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Shortening is made by a process called hydrogenation, which involves add extra hydrogen atoms to the aforementioned vegetable fats and turns them into solids, rather than liquids. This process of turning the previously unhydrogenated oil into a partially hydrogenated fat with trans fatty acids. These days, shortening is made trans-fat free by fully hydrogenating the oils. It tastes exactly the same and functions the same way as the partially hydrogenated shortenings did.
Shortening can be melted or softened and creamed into a mixture. Since it is all fat, it usually produces the most tender and crumbly results in a cake, cookie or pie crust, but it does not have the flavor of butter, nor can it impart the flakiness that butter can give to, for instance, a pie crust.