With the Bloomberg administration threatening to banish trans fats from the city's fry pans, we're being faced with a question we hoped we'd never have to ask: What does a city cuisine stripped of this magical substance taste like? The news isn't good — at least, not for gluttons. Vegetable shortening, trans fat in its purest form, has a higher smoking point than oil, which means juicier, less greasy food. The shortening also leaves a rich umami, or savory, mouthfeel. But how will this play, meal to meal?
Americans of a certain age may remember McDonald's catastrophic switch from beef tallow to vegetable oil for cooking fries. Their flavor took a nosedive, and another one is likely if the chain is also forced to cast aside the wonder fats. Baked goods will fare even worse. Famed cookbook author Rozanne Gold tells us that "politically [the ban is] a smart move, but I still yearn for those flavors. Shortening results in a supernal texture, and I think it unlocks or enhances other flavors too. Look at how the taste of Entenmann's products have changed since they took it out. Cookies won't be as crisp, nor crusts as flaky."
Taste- and texture-wise, lard is a good stand-in for trans fats, but it's also expensive, not to mention impractical for all but the handful of restaurants immune to objections from the religiously observant and even moderately health-minded.
New York may wind up healthier and thinner but not necessarily happier. Enjoy those doughnuts while you can.