What it is, where does it come from and what are its main uses?

Tallow is produced and traded 365 days of the year and is used by virtually every one of us on a daily basis in one form or another.

Tallow is the rendered fat of cattle and sheep predominantly, although other animals can be brought into the equation, such as horses, goats and other dead stock.

(Pig fats have a totally different composition and are too soft to become tallow and form a group called greases. The edible form of pig fats becomes lard after rendering and cooking under pressure.)

The predominant source of tallow comes from cattle and is a by-product of the meat industry. At the time of slaughter for human consumption at registered abattoirs/meatworks around the world, the carcasses are first stripped of their hides for the leather industry, whilst hooves and horns are removed to the glue pots.

In the case of sheep, again the skins are removed once the fleece has been shorn with the wool going to the wool spinners and the skins to the clothing/furniture and shoe industries.

Excess fat on the exterior of the carcass is removed, and once all the meat has been removed the internal fats remain. The hard white fats around the heart and kidneys are separated out and after rendering separately become edible tallow or dripping as it is commonly known in the UK.

The rest of the fats and all the bones are passed through a cracker/series of blades which breaks them down into relatively small pieces which are then fed into very large pressure cookers along with water. As we all know fat is lighter than water and floats on top, so the water is drained off first.

The remaining fat and cooked meat and bones is then centrifuged to remove all the liquid fats, with the remaining solids ultimately becoming either meat meal or meat and bone meal after being subjected to a drying process.

The liquid fat is in fact what is then known as tallow, and dependent upon the animals that have been slaughtered and cooked, the fats can be graded for different end uses.

All countries with a sheep or cattle population will have a rendering industry of some kind with the end products entering their local markets or being exported.

Historically tallow was used as a lighting medium in the form of tallow dips/tapers/lanterns as in the earliest street lighting in London. Many years ago ceremonial church candles were made from tallow and bees wax. These days there is no tallow in them as it is too soft and apparently smells to “high heaven”. Candles are now often made from a blend of hardened vegetable oil (palm), bees wax and paraffin wax.

However, the major cattle and sheep rearing countries such as the USA, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand export some two million tons of tallow around the world annually. The tallow is carried in specially designed tankers where the tanks are fitted with low pressure steam heating coils to enable the product to be kept in its liquid form for pumping out at destination ports.

Because of its properties and long carbon chain, tallow has a huge number of uses.

When split there are two main properties – glycerides and fatty acids, with the glycerides being used in the pharmaceutical and explosives industries, to name a couple.

The fatty acids form the basic ingredient of soaps and cosmetics such as rouges, lipsticks etc, with the stearic acids being used in the vulcanization of rubber and metal drawing.

Furthermore tallow has a high protein and energy content and is used in many parts of the world in animal feeding compounds. However, here in the UK the advent of BSE in the mid 1990s brought about the banning of tallow in animal feeds.

Nevertheless as one door closes another one opens and in recent years tallow has been processed to enter the biodiesel and paint industries as well as many other chemical products.

Overall, worldwide tallow production is around 7-7.5 million tonnes, which is a very small percentage of the total vegetable oils and fats production of around 135 million tonnes.

However there is one very sure thing, that as long as we all eat meat in all its forms there will always be tallow to be used in one form or another, and of course dripping is still the finest frying agent for FISH and CHIPS.

Just ask anyone who lives North of Watford!!

Peter Cormack, Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers

July 2015

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