What is ghee: is it better than butter?

Tom McCorkle

Tom McCorkle

 

Healthy fats have gotten a lot of attention lately. Right alongside familiar favorites like olive oil and coconut oil is ghee – a byproduct of butter, made by slowly simmering it and straining off the milk solids to end with pure butter fat. Think of it simply as a more flavorful and nutritious butter replacement. Its flavor is smooth, nutty & toasty and it’s full of fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fatty acids.  

Used for thousands of years in India and a staple in Ayurvedic healing practices, ghee is one of those superfoods that gives you the best of both worlds: it’s a wonderful health boosting food that has impeccable flavor. Need more reasons to add it to your pantry? Read along…

What is ghee?

Ghee is clarified butter… taken a step further. Clarified butter is butter that has been gently heated on a stovetop, causing the milk fats, water and other impurities to separate out to the top and bottom of the pan, leaving just the golden liquid (now clarified butter). Ghee is clarified butter that is simmered longer until all of the moisture evaporates and the milk solids brown slightly. The result is the delicious browned, nutty, caramel-like taste and aroma ghee is known for. Ghee has a longer shelf life than butter and higher smoke point (375F), making it ideal for sautéing, searing or frying.

Ghee vs. butter

  • Ghee is literally all of the best parts of butter without any of the troublesome allergens like casein and lactose. The process of simmering the butter and filtering out the impurities and milk solids removes 99% of the lactose and casein, meaning that even those who are lactose intolerant can often eat ghee without any issue. That said, it's still made from dairy, so those with more serious dairy allergies should still steer clear. 

  • Removing the milk solids gives ghee a much lighter end-product with a higher smoke point than butter, making it ideal for high cooking temperatures.

  • It also means ghee contains no water, so it’s practically spoil-proof—it lasts about a year in the fridge and three months out, stored at room temperature.

What are the benefits of ghee?

While the term superfood is used pretty loosely these days, ghee truly lives up to its reputation promoting a wide range of benefits such as a enhancing digestion, fighting inflammation, boosting the immune system and calming the nervous system. 

Those of us with a constitution primarily composed of AIR and/or FIRE benefit most from adding ghee to our diet as it nourished the dry, light and rough qualities of AIR individuals and the hot, light and sharp quality of FIRE folks.

 

1. Ghee is safer to cook with than any other oils 

At high temperatures, most oils (yes, even extra virgin olive oil) break down into unstable elements known as free radicals. Excessive amounts of free radicals in the body can result in cell damage, including the development of cancer. Ghee, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for cooking because it is less prone to oxidation and nutrient destruction during cooking– thanks to its high smoke point (485F), which is much higher than the smoke point of butter at 350F, olive oil (400-450F) or coconut oil (450F). The fact that it retains its structural integrity under the high heatmeans that you can easily use ghee for baking, sautéing and roasting without the risk of exposing yourself to free radicals and destroying its important nutrients. 

2. Ghee heals and improves digestion

Ghee contains a fatty acid called butyrate acid, which repairs the stomach lining and reduces inflammation in the digestive tract. When consumed regularly, this can help with leaky gut syndrome, IBS, ulcers, Crohn’s disease, among other things. It also sustains healthy microbes in the gut, promoting a healthy digestion and strong nutrient absorption. Lasting, by lubricating the body and intestines, ghee helps with constipation by promoting regular bowel movements.

3. Ghee nourishes the brain

Ghee is one of the highest-quality sources of saturated fat which is essential for the proper functioning of the brain. Neurons and nerve fibers are coated in myelin sheathing which is nourished by saturated fats that are found in ghee. Ghee is also rich in good cholesterol, another vitally important brain-boosting nutrient that functions as a brain-protective antioxidant. Lastly, ghee also contains choline and omega-3 fatty acids, both incredibly important brain nutrients which have important roles in brain health, from increasing neurotransmitter production and reducing inflammation to increasing gray matter, to slowing the rate of aging and improving cognitive health, memory as well as overall mood and wellbeing. 

4. Ghee is heart-healthy 

While ghee has a high concentration of fat, it’s high in the Omega-3s that are also found in foods like salmon and promote a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. A study on a rural population in India revealed a significantly lower prevalence of coronary heart disease in men who consumed higher amounts of ghee and reduced levels of serum cholesterol.

5. Ghee bolsters your immune system

Modern science tells us that ghee also contains antioxidants, which bolster the immune system with anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Also, the butyric acid in combination with vitamins A, D, E, and K present in ghee aids in boosting immunity. 

 

6. Ghee is detoxifying

Abundantly used as a detoxifying agent in the traditional Ayurvedic cleanse – panchakarma – ghee pulls fat-soluble toxins out of the body into the digestive tract for elimination and “loosens” the deep-rooted toxins from the tissues, which allows them to be eliminated through the cleansing process. 

7. Ghee improves fat metabolism

Ghee is jam-packed with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid associated with a long list of health benefits. Some studies have found that CLA may be effective in reducing body fat.  Because of its milk solids, butter is more prone to causing blockages, sluggishness, and weight gain. It is not the case with ghee, as it is clarified from butter’s clogging elements.

 

 
France Brunel