We don't fear fat in my household. Indeed, olive oil, coconut oil, tallow and butter make regular appearances in our kitchen, but there's an under-appreciated wholesome fat: ghee. Ghee is pure butterfat in its truest sense. Like many traditional foods, ghee is virtually ubiquitous in cultures that raised cattle for milk. The French brought us clarified butter. The Moroccans contributed smen, a clarified butter that is spiced and aged. And India, of course, brought us ghee.
Ghee: Its Preparation and Culinary Value
The prepartion of ghee is simple and slow - just as it should be. First butter is slowly simmered until the milk solids separate from the pure butterfat and any water contained in the butter evaporates. With the milk solids and water removed, all that is left is a pure golden oil that's rich in vitamin A.
About 60% of ghee's fat content is saturated. That high saturated fat content coupled with the lack of milk solids and water means that ghee is exceptionally well-suited to cooking in a way that mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids just can't match. It is also rich in conjugated linoleic acid, a fatty acid that offers enormous value in a wholesome diet. Indeed, recent research indicates that CLA may be useful in the prevention of and fight against cancers as well as in the mitigation of type II diabetes and associated adipose obesity. It's good stuff. (Read more about CLA.)
Ghee is heat stable to roughly 400 º unlike butter which has a lower smok point due to milk solids naturally interspersed in the butterfat. Moreover, ghee lacks both lactose and casein - two components of milk that make butter difficult to ingest for the milk-intolerant. In this way, ghee is a great replacement for butter in general with the added benefit of the very high smoke point. Removing water and milk solids also contributes another added benefit: ghee is shelf-stable and should be stored at room temperature where it remains semi-solid. Do not store ghee in your refrigerator - though many health foods stores tock it in the refrigerated section.
Cooking with Ghee
While its heavily used in classical Indian cuisine, I rarely use it that way as Indian cookery makes only rare appearances in my kitchen. (I do love it though!) Indeed, I use ghee primarily in sautéing and frying where its beautiful almost nutty flavor is best highlighted. It's a remarkably versatile and very under-appreciated fat. It's better suited to a variety of dishes than coconut oil or tallow with their strong flavors. Even our locally owned movie theater uses a grassfed ghee to top fresh popped corn.
Where to Find Good Quality Ghee
If you're planning to give ghee a shot in your kitchen either because you're looking for a new wholesome fat to add to your collection or because you're casein- or lactose-intolerant and searching for a butter replacement, take care to purchase ghee from a company whose cows are grass-fed. Not only are the cows treated with honor and respect for their natural ruminant behavior, but the butterfat they produce is richer in fat soluble vitamins than that of grain- or corn-fed cows. Choose a source of ghee that is grass-fed especially on spring and summer grasses.
If you can't find ghee locally, you can purchase it online from various companies. A good ghee should be a beautiful, gold-colored ghee and made the butterfat from grass-fed cows. Ideally ghee is produced only when the cows are grazing on spring and summer pastures and bottled in glass which eliminates the challenges of endocrine-disrupting plastics leaching into your food.