What is Ghee?
Ghee is actually just a version of clarified butter. It’s been a staple in Indian cuisine for many, many years. Ghee actually was originally created to have a stable shelf life and not spoil in warm weather.
Have you ever noticed if you melt butter, it separates into a clear yellow liquid and then some whitish solids that sink to the bottom? The whitish solids are milk solids. Ghee is actually the clear yellow liquid with all the milk solids and a small amount of water removed.
Ghee is also used in ancient Ayurveda medicine as a yogavahi—a catalytic agent that carries medicinal properties of herbs into the seven areas or tissues of the body.
Once the milk solids and water are removed from the butter, the ghee does not require refrigeration, and can be kept at room temperature for weeks without spoiling. Like coconut oil, another healthy saturated fat, it becomes solid when temperatures are cool.
How is Ghee made?
Butter is heated to separate the liquid and solids. Then the butter is cooked a bit longer to evaporate off the water, while the milk solids settle to the bottom and turn brown. Next, the remaining oil is allowed to cool and is strained to just retain the golden liquid oil.
How does Ghee compare to butter?
Obviously, ghee contains much of the same nutrients as butter, but which is better? Because the water is cooked off, ghee contains slightly more fat grams and a few more calories.
The biggest difference between butter and ghee is that the dairy protein, casein, as well as the lactose are removed from ghee. If you have any dairy allergies, the casein is most likely the offending agent. Many people are also lactose intolerant, making ghee a great choice instead of butter. People can get the health benefits of butter without reacting to the presence of milk.
Both butter and ghee contain the healthy fat called butyric acid, an anti-inflammatory fatty acid that helps keep your gut lining healthy. Both butter and ghee contain conjugated linoleic acid, (CLA), a healthy polyunsaturated fat that helps increase fat loss and lowers inflammation.
Butyric acid is an incredible anti-inflammatory agent that improves the beneficial bacteria in the gut, suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria, and prevents electrolyte loss during periods of diarrhea. Butyric acid is a valuable treatment for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease–and even helps prevent colorectal cancer.
Butyric acid is also effective in fighting obesity and insulin resistance, and may help to promote the release of hormones that suppress appetite.
There seems to be some conflicting information out there on whether or not ghee contains more or less butyrate, but the consensus is that butter may edge ahead with its butyric acid over ghee. But, no worries, if you want to increase your butyrate consumption, simply include more resistant starch in your diet or use both butter and ghee in your diet.
Butter and ghee contain small amounts of important fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K, and beta-carotene. Grass fed butter and ghee contain the highest amounts of these awesome nutrients.
Butter vs Ghee for Cooking
While saturated fats like butter make great oils for cooking, the lactose and milk solids in butter can often burn and smoke easily. Ghee, however, can handle higher cooking temperatures without burning or becoming damaged.
Ghee has a higher smoke point and is a very stable cooking fat. The smoke point is the temperature at which fats become volatile and begin to smoke. Ghee’s smoke point is 485°F (250°C), which is quite a bit higher than butter’s smoke point of 350°F (175°C), due to ghee’s lack of milk solids and lactose. So, when cooking at very high temperatures, ghee has a distinct advantage over butter. Heating ghee also produces much less of the toxic compound acrylamide that any vegetable oils.
What about Flavor?
Ghee has a delicious nutty flavor and holds up well to strong flavors, like turmeric , cayenne, and curry spices, making it great component of spicy Indian and Thai cooking. Ghee also helps to bring out the fat-soluble flavors, antioxidants, and other nutrients that spices contain, when cooking. It’s perfect for curries, sauces, and slow-cooked or simmered dishes. Butter, on the other hand offers a sweeter, smoother flavor due to its dairy content and is great added to vegetables, or other dishes after cooking.
Which is Healthier?
Both are healthy, but there are a few points to consider. Both butter and ghee contain high amounts of saturated fat, which—for the most part—we have determined is GOOD for you. However, for some people, LDL cholesterol levels tend to increase more in response to eating a higher saturated fat intake, although higher LDL levels tend to result from diets that are high in carbohydrates and sugars. If cholesterol is a big concern, limit sugars and starches, and hold the ghee or butter intake to 1-2 tablespoons a day.
One other concern is that because ghee is heated in its processing, the cholesterol it contains may oxidize. Oxidized cholesterol has been linked to some increased risk of heart disease. Ghee contains some oxidized cholesterol, but butter does not.
Bottom Line—Which is Better, Butter or Ghee?
• Ghee contains many of the nutrients that butter does and is considered a ‘natural’ healthy fat.
• Ghee does not contain any dairy solids or lactose, that may make some dairy-sensitive people react.
• Ghee is better for cooking since it has a higher smoke point and can be used at higher temperatures.
• Ghee may not have as much butyric acid in it as butter.
• Ghee may contain some oxidized cholesterol due to the heating process it undergoes.
Both Ghee and Butter are great healthy fats and deserve a place on your table and in your recipes. Keep ghee around as a healthy cooking fat and keep the butter as a flavorful addition to recipes. Enjoy both in good health!
How to make your own ghee:
Add 1 lb of grass fed butter to a medium-sized pan. Melt the butter over medium heat but don’t burn it. Turn the heat down until the butter is just boiling and cook at this heat—DO NOT cover the pan, as you want the water to evaporate off. The butter will foam and sputter a bit as it cooks. You will begin to see whitish curds forming on the bottom of the pan. This is the milk solids sinking to the bottom. The butter will start to smell a bit like popcorn and turn a lovely golden color. Keep an eye on it so it does not burn.
Once you see it turn to a clear golden color, it’s done. When the butter is clear and has stopped sputtering, it’s time to remove it from the heat. That means the water has been cooked off. Let it cool until just warm, but still liquid. Pour melted butter through a sieve or cheesecloth into a clean, dry container with a lid. Discard the curds at the bottom of the pan.
Ghee can be kept on the kitchen shelf and does not need refrigeration. Always be sure to use a dry spoon or utensil to ladle it out, because any water introduced into the ghee may cause it to spoil. Happy Cooking!