Ghee been deemed a bit of a super-fat in health circles for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are that it’s both paleo-friendly and lactose-free. But what is ghee? This butter derivative actually has a long history in the culinary and medicinal worlds of Southeast Asia and may just be the fat to change the way you cook.
What is Ghee?
A butter derivative with no lactose? It almost seems too good to be true, and yet ghee is very real.
Ghee is a clarified butter whose milk solids have first been toasted, resulting in a cooking fat with oil’s very high smoke point and butter’s rich, nutty flavor, and nutritional profile.
Ghee may only now be appearing on store shelves with any regularity, but it’s actually been made for more than 5,000 years throughout the Indian subcontinent, where it is traditionally made from sacred cows’ milk and used in religious ceremonies. However, ghee is also commonly used as a cooking fat, particularly in Punjabi cuisine – the regional cuisine served in most Indian restaurants – where it is preferred to oil. In this case, buffalo milk is occasionally used.
5 Health Benefits of Ghee
Ghee is essentially clarified butter, meaning that it’s nearly entirely made up of fat. That said, as this year’s update to the federal health guidelines confirmed, not all fats are created equal.
“The more we learn about the dangers of partially hydrogenated oils, the more healthful these alternative spreads look,” says Rafael Avila, Director of Research and Development at Nature’s Plus.
While it took modern medicine time to catch up, traditional Ayurvedic has long contended that ghee is healthful and has used it for digestive issues, ulcers, and for its natural vitalizing properties.
But beware — not all ghee is created equal. As Christina Major of Crystal Holistic Health explains, “In naturally raised animals, the fat profile is healthy. There are over 30 different fats, and when butter is clarified into ghee, the fat profile is near perfect for us.”
In other words, be sure to choose organic, grass-fed butter to make your ghee, and avoid ghee made from commercial butter, which won’t boast half as many health benefits.
Ghee image via Shutterstock
Ghee is both lactose- and casein-free; both of these elements of butter are removed during the clarifying process. Because of this, ghee can often be enjoyed by those who cannot consume other dairy products. Do be aware that this is not the case for all lactose intolerant people, and check with your doctor before consuming if you have dairy allergies or sensitivities.
2. Contains Alkalizing Short-Chained Fats
Unlike butter, ghee is an alkalinizing food thanks to its short-chained fats known as butyrates, which are thought to promote healthy bacterial growth in the intestines. This is one of the reasons why ghee has traditionally been used for bowel enemas in Indian medicine.
That said, you can obtain many of the same benefits just by eating ghee, as Cate Stillman, founder of Yogahealer.com and Ayurvedic expert, explains, “Beneficial intestinal bacteria convert fiber into butyric acid and then use that for energy and intestinal wall support. Therefore, this aids in your body’s natural digestive function.”
3. Rich in Metabolism-Boosting Medium-Chain Fats
Ghee is also rich in medium-chain fatty acids which, like carbohydrates, are absorbed directly into the liver and metabolized as energy. According to Stillman, “Studies show that when replacing butter with ghee, metabolism increases, and cholesterol remains unaffected.”
4. High in CLA
An additional fat that is particularly present in grass-fed ghee is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that has been associated with anti-cancer and weight loss benefits.
5. Good Source of Vitamins K, A, and E
When made from quality butter, ghee is also a great source of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins K, A, and E. “Since the volume is reduced, the concentration of these vitamins is increased,” explains Major. “Plus, with all the healthy fats, the required co-nutrients to help absorption are right there with the vitamins.”
How to Make Ghee
Ghee and butter image via Shutterstock
The traditional Ayurvedic method of making ghee involves boiling raw milk, cooling it, adding yogurt cultures, and allowing it to sit for 12 hours before churning and simmering — a complicated process that makes store-bought ghee look like a better option. But you can make ghee much more simply at home.
Begin by melting 8 ounces of organic, grass-fed, unsalted butter in a saucepan. Simmer over a low heat, watching it carefully. First, the butter will foam up, then it will begin to bubble, like boiling water. Once all of the water in the butter has boiled off, the butter will stop bubbling for a moment and then foam a second time; this means that all of the water has evaporated, and you are left with pure fat.
At this point, allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before straining through cheesecloth to remove the toasted milk solids.
Ghee can be kept at in a dark place at room temperature for a month, stored in a sealed container.
What is Ghee Used for?
Ghee is the ideal fat to use for deep-frying, as it has a high smoke point of 250°C (482°F). Try using ghee to make onion pakodas, a gluten-free fried treat.
2. Toasting Spices
Traditional Indian cooking calls for toasting all spices before adding them to a dish for flavor. Toast your spices in ghee to infuse the cooking fat before making a soup, stew, or curry.
3. A Condiment
Use ghee in place of butter as a spread on toast, on steamed vegetables, or on steak. Ghee contains a lot more flavor than regular butter, so use sparingly.
Ghee in coffee image via Shutterstock
The trend of adding butter to coffee works just as well with nutty ghee; try this bulletproof coffee for astounding health benefits starting first thing in the morning.
5. Healing the Skin
Ayurvedic medicine calls for using ghee for skincare; first, the ghee must be carefully washed 100 times to purify it; it can then be used as a fantastic moisturizer that also reduces the appearance of scars.
6. Healing the Lips
Ghee’s natural vitamin content makes it a great cure for chapped or dry lips. Apply a few drops before going to bed, and wake up with super soft, moisturized lips.
7. Ayurvedic Massage
Ghee is traditionally associated with rejuvenation in Ayurvedic medicine, making it a great tool in Ayurvedic massage.
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Ghee image via Shutterstock