Ghee is pure butter fat, also called as butter oil because it is made after clarifying butter. Ghee comes from milk fat (dairy) and can be of 2 types, one is uncultured ghee which is made by skimming all fat from whole milk and clarifying the fat directly to make ghee, but in most Indian homes you will find the cultured ghee.
Cultured ghee is made by skimming all the cream from whole milk, culturing the collected cream with yogurt culture (just like setting yogurt) and when the cream gets sour (cultured sour cream) it is whipped to separate the milk fat which is actually cultured butter. When this cultured butter is clarified by heating, it becomes cultured ghee with the most delicious aroma and taste..
We love our homemade ghee and would do anything to ensure we get good quality ghee if we can't make it at home. Mothers and grandmothers make ghee and collect to gift it to their kids who live away from them, to ensure they eat well and stay healthy. It has become a part of our culture to shower love by adding a spoonful of ghee in the curry or daal on the table. A pot of melted ghee on the dining table is a must have condiment or supplement during family dining.
It is notable that ghee is a good mix of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids and the smoking point is 485F (251C), it indicates ghee is the best suited fat for cooking at high temperature and it has stable saturated bonds.
It is not a surprise that this wisdom and culture around ghee goes back to Ayurveda. Ghee is considered cleansing, toning and nourishing for the system. There is a lot of modern evidence to support the truth behind the super food qualities of ghee.
Ghee contains Butyric acid, named so because it was first discovered in butter, Butyric acid helps maintain a healthy intestinal microbiome, it is actually secreted by many probiotic bacteria in the gut if the person has a healthy intestinal microbiome. This is one of the reasons why probiotic bacteria are considered essential for overall health.
Butyric acid is also found in good amounts in butter and Parmesan cheese, it helps in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and helps in colorectal cancer.
Butyric acid is known to lower blood cholesterol as well as triglycerides, that indicates it is a potent anti inflammatory agent (read more here). Ghee (and butter too) is definitely a heart healthy fat. There is a reason why ghee and butter eating communities stay healthy.
It is difficult to find good sources of ghee now a days so making it at home is the next best thing.
The resultant ghee stays solid in Indian winters and starts melting as summer approaches, going through different stages of solid-liquid state, some globules of solid fat always found floating even in summers. Daanedar ghee (ghee with some solid fat globules) is a good test of pure ghee.
How to make ghee at home...
There are 2-3 ways to make ghee at home.
- You can buy cultured white butter from any organic source and melt it to clarify and make ghee. Strain the ghee to separate the solids before storage.
- You can buy heavy dairy cream, add yogurt culture to it and let it get sour by keeping it at room temperature for about 4-8 hours. Then churn or whip to separate the fat that makes the cultured butter. This cultured butter can be melted and clarified to make ghee.
- The third method is the way most of us Indian make our ghee. The whole milk is scalded and then cooled (in refrigerator). A layer of malai (clotted cream) gets formed when we rest the scalded milk overnight, this cream is collected and yogurt culture is added to it. One can collect the clotted cream for 3-4 days and then add the cultured yogurt so a good amount of butter can be made. The cultured sour cream is then churned to separate the butter which is then clarified. I am listing the detailed steps of this process.
The cream is cultured (which we call dahi jamana) till it gets slightly sour and smells wonderfully of rich yogurt. Then the yogurt is churned using a hand blender or in a food processor. Chilled water is added to the sour cream (malai ki dahi) to churn so the butter floats when separated.
Step 1 in the collage below shows how the white butter separates from the liquid buttermilk after the churning process. The true buttermilk comes from this process, we call this cultured buttermilk as mattha or kachhi lassi (lassi without fat).
Step 2 shows the white butter which has been spooned out directly into a stainless steel pan (kadhai), some of the liquid buttermilk separated even after skimming the butter. It can be drained before clarifying the butter.
Step 3 shows how the white cultured butter starts melting when we heat the pan.
Step 4 we already see the butter getting clarified after heating.
This process of clarifying is very crucial for those who are lactose intolerant. The ghee should be cooked till all the solids get nicely browned and settle down. Stirring the mix a few times helps clump the brown solids together and settle down. You can see in the step 4 that there is a white layer on top of the bubbling ghee that is actually whey protein. The other protein called casein settles down from beginning and later when we cook the ghee further to clarify, even the whey protein settles down and browns. All this browned solid should be removed completely by straining if the ghee is being made for a lactose intolerant person.
Rest of us can enjoy the brown solids by mixing it with sugar and nuts or any other delicious use. I often add it to my daals or rajma.
The clarified butter gets a golden hue once cooked well. Straining it well and storing in either glass jars or stainless steel jars ensures the ghee stays good for long time.
The ghee starts getting solid after 2-3 days of making it.
Milk and milk products play a major art in our everyday food in India. Although now many people have started reporting being intolerant to milk, but they still can consume ghee safely.
Immense benefits of ghee suggest we must include it for our everyday meals. Those who don;t consume ghee everyday should try and maintain a healthy gut flora. Infact the countries where ghee is not a traditional cooking fat the populations depend on butter and probiotic foods to maintain healthy gut. Butter has most of the benefits that ghee has but contains lactose and other proteins that may cause health problems to 'some'. See how someone experienced that clarified butter is good for her lactose intolerant kid.
I asked Dr. Sangita Borgave from Pune about ghee and she enlightened with many more wonderful qualities of ghee as described in Ayurvedic texts.
Dr. Borgave says Ghee is a highly revered food article in Ayurveda which has many interesting properties. The most superior type of ghee is cow’s ghee but one can find descriptions of ghee made from the milk of many animals like , buffalo, sheep, camel, horse etc.
Qualities of ghee according to Ayurveda
- Rasayana: This term means nourishing all the tissues in the body. In Ayurveda after detoxifying the body with Panchakarma, Rasayana formulations are given to nourish all the tissues and cells in the body.
- Madhur: Ghee is sweet in taste. There are six types of taste in the body and Madhur or sweet is the first of these.
- Dipana: Ghee is one of the best natural digestives and appetite stimulants. The concept of Agni is very important in Ayurveda as this science believes that a weak Agni is the cause of all diseases. Ghee strengthens the Agni, improves digestion and appetite and therefore helps nutrients to reach the tissues.
- Chakshushya: Ghee is beneficial to the eyes. It strengthens the eyes and eyesight. It is used to treat various eye problems. ( SK: I remember my grandmother making kaajal using ghee).
- Sheeta: Despite increasing Agni, ghee is cooling in nature. Most herbs which improve the Agni and digestion are hot but ghee is an exception.
- Decreases Vata and Pitta: Of the three Doshas or elements in the body i.e. fire, wind and water, ghee helps control and decrease the former two. So those who suffer from excess body heat should always use ghee in their diet.
- Beneficial to the complexion/Enhances beauty: Consuming ghee regularly leads to a healthy glowing complexion.
- Ojaskara: Oja is an important but complicated concept in Ayurveda. Basically Oja is a substance found in very minute quantities in the body. It contains the best qualities of all the seven tissues of the body. Depletion of Oja leads to several mental and physical diseases and is difficult to treat. Ghee directly nourishes Oja and so should be a part of daily diet.
- Benefits the voice/speech: Ghee helps build a strong and clear voice. Ayurveda uses ghee to treat many speech disorders.
- Smritikar/Medhya: Improving memory/increasing intelligence. Ghee is a very good natural brain tonic. It should be eaten regularly by children, people in intellectual professions and old people.
- Aayushyakara: Ghee actually increases the life span. Many studies have clearly shown that consumption of healthy fats like ghee increase the life span, promote longevity.
- Strengthening: Helps in generalized weakness and general debility post illness.
- Vrushya: Improving fertility and libido. Ghee is said to be similar in consistency to Shukra or semen. So all Ayurvedic treatments of male infertility, and such problems will include ghee. Ghee also helps women conceive and have a healthy pregnancy and smooth delivery.
Medicated ghees are used to treat a vast number of diseases in Ayurveda but as one can see even simple, plain cow’s ghee is useful in innumerable number of ways.
Ghee should be a part of everyday meals as it has always been in our homes, else we will be forced to take it as a supplement. Yes ghee is so healing and nourishing it helps prevent many diseases if we take it everyday.
Thankfully ghee suits everyone including the lactose intolerant if clarified well. Make some ghee yourself using either cultured heavy cream or home made cultured butter.