Butter is one of those ingredients that make nearly everything taste a little better. Drown a pile of mashed potatoes, slather it on freshly baked banana bread, drench a lobster tail with hot liquid gold.
All butter options are delicious, but not necessarily that great for us. There’s a lot of scepticism about the health implications of butter, and many people have a difficult time digesting it. But even in spite of that, butter is an essential food item in nearly every North American home.
But along comes ghee, the better butter in both ancient and modern nutrition. Why is it better? Ghee is an ideal butter alternative for vegetarians and dairy-sensitive people. In addition to being packed with essential nutrients, ghee tastes richer and creamier than regular butter.
But we know taste is relative. That’s why we included an easy how to make ghee guide below so you can try it out and decide for yourself. Keep reading to discover the health benefits of ghee, nutrition facts, and how to make ghee.
What Is Ghee?
To understand what ghee is and why it’s the better butter, it’s useful to know the anatomy of butter. Butter contains butterfat, water, and milk solids. Ghee is butter without the last two ingredients, making it pure butterfat. Without the water, it lasts longer than butter, and it has a higher smoke point, so its beneficial nutrients are retained during cooking.
Ghee is like clarified butter, but making it requires an extra step. The difference between ghee and clarified butter is the length of time it has to cook. Ghee is heated slightly longer than clarified butter, which causes the milk solids to caramelize and infuse the remaining “liquid gold” with a somewhat nutty flavor and richer color. The extra few minutes on the heat also increases the smoke point by a few degrees.
Ghee (pronounced Guy, like the French guy) comes from Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine. A variety of delicious Indian dishes call for ghee because it aids digestion and enhances ojas (OH-jus), the body’s vital energy that governs hormonal balance, according to Ayurvedic expert Dr. Vasant Lad.
Not all of us trust in ancient, alternative approaches to health and nutrition, so I’ll share a little story with you that demonstrates how useful ghee is in modern nutrition. Ghee supports a food-as-medicine approach to health.
Have you ever heard of "Delhi belly"? It's an uncomfortable, sometimes tortuous digestive affliction many travelers experience when they go to India the first time. I had it during a month-long intensive yoga course and was quite ill for several days.
A sudden demand to get to a toilet now would suddenly arise during a downward dog or some other vulnerable yoga posture. Other days my belly would bloat up so much that forward folds and spinal twists were out of the question. You catch my drift, so I’ll spare you unnecessary details.
After a couple of days of discomfort, I navigated my way through the city’s crowded streets to consult a local Ayurvedic doctor. He checked my pulse, tongue, lips, eyes, and fingernails. Then he wrote this strange but life-saving word on a piece of paper, which he tucked into my hand as he pointed me in the direction of a restaurant down the road.
What was written on that piece of paper? Kitchari, a rice and mung bean (dal) based stew that contains a variety of aromatic healing spices and––you guessed it––ghee. I ate this magical stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two days and my digestive issue went quietly away. When I later researched the benefits of ghee, I discovered that it had indeed been the active ingredient in sorting out my gut.
The Benefits of Ghee
Ghee has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine because of its health benefits, which, as we’ve learned, include digestive disturbances.
Heating raw butter to produce ghee removes many potential allergens. While ghee isn’t considered vegan because it derives from milk, it is lactose-free because the process of making it removes the milk solids. If dairy is a problem for you, then ghee is an excellent butter substitute because it doesn’t contain lactose, whey, or casein––a type of protein.
Ghee tastes better than butter too. It has a rich, slightly nutty flavor, and a world of health benefits. If you’re making ghee from scratch, consider adding fenugreek seeds, which enhances the flavor and preserves the flavor if stored for a long time.
You can swap butter for ghee in most recipes that require butter except pastry. The water in unclarified butter is essential for a richer, flakier crust. Alternatively, add a bit of extra water to your pastry recipe and use 25% less ghee.
Ghee Nutrition Facts
Ghee is an excellent fat source for vegetarians because it contains essential fatty acids and fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin E, vitamin A, and vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 plays a role in blood clotting, calcium metabolism, and heart health.
Along with high-quality coconut oil, ghee is a healthy source of saturated fat that may help treat an increasingly common digestive condition called leaky gut syndrome. Some experts believe that leaky gut is an underlying cause of autoimmune diseases. Ghee helps prevent leaky gut by insulating, soothing, and repairing damaged gut lining. Saturated fat has a bad health rap, but like many things, moderation is key.
See this informative BBC article to learn The Truth About Saturated Fat.
How to Make Ghee
The price of high-quality organic ghee in supermarkets is jaw-dropping; making your own ghee is far more cost-effective. It’s simple to do and requires only four things:
Organic, unsalted, grass-fed butter
A fine-mesh strainer or nut-milk bag
A spoon to skim the foam
Optional: Fenugreek seeds
Melt one pound of unsalted, grass-fed butter on medium heat, approximately 10-12 minutes. As it boils, foam will accumulate on the surface. Reduce to low heat and simmer for several more minutes. The color will deepen from light yellow to rich gold and smell a bit like popcorn. To test if the ghee is ready, flick a couple of drops of water on it. If it crackles, it’s ready.
Cooking the butter results in three layers: the foamy whey protein on the top, the clarified butter, and the browned milk solids on the bottom.
Removing the top foam layer makes smoother ghee, while allowing the foam to sink back in with a few more minutes of heat gives it a slightly grainy texture, and presumably, a shorter shelf life.
It doesn’t require too much effort to remove the foam, and it can be used in soups, stir fry, on steamed veggies, or on popcorn.
Should You Use Grass-Fed Butter To Make Ghee?
It’s reasonable to assume that any good quality butter will produce a perfect ghee, and it may very well taste delicious and store beautifully. But butter is made from milk and conventional milk produced with factory farming methods is treated, and it contains xenoestrogens that may disrupt healthy hormonal function. If you’re putting forth the time and attention to make your own ghee for health reasons, it makes sense to opt for the butter sourced from pasture-raised cows.
How Long Does Ghee Last?
Store your homemade ghee in the refrigerator for up to 1 year. If you choose to store it in a butter crock or butter dish, three months is the maximum shelf life, though it will last longer in cooler climates.
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Knowing how simple it is to make ghee, give it a try and let us know: Did you enjoy the process? Notice a difference in the flavor? Have you used it as a butter substitute when baking?
From our kitchen to yours, happy ghee-making!