Scientist and author, Beth is also a keen home cook. She enjoys trying new recipes.
What Is Ghee? Is it Vegan?
Ghee is not vegan; it is a dairy product. Ghee is butter that has undergone further heat treatment to drive off all water from the product. This heating process is known as clarifying, and was originally devised as a way of increasing the shelf-life of the fat.
Without refrigeration, butter quickly turns rancid in a hot climate, so ghee has become associated with Asian cuisines. However, chefs around the world now use ghee in other types of cooking, too.
Ghee can be stored at ambient temperatures for several months without deteriorating, provided it is stored in a sealed container away from direct light.
Why Is It Called a Superfood?
Ghee, or clarified butter, is made from buffalo or cow’s milk. One of the effects of the clarification process is to remove both the lactose and the casein in the milk. Many lactose-intolerant people find they can use ghee and suffer no ill effects, so it’s a good alternative fat for such people to use in their cooking. The Goodness of Ghee gives more detailed information on the health aspects of using this fat.
The nutritional content of ghee is similar to that of ordinary butter but is slightly more concentrated as it has had all the water removed from it. The main nutritional difference between the two, as a result of the water removal, is that ghee is a better source of Vitamin A compared to butter. Ghee contains 25% more Vitamin A than the same amount of butter. Vitamin A is used by the immune system to fight infection, and it also helps maintain night vision.
Properties and Benefits of Ghee
- Good source of Vitamins A and K; essential for overall body health.
- Lactose and Casein-free; great for anyone who's lactose intolerant, or is allergic to milk.
- Heat-stable at high temperatures; ideal for frying and baking.
All About Ghee and What Makes It Special
Higher Smoke Point
For cooking methods that use high temperatures, such as cooking with a wok or using a deep-fat fryer, ghee gives better results, and is safer to use than butter. It can be heated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit before it starts to smoke and burn. The smoke point is crucial as it is the moment immediately before the fat or oil catches fire, and bursts into flames. The smoke point of butter is only 350 degrees Fahrenheit, which is considerably lower than that of ghee.
For comparison, the smoke point of vegetable oils varies between 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the plant source. So, ghee can replace vegetable oils in cooking, broiling, grilling, and frying as it can be heated to same high temperatures as them, unlike normal butter.
Store-Bought Versus Homemade
If you decide to make ghee part of your diet, you can either buy it ready-made, or you can make your own. For many people, the convenience of the store-bought product outweighs the cost savings made by clarifying your own. However, if you use a lot of butter in your cooking and want an economical way to adopt this superfood, then it’s worth learning how to make it yourself.
The video below demonstrates how easy it is to make. Make sure you use unsalted butter, and not salted.
How to Make Ghee
- Melt the butter over a low heat. The butter will separate into a clear liquid (the ghee or clarified butter) with a scum (the milk solids) floating on top.
- Separate the two by straining the melted butter through a fine muslin or cheesecloth.
- Pour the ghee (the gold-colored liquid) into a sterilized jar and allow it to cool. The milk solids in the cloth can be disposed of. The ghee does not require refrigeration but should be kept out of direct sunlight.
Homemade Ghee Recipe: 20 Minute Failproof Recipe From Unsalted Butter
The Role of Ghee in Ayurvedic Medicine
Ayurveda, or Ayurvedic medicine, is a philosophy of healthcare that began in India several thousand years ago. The word Ayurveda is from the Sanskrit language and means “the science of life". It is a holistic therapy that aims to create harmony between the mind, body and spirit. A healthy diet containing natural foods is a key part of Ayurveda philosophy. Followers believe that ghee is a pure ingredient that has been cleansed of irritating substances.
Practitioners of Ayurveda say that using ghee instead of butter has many health benefits. These include protecting against bowel cancer, assisting with weight loss, and maintaining a healthy digestive tract. There are no independent scientific studies to support these claims. Ghee has some cooking advantages over butter, and is useful if you have a dairy allergy or intolerance. But there's no evidence to support the claim that it's healthier than butter; both can be part of a healthy diet.
Complementary Health Therapy Versus Conventional Medicine
In Western countries, Ayurvedic medicine is not widely practiced. It is categorized as a complementary health therapy rather than a mainstream medical practice. Both the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS) recommend that such therapies should only be followed in tandem with conventional prescribed medicines.
For serious illnesses like cancer, medical doctors say that Ayurveda should not replace mainstream treatments. There are no licensed Ayurvedic practitioners in the US, although a few states have approved Ayurvedic schools.
How to Switch From Butter to Ghee
Using ghee in place of butter is an easy change to make. You can substitute ghee wherever you would have used butter; spread it on toast, cook with it in stir-fry dishes, or when baking cakes. It has similar properties to butter, but is also suitable for lactose and casein intolerant diets. Ghee can replace cooking oils where a high smoke temperature is required. However, ghee is a dairy fat, and so should not be used to replace plant oils for those following a vegan diet.
Is It Vegetarian?
Ghee is a dairy product. It is made from cow, buffalo, goat, or sheep’s milk. A vegetarian person who includes milk, butter, cheese, and eggs in their diet will be happy to eat and cook with ghee. However, ghee is not a vegan food. It is not derived from plants, and so should not be offered to your vegan friends.
Does Ghee Increase Cholesterol?
Ghee is a dairy fat and should be eaten as part of a balanced diet, and in moderation. Just like ordinary butter, ghee is high in saturated fats. If you eat too much saturated fat, your arteries become "clogged" and your blood cholesterol level is raised. US dietary guidelines recommend that no more than 10% of your calories should come from eating saturated fats.
Can Ghee Butter Be Spread On Toast?
Yes, you can use ghee as a spread on bread or toast. It depends on your personal preference. As ghee is a more concentrated form of fat than normal butter, you should however use it sparingly in this context. If you do want to eat it with bread or toast, be sure to spread it thinly.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.