There is no fat on this earth more precious to me than ghee. If I could eat it with a spoon like ice cream, I would, letting it drip down my face into slick, emollient pools on my thighs, which I’d rub in because on top of being a great nutrition source, it’s actually a pretty moisturizing ingredient to add to homemade natural beauty products. Fun fact!
But that’s not why we’re here.
What are you talking about?
Ghee is a version of clarified butter. Essentially It’s made by heating organic grass-fed butter until the water, milk proteins, and milk sugars separate from the oil, which are then strained out so you’re left with only the nutty, casein- and lactose-free fat. If you’re allergic to dairy or have an intolerance, this version is much easier to digest as the dairy is removed.
Ghee has been around for centuries, originating in India and remaining a staple in Indian cuisine and around the world. It’s long been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine as well, but has been gaining popularity in the nutrition/food blogging world as more people are getting on board the “good fat” train and learning about its numerous health benefits.
Why we need fat
Fat does not make you fat. I’ll say it again – fat does not make you fat. It’s unfortunate that the government’s dietary recommendations push fat (the macronutrient) as a scary thing to be avoided at all costs… but the conversation behind this is a long and complicated one, there are many resources where you can go more in-depth (see a short list at the bottom of this post). The point is, it’s based on flawed research, and more recent studies show that saturated fat can be good for you.
The key is quality. You want your fats and oils to be as unprocessed as possible to be healing – look for organic, unrefined cold-pressed oils and grass-fed butter and cream. Different fats have different levels of sensitivity to heat, light, and oxygen, thus the more processed they are the more their nutrients degrade, and the more inflammatory they become. Here’s a handy guide to choosing the right cooking oil for your needs.
As for ghee, because the milk sugars and proteins are removed from the butter, it has a higher smoke point of 485 degrees, making it a much more stable fat to use in cooking than the usual standby, olive oil.
Now that you know which fat to use when, here’s why our bodies need it:
YOU are fat! Ya heard me! Your brain is 60% fat and your nerves are made of and covered in fat – we need it in our diets to nourish those systems and “pad” our internal organs. It’s also an excellent source of energy, with 9 calories per gram (compared to carb/protein’s 4 calories per gram), so they help keep you fuller longer. This is why you may still feel hungry after eating a low-fat meal.
There are many different types of fats, but hopefully so far you’ve learned some guidelines on what makes a higher-quality fat. (ALWAYS avoid hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, and trans fats, by the way.)
Here are a few more amazing benefits of ghee in particular:
Health benefits of ghee
- Contains Vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are all fat-soluble vitamins, which means they’re best absorbed when consumed with a fat – so ghee is already a perfect vehicle for delivering these nutrients into your body. All of these vitamins have excellent benefits, but together are commonly beneficial for bone, skin, and dental health. Vitamin K2, in particular, is critical for the development of your body’s structural integrity, and so, is a very important nutrient during pregnancy.
- Nourishes the skin inside and out. Ghee is a natural moisturizer. Used topically, it has a wonderfully softening effect, and in Ayurveda is often used to treat burns or rashes. Internally, its Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant for your skin.
- Contains omega-3 and omega-9 essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs are called “essential” because our bodies can’t produce them – we must get them from our diet. We require a specific balance of omega-3, -6, and -9 in our bodies and when the scale tips one way or another, it leads to inflammation. The Standard American Diet is heavy on the omega-6, so it’s important to get omega-3 and omega-9 where you can. Ghee is an easy way to get these beneficial EFAs in our diet.
- Excellent source of butyric acid. This fatty acid is anti-inflammatory and very nourishing to your intestinal cells, especially if you have issues with digestion.
- High in Conjugated Lineoleic Acid (CLA). CLA is an important fatty acid that not only protects against cancer, but a study published in Lipids in Health and Disease notes its potential to help decrease risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Increases production of stomach acid. Poor digestion is often due to low stomach acid, which can be the result of dehydration, stress, poor diet, or other issues. Ghee can help stimulate gastric acid and improve your digestive processes.
How to cook with ghee
Use it to sauté vegetables, swap it into a muffin recipe, blend it into smoothies and lattes – ghee is super easy to cook with because it can be used in place of butter in any recipe in equal amounts. It’s also solid at room temperature, making it perfect for spreading over toast.
My favorite ghee
My ultimate favorite store-bought ghee is from Farm True. They use 100% grass-fed butter from Kriemhild Dairy Farm in Hamilton, NY, home to many happy cows. Some ghee I’ve tried has the texture of an oil slick but this one is so smooth, creamy, and rich with the most perfect nutty flavor. This is the one I could eat spoonfuls of! You can find Farm True at Boston Public Market, at various farmers markets around New England, or buy it online.
If you’re looking for a grocery store alternative, try Organic Valley. I’ve had Trader Joe’s version but it’s drippy and sad, not organic, and I’m not entirely sure it’s grass-fed or truly dairy-free (correct me if I’m wrong).
Make your own
Ghee can be quite expensive; a 7.5oz jar of Organic Valley costs about $10, and Farm True is $30 for 25oz (there are smaller jars available but this is the one I buy; you get the most bang for your buck and it lasts me a while). It’s much cheaper to make it yourself if you have the time and want to put in the effort.
Start with a high-quality butter. Remember earlier when I mentioned saturated fat could be good for you, but it’s highly dependent on the quality. Purchase it locally, or look for an organic, grass-fed option at the grocery store if you can. There aren’t a whole lot of options so at my store I’d go with Kerrygold, and you can start with as little as 1 lb.
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- 1 lb organic, grass-fed butter
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
- Let cook for 15-20 minutes. During this time, the butter will separate into a layer of foamy milk on top, clumpy milk solids on the bottom, and clear oil in between. Cook until the solids turn golden brown. You may have to skim off some of the top layer with a spoon to see how the bottom's coming along, or scrape some bits from the bottom to check out their color.
- Line a mesh sieve with cheesecloth and pour liquid into the sieve over a bowl or glass jar. Let cool completely before storing.
- Ghee can be stored in the fridge, or at room temperature for up to 6 months. I prefer keeping it in the cabinet at room temp for easy spreading.
Butter can be salted or unsalted, it doesn't change anything. However it's usually best to go with unsalted so you can control the sodium content of your food.