Demystifying Ghee, Butter’s Lactose-Free Cousin

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It’s not hard to fall in love with ghee, butter’s clarified, lactose- and casein-free cousin. Toasty and golden, ghee is literally ultra-rich French butter that’s been gently coaxed into its best version of itself (which is really saying something when you’re talking about ultra-rich French butter). Ghee is also shelf stable, and has a rather high smoke point — making it a healthful, and flavorful cooking oil.

WHAT IS GHEE?

Ghee is clarified butter (butter that has been simmered and strained to remove all water). Different cultures clarify butter in different ways. In France, clarified butter has uncooked milk solids, yielding a product with a very clean, sweet flavor. But ghee, which originates from Central Asian culture, by comparison is cooked over low heat until the milk solids have a chance to start to brown lightly, giving it a nutty, caramel vibe. The resulting smooth spread is shelf stable, has a high smoke point (meaning the fat doesn’t denature or change flavor when cooked to high temperatures) and has an unctuous, unmistakable flavor. Ghee has played a key role in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, where it’s prized for its anti-inflammatory, digestive and therapeutic properties.

WHAT’S TO LOVE ABOUT GHEE?

Many cooking oils denature when we cook them at high temperatures; this changes their flavor and ultimately their health benefits. Olive oil is a perfect example. If cooked at too high a temperature, even good olive oil starts to have an off taste, and the molecular structure of its healthy fats change. Comparatively, clarifying butter by removing water creates a higher smoke point — about 465ºF (240ºC) compared to butter’s 350ºF (177ºC).

The clarifying process also removes casein and lactose, making ghee suitable for the dairy-sensitive. Since the water has been removed from ghee, it’s shelf-stable, meaning it can be stored without refrigeration for extended periods of time. (Just be sure to keep the jar away from steaming stoves, food and anything else that can introduce bacteria. If you start to detect an off flavor, scrape off the top, and store it in the fridge instead.)

Also, our bodies can’t make omega-3 fats, but ghee is full of them as well as butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid thought to be good for your gastrointestinal tract. Most of all, ghee has a grassy, nutty, so-good flavor reminiscent of cajeta (caramelized goat milk), which makes it the perfect drizzling oil to top golden milk lattes, winter soups, breakfast porridges, grain bowls, toasts — and really anywhere you want a little boost of flavor and nutrition.

HOW TO MAKE GHEE

Making ghee at home is easy:

  1. Start by simmering a butter in a saucepan.
  2. Continue to simmer until the milk solids sink, then cook over very low heat until they turn golden brown. (A pound of butter needs at least 45 minutes, and bigger batches need even longer.)
  3. As the butter simmers, skim off rising foam, then strain the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh strainer until only the browned solids remain.
  4. You should be left with a golden-hued liquid: This liquid is ghee.

Butter is roughly 20% water, which means 20% of the weight of your butter is lost in the cooking process. If you start with 1 cup (454g) of butter, you’ll end up with just over 3/4 cups (170g) of ghee. Ghee can get quite pricey at the grocery store for this reason — and also because of the labor that goes into watching and tending to that big pot of clarifying butter.

HOW TO USE GHEE?

Ghee is a cook’s best friend because it rarely splatters or burns, making it ideal for high- or low-heat cooking. Toss vegetables in liquid ghee before roasting, or add a spoonful or two to your next salad dressing. Add a tablespoon to your favorite warm drink, spread it on toast or drizzle it over vanilla ice cream. Ghee is an exceptional cooking oil, but its unique flavor really has time to shine as a finishing oil. Just be warned: Once you start drizzling this golden, buttery goodness, it’s hard to quit.

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