A bird feeding on suet.
Suet is raw beef or mutton fat, especially the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys.
Suet has a melting point of between 45 and 50 C (113 and 122 F) and congelation between 37 and 40 C. (98.6 and 104 F). Its high smoke point makes it ideal for deep frying and pastry production.
The primary use of suet is to make tallow, although it is also used as an ingredient in cooking, especially in traditional puddings, such as British Christmas Pudding. Suet is made into tallow in a process called rendering, which involves melting and extended simmering, followed by straining, cooling and usually a repetition of the entire process.
Unlike tallow, suet that is not pre-packed requires refrigeration in order to be stored for extended periods.
Suet is essential in traditional British steamed puddings, and in the pastry for steak and kidney pudding, in which a pudding bowl is lined with the suet crust pastry, the meat added and a lid of suet crust tightly seals the meat. The pudding is then steamed for approximately four hours before serving in the bowl on the table. Suet pastry is soft in contrast to the crispness of shortcrust pastry.
Suet is also an ingredient of traditional mincemeat (fruit mince).
Suet should not be confused with beef dripping, which is the collected fat and juices from the roasting pan when cooking roast beef.
Due to its high energy content, suet is used by cold weather explorers to supplement the high daily energy requirement needed to travel in such climates. Typically the energy requirement is around 5,000-6,000 kcal per day for sledge hauling or dog-sled travelling . Suet is added to food rations to increase the fat content and help meet this high energy requirement.
Suet can be bought in natural form in many supermarkets. As it is the fat from around the kidneys, the connective tissue, blood and other non-fat items must be removed. It then needs to be coarsely grated to make it ready to use. It must be kept refrigerated prior to use and used within a few days of purchase, just like meat.
Pre-packaged suet sold in supermarkets is dehydrated suet. It is mixed with flour to make it stable at room temperature. Because of this, some care is needed when using it for older recipes that call for fresh suet as the proportions of flour to fat can alter. Most modern recipes stipulate packaged suet.
Vegetable suet is available in supermarkets in the United Kingdom, made from fat such as palm oil combined with rice flour. It resembles shredded beef suet, and is used as a vegetarian substitute in recipes, but with slightly different results from animal suet.
Cultural and religious restrictions
Consumption of suet is forbidden according to the Jewish religion as it was reserved for ritual altar sacrifices. This restriction only applies to those animals which were used for sacrifices, and thus does not include wild animals such as deer.
Woodpeckers, goldfinches, juncos, cardinals, thrushes, jays, kinglets, bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, and starlings are all known to favour suet-based bird feeders.
Bird feed is commonly used in the form of cakes of suet, which can be made with other solid fats, such as lard. Rolled oats, bird seed, cornmeal, raisins, and unsalted nuts are often incorporated into the suet cakes.
↑ Nutritional Requirements in Cold Climates, Rodahl, Kaare; JN - The Journal of Nutrition
↑ Suet | Baltimore County Library System