By Dr. Mercola
People in the heartland are both fond of and proud of their down-home cooking, from traditional recipes used for generations, to ingredients from their own gardens and pastures.
So, the suggestion to try something called ghee, especially when so many are used to keeping butter in the larder, may sound not just foreign, but unnecessary. To those individuals, hear me out.
Ghee is clarified butter that's been cooked slowly until the liquids have dissipated, and the milk solids (which are what make butter burn) have settled in the bottom of the pan. When these are removed, it constitutes the basic difference between ghee and butter — the preparation process for superior purity. Time explains:
"Clarified butter is unsalted butter that is heated gently, causing the milk solids to separate from the golden liquid and drift to the bottom of the pan after the butter has melted. Any foam that is present is skimmed off of the surface, leaving just the liquid."1
Ghee, originally used in Indian cooking to prevent butter spoilage in warm weather, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. In fact, ghee is the Hindi word for "fat."2 Today, it's gaining ground in the Paleo diet, the reason being that it's versatile, good for you, and has its own unique, nutty flavor and aroma.
You can keep ghee on your counter for weeks and it will be fine. In cooler weather, it solidifies much like coconut oil. Just like butter, you can spread ghee on bread, crackers or toast, but you can also sauté broccoli with it with far less chance of it burning.
Practical Benefits of Using Ghee
While there are nutritional benefits to use ghee rather than butter (which I'll get to in a bit), there are several practical reasons as well:
• Ghee has a higher smoke point. Regular butter begins to brown, smoke and scorch even at low temperatures, which you may have discovered if you've ever tried to fry eggs in butter. However, butter may be better for baking because it has a sweeter taste.3
Ghee, on the other hand, doesn't burn as quickly because the flammable milk solids have been removed. The smoke point for ghee is 385 degrees F,4 which makes it better than butter when it comes to browning, searing or sautéing.
• Ghee has a longer shelf life. The process used for making ghee prevents it from spoiling as quickly, so it will last for around six months in the refrigerator or up to a year in the freezer.
Especially if it will be used sooner than six months, ghee stored at room temperature remains spreadable. Just make sure it's stored in an air-tight container to keep it free of moisture.5
• Ghee is easier for lactose-sensitive people to digest. For the lactose-sensitive, ghee may be an option since the trace amounts of dairy are in a form dairy-sensitive people can tolerate.6
You can use ghee to toast spices rather than dry-roasting them, which imparts a deeper, richer essence, especially in authentic Indian cuisine. In fact, one delicious way to make spiced ghee is to add herbs or seasonings such as garlic, cumin, rosemary, ginger or cinnamon at the beginning of the clarifying process.
Making Ghee for Purity and Versatility
It's important to note that ghee is only as good as the milk used to make the original butter. Always use grass-fed butter, which is butter made from the milk of cows that munched grass as opposed to grains such as genetically engineered (GE) corn.
Cows don't digest grains well. In fact, grains alter their gut bacteria in ways that promote disease, besides the fact they have a detrimental effect on the nutritional composition of the meat and milk.
Raw milk from organic, grass-fed cows contains better nutrients, and poses a lower risk of contamination from growth hormones, antibiotics and pathogens common to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where most conventional dairy cows are raised.
Milk, cream, butter and other dairy from cows contain the fat along with beta-carotene, which is where the yellow color comes from. Even whole milk is mostly water, with just over 3 percent fat. As Time explains:
"Ghee contains medium-chain fatty acids, which may be easier to digest and better for your heart compared to other saturated fatty acids.
Ghee also has a higher concentration of butyric acid than butter — a type of acid known for its positive effects on immune function and anti-inflammatory activity. Some early evidence also suggests that butyric acid is linked to improvement in irritable bowel syndrome." 7
Healthy saturated fats in raw animal products like butter, cheese and whole raw milk are crucial for good health.
For decades, saturated fats were treated like the enemy, which is why "low-fat" and "zero-fat" foods started showing up on store shelves everywhere. Unfortunately, most are still there (although many consumers are getting wise).
The problem is that scientists lumped all fats together and called virtually all of them unhealthy, when it's the artificial fats, like synthetic trans fats, that are harmful and can cause heart disease and diabetes. In fact, what consumers have been told about saturated fats is the opposite of the truth.
In addition, grass-fed dairy introduces more beneficial omega-3s into your system to balance omega-6s compared to grain-fed dairy.
Ketones, Carbon Chains and Why They're Important
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as those contained in ghee, are named for their chemical structure: fats containing chains of carbon molecules connected to hydrogen atoms. Generally, the shorter the carbon chain, the quicker MCTs turn into ketones, which are a healthy fuel source for your body.8"
When you keep net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber) low, your body switches to burning fat for fuel and your liver begins to convert some of that fat into energy molecules called ketone bodies. In short, ketones kick off a metabolic process called ketosis, in which you burn fat, not carbs, as your primary fuel.
Ketones made by your body are called endogenous. But you can also supply your body with exogenous ketones from supplements, such as MCT oil and, to some extent, from foods rich in MCTs, like ghee.
Health Benefits of Ghee Compared to Butter
Replacing carbohydrates with healthy fats like MCTs can upgrade your health in several ways, notably by reducing your appetite so it's easier to lose weight,9 along with increasing your energy, and boosting your cognitive function.10
Additionally, multiple studies say MCTs in your diet can enhance your mitochondrial function, which lowers your risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease,11 diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, atherosclerosis and epilepsy.12
Interestingly, one study noted that eating ghee both reduced triglycerides and increased beneficial HDL cholesterol levels.13
Besides the smoke point of ghee being higher than that of butter, ghee also produces much less acrylamide, a toxic compound, when heated compared to vegetable and seed oils. One study found the acrylamide produced by soybean oil exceeded that produced by ghee 10 times over when both fats were heated to 320 degrees F.14
While practically all the calories in both butter and ghee are from fat, it's good fat — so good for you that studies show it can also promote your gut health and even inhibit cancer.15
Ghee also contains more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a polyunsaturated fat other studies show may induce fat loss, than butter.16 Authority Nutrition notes:
"Overall, the differences between the two are small, and choosing one over the other likely won't have a significant impact on your health.
However, ghee is completely free of the milk sugar lactose and the milk protein casein, whereas butter contains small amounts of each. For people who have allergies or sensitivities to these dairy components, ghee is clearly the better choice."17
Butter and ghee both contain 0.5 grams of polyunsaturated fat, but ghee has 1 gram more of both monounsaturated and saturated fats,18 the most beneficial kinds, compared to an equal serving of butter.
Ghee was also shown to induce the greatest increase in ApoA, an HDL protein particle associated with lowering the risk of heart disease, in a study of different oils.19
How to Make Your Own Ghee
If you buy ghee at a store, it's important to read how it's made, because if vegetable oil was used rather than dairy, called vanaspati ghee or vegetable ghee, it can contain between 14 percent to 40 percent trans fats,20 which is one reason why heart disease rates are rising among Indian and Pakistani populations.21
As in so many areas, the word is not the thing; ghee made from vegetable fats is a completely different animal — pun intended — compared to ghee made from organic, grass-fed butter. The ingredients, tools and ghee-making process in your own kitchen are simple and straightforward, and will result in 8 to 9 ounces of creamy yellow ghee.22 You need:
- 16 ounces of organic, grass-fed and unsalted butter (preferably raw)
- A small, heavy saucepan
- A square of cheesecloth for straining it at the end
Homemade Ghee Preparation:
- In your saucepan, slowly melt the unsalted butter over low heat. When it begins boiling vigorously, reduce the heat to medium-low and begin skimming off the white foam that bubbles to the surface, tipping pan as needed.
- Continue simmering and skimming until only clear, honey-colored liquid is left in the pan. After it's cooled a bit, strain the impurities and residue from the ghee by pouring it through the cheesecloth as you pour it into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.