What is Ghee and is it Really Better than Butter?
It's a mainstay in traditional Indian cooking and has become a staple in Paleo diets, people are even adding it to their morning coffee. So what is it about ghee that's so different from eating butter?
Simply put, ghee is a variation of clarified butter that originated in India.
Clarified butter is unsalted butter that is heated gently, causing the milk solids to separate from the golden liquid and drift to the bottom of the pan after the butter has melted. Any foam that is present is skimmed off of the surface, leaving just the liquid. Removing the milk solids gives the butter (now clarified butter) a higher smoke point, making it ideal for high cooking temperatures. It also prevents the butter from spoiling as quickly, though it doesn’t offer quite as rich of a taste compared to regular butter.
Ghee is like clarified butter... taken a step further. Once the milk solids have separated, the butter is simmered until all of the moisture evaporates and the milk solids brown slightly. The result is the delicious browned, nutty, caramel-like taste and aroma ghee is known for. Ghee has a longer shelf life than butter and higher smoke point (375 degrees), making it ideal for sautéing and searing. You can easily make ghee at home, using just unsalted butter and a heavy saucepan. It can be refrigerated for 6 months or frozen for a year.
Girl Making Ghee image Photo: Anne-Marie Jackson via Getty images
How do I use ghee?
Ghee is great for deep or pan frying. It can be used when toasting spices, as opposed to dry roasting, when making authentic Indian dishes. This technique results in a richer version of the spice's original flavor. Ghee can be thought of simply as a more durable, more flavorful butter replacement, and can be used as a condiment you spread on toast or toss with vegetables. A more traditional variation of ghee worth trying is flavored ghee, made by adding ginger, peppercorns, cumin, or other spices at the very beginning of the clarifying process.
What are the benefits of cooking with ghee?
While ghee is more convienient than butter because given its higher smoke point and a longer shelf life, that's not the only reason people make the switch. Ghee is more tolerable for those who have lactose sensitivites, because the milk solids have been removed. That said, it's still made from dairy, so those with more serious dairy allergies should still steer clear. There are also a number of positive health claims associated with ghee, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you commit to adding ghee to every meal.
If you want the benefits, buy grass-fed ghee, or make your own with grass-fed butter. The nutritive status or composition of ghee depends on the milk that was used to original make the butter which was, in turn, used to make the ghee. Ghee contains medium chain fatty acids, which are easy to digest and better for your heart in comparison to other saturated fatty acids. You're eating a higher concentration of butyric acid (which is just a certain type of fatty acid) when you use ghee instead of butter. Butyric acid is known for its positive effects on immune function and anti-inflammatory activity, and it has been associated with improvement in irritable bowl syndrome. Still, ghee is entirely fat and though fats are necessary to a healthy life, eating ghee in an excessive manner, just like butter, could have negative effects in terms of heart health.