It’s basically butter, and how could that be bad?
Julia Child once said “with enough butter, anything is good,” and I’m inclined to agree. Much as I love dropping a thick pat of butter into my oatmeal or onto hot toast so it melts into all the nooks and crannies, there’s another butter-based ingredient I like to keep in my kitchen. When I’m looking for that rich, grassy, flavor that only butter can bring, but I need the cooking properties of oil, I’ll reach for ghee. Ghee is a type of clarified butter, commercially prepared by heating butter over a low flame until the casein, lactose, and other milk solids rise to the top, leaving a layer of deep gold underneath. Once the milk solids are skimmed off, ghee is a shelf-stable butter and oil replacement.
Ghee has been used on the Indian subcontinent for centuries, both culinarily (by home cooks and chefs alike) and medicinally by those who practice Ayurveda, a holistic treatment system. In an article for the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Dr. Kalpana S. Joshi explains that classic Ayurvedic texts say that to be the most potent from a medicinal standpoint, ghee must be made using traditional Ayurvedic methods (which can involve fermenting milk and then turning it into butter before heating it slowly over a low fire and skimming off milk solids); as opposed to direct cream methods adopted by some commercial producers of ghee (in which cream is heated to evaporate moisture and then decanted). Joshi’s research found that ghee made through traditional methods contain “higher amount of DHA; Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is a major component of retinal and brain tissues and remains important in prevention of various diseases.” According to The Ayurvedic Institute, ghee can be just as good for massaging the body as it is to be ingested, citing its comparable benefits to what ability to what Joshi describes: digestion aid, lubrication of connective tissues, and improved memory.
Not buying the health benefits? A-OK, because there’s no doubt that ghee is delicious and should be used even exclusively for that reason. Debbie Shandel, Chief Growth Officer and Partner at Carrington Farms explained that not only is ghee a perfect swap for butter in sauteing and spreading on bread, it’s a great 1:1 butter alternative in baking. “It is especially great for slow cooked or simmered dishes,” said Shandel. “With its nutty flavor, ghee holds up against strong spices well.”
Ghee is also a great alternative to coconut oil because it reacts the same way at the oil both physically and nutritionally. Though they both have a comparable level of nutrients, ghee is slightly lower in saturated fat than coconut oil, while coconut oil is higher in medium chain triglycerides, which have been proven to improve digestion. Ultimately, they to oils are pretty interchangeable, so even if you simply just don’t like the flavor of coconut oil but are looking for a a way to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, add a scoop of ghee to your smoothie or latte.
Speaking of lattes, yes, according to Shandel, ghee works just as well as coconut or MCT oil in “bulletproof” coffee, a whipped blend of coffee and fat taken by some for satiation and a burst of energy.