian, Pakistani and South Asian dishes and is particularly popular as a cooking fat for its rich flavor.

Ghee is a great substitute for lard in tamales as it has an intense buttery taste with very little graininess and nearly the same fat content.

Since it has a higher smoke point than lard (482°F/250°C) it won’t burn easily, making it ideal for tamale-making.

When using ghee, keep in mind that the flavor will be more dominant than with lard as it contains no flavorful animal fats.

3 – Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a vegan-friendly substitute for lard and is readily available in most grocery stores.

It can have a slightly sweeter taste than lard, so to achieve the correct flavor profile for tamales, it’s best to use refined coconut oil.

Refined coconut oil has been deodorized so it won’t contribute any additional flavors to your tamales.

It also has a high smoke point, making it suitable for frying and other high heat cooking techniques.

Most brands should be solid at room temperature but will quickly melt if heated slightly before using.

For best results, measure out the amount of coconut oil you need before melting and add it to your batter or filling instead of using melted lard.

4 – Vegetable Shortening

Vegetable shortening can be a suitable substitute for lard in tamales.

Shortening is produced by hydrogenating vegetable oil, which makes it solid at room temperature and shelf-stable.

Most shortening on the market is made with soybean oil though palm and cottonseed oils are also sometimes used.

It helps to create a light, fluffy texture in tamales and can even have a slightly flakier quality than lard.

Although vegetable shortening has some health benefits, it’s still important to take precautions when using it as the majority of products are partially hydrogenated, containing trans fat.

Try to purchase brands that are marked Trans Fat-free or those made with non-hydrogenated oils for healthier alternatives.

5 – Chicken Fat

Chicken fat is a great substitute for lard in tamales as it has a similar taste and texture.

The main difference between chicken fat and lard is that chicken fat has less saturated fats than lard.

This makes it healthier than traditional lard in tamales, however, it still provides the same flavor and consistency when used to make tamales.

To use chicken fat instead of lard, simply melt the solidified chicken fat and use it where you would usually add lard.

Be sure to watch the temperature carefully; too much heat will cause the chicken fat to break down and form an unpleasant texture in your cooked tamales.

6 – Duck Fat

Duck fat is an excellent choice to substitute for lard when making tamales.

While it is high in saturated fat, it has an impressive blend of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Duck fat works well as a flavor enhancer because it adds a rich, almost meaty flavor which complements the masa in tamales perfectly.

Duck fat should be used in the same amounts as you would use lard, but you may want to add a bit more because duck fat has a richer flavor than lard.

When adding duck fat to your masa mixture or to use for folding the tamales, make sure that the duck fat used is fresh and doesn’t have an off smell or taste.

If possible, try to source locally grown duck as its reputation for being more flavorful and having higher quality animals will reflect in the taste of your final product.

If local sources are not available, consider buying organic or free-range products when possible to ensure good quality meat and flavorful fats.

7 – Avocado Oil

Avocado oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which means it’s healthy for your heart and can also help lower cholesterol.

It has a smooth, light taste that won’t alter the flavor of your tamales like lard, and you can find avocado oil at most health food stores or online.

Add 2 tablespoons of avocado oil for every cup of lard called for in the recipe.

Avocado oil should not be heated too high, as it has a low smoke point; consider adding it at a later stage of the cooking process when you are steaming the tamales in liquid.

If possible, purchase cold-pressed avocado oil to get all the natural nutrients and flavor it provides.

8 – Almond Oil

Almond oil is a great substitute for lard.

Its mild flavor and light texture make it a great choice for tamales.

It’s also significantly healthier than lard, being high in vitamin E and low in saturated fat.

Almond oil is also easy to use because of its liquid form.

To ensure that your tamales still have the same fluffy texture as lard, mix the almond oil with melted butter or vegetable oil just before adding it to the masa.

9 – Olive Oil

Olive oil is the most common substitute for lard when making tamales, because it has a similar fat content and a pleasant flavor.

To use olive oil in place of lard, you need to make sure that the oil has been heated until hot and pourable.

This will help to make the tamale dough smooth and give it excellent texture.

If you want your tamale dough to be sweeter, use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil.

Keep in mind that while swapping out lard for olive oil is relatively easy, the taste may be slightly different than the classic version with lard.

10 – Bacon Fat

Bacon fat is a versatile ingredient that can be used to enhance the flavor of tamales.

It has a richer, smoky taste than lard, making it an ideal option for tamales with a smoky or hearty flavor.

Bacon fat can be bought pre-rendered from many grocery stores or you can render it yourself from cooked bacon slices.

To use in your tamale recipe, simply replace the lard with bacon fat in equal amounts.

However, it should be noted that bacon fat produces different results than lard and some experimentation may be required to ensure your tamales are as delicious as expected.

The 10 BEST Substitutes for Lard in Tamales

Lard adds richness to tamales, but if you prefer a different option, here are ten substitutes that will yield equally delicious and authentic results in your tamale recipes.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Substitutes
Servings 1 Serving


  • 1 – Grated Cold Butter
  • 2 – Ghee
  • 3 – Coconut Oil
  • 4 – Vegetable Shortening
  • 5 – Chicken Fat
  • 6 – Duck Fat
  • 7 – Avocado Oil
  • 8 – Almond Oil
  • 9 – Olive Oil
  • 10 – Bacon Fat


  • Pick your favorite substitute from the list above.
  • Follow cooking directions for your selected substitute with the proper ratio of ingredients.
Keyword Substitutes for Lard in Tamales
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