Ghee, also known as clarified butter, has 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 while it’s currently on-trend, 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 that has had its milk solids toasted then skimmed away from the fat, resulting in a product that combines oil’s very high smoke point and butter’s rich, nutty flavor and excellent nutritional profile.
Ghee may only now be appearing on store shelves with any regularity, but it’s been around for more than 5,000 years throughout the Indian subcontinent, where it is traditionally made from sacred cows’ milk and used in religious ceremonies. 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 for its rich flavor.
5 Health Benefits of Ghee
As a butter byproduct, ghee is a type of cooking fat. That said, as last year’s update to the federal health guidelines confirmed, not all fats are created equal, and ghee, as an animal-derived fat, may be one of the best options.
While it took modern medicine some time to catch up, traditional Ayurvedic medicine has long prescribed ghee for digestive issues, ulcers, and for the product’s natural vitalizing properties.
That said, it’s important to choose the source of your ghee carefully. 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.”
If the animals aren’t raised naturally or healthfully, however, as with conventional butter products, this concentrated ghee can have the opposite effect, and at the very least, it won’t boast nearly as many health benefits.
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 consuming 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
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 eight 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 two to three minutes before straining through cheesecloth to remove the toasted milk solids.
Ghee can be kept in a dark place at room temperature for a month, stored in a sealed container.
Where to Buy Ghee
If you’d rather buy ghee than make your own, you’re in luck — you can find organic, grass-fed ghee at online retailers (like Amazon and Thrive Market) and in most large supermarkets including Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market. Since ghee is shelf stable, you can even stock up on your favorite brands, too.