What Is Shortening?

Vegetable oil like soybean or cottonseed oil is used to make a solid fat, which is referred to as shortening. The name "shortening" is derived because when it is used along with flour, it shortens the gluten strands. Shortening is 100% fat, as compared to 80% fat in butter or lard. This makes the baked good very tender and hence it is mainly used in baking and not in other types of cooking techniques.

When shortening is used along with wheat in dough, it interferes with the gluten matrix's formation and helps in getting the right texture in baked goods. Without shortening, the goods will end up becoming gummy or chewy. The fat prevents gluten strands from sticking to each other when adding liquid, working as a barrier. This ensures that the baked goods turn out softer than the ones made by using butter, which usually makes the goods have a crispy texture.