Ghee, a type of clarified butter, has been an Indian staple for thousands of years. It is highly regarded in India, with frequent mentions in sacred texts, including Ayurveda. The Vedas even refer to it as “the first and the most essential of all foods .”
The high regard for ghee could be one reason why it’s become so popular globally. But the growing popularity of low-carb lifestyles has definitely contributed to this as well.
Keto eaters need as many different fatty foods as they can get, and ghee can make a great addition to your low-carb pantry.
However, ghee is also much more expensive than butter. Plus, you won’t find it nearly as often in grocery stores.
So, you probably wonder whether the extra costs and effort are worth it. Keep reading to find out if ghee really is all it’s made up to be.
What Is Ghee?
As already said, ghee is a type of clarified butter that originated in ancient India. All clarified butter is pure milk fat made by heating butter until all of its water evaporates and skimming solids that float to the surface.
In other words, it’s butter but without the milk solids and water.
Ghee is a little bit different from regular clarified butter, though. It is cooked longer, and the milk solids are allowed to sink and caramelize. This additional step gives ghee its signature nutty flavor.
Traditionally, ghee was made from either cow or buffalo milk. Cow ghee is golden yellow, while buffalo ghee is white.
Most commercially sold ghee is made from cow milk. And according to traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it’s this type of ghee that has purifying properties.
Is Ghee Healthy?
It depends on who you ask.
Ayurvedic medicine says ghee is extremely healthy and supports digestion, and boosts mental acuity, among many other things . However, the American Heart Association (AHA) would probably disagree. Ghee is 100% fat, half of which is the saturated kind that the AHA says you should limit [3, 4].
However, supporters of low-carb diets will tell you people at the AHA have got it all wrong as there are plenty of studies now showing saturated fat is good at best and neutral at worse .
But let us consider a couple of ghee facts to help us determine if it’s healthy or not.
One major advantage of ghee is that it’s minimally processed, unlike refined vegetable oils, shortening, or margarine.
The problem with processed, refined fats is that they’re often empty calories since the refining process has removed much of their vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
Another problem is that many of them are high in omega-6 fats. This can make them contribute to an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid ratio, which studies link to central obesity, high triglycerides, and elevated insulin .
High smoke point
Oils high in saturated fat — which ghee is — have a higher smoke point than those with predominantly unsaturated fats.
The smoke point of cooking fats is the temperature at which they begin to burn and produce smoke. Oils that have reached this point produce free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage your health in many ways .
Ghee’s smoke point is 482°F (250°C), which is way above the temperatures reached during most cooking methods.
In other words, you can sauté, bake, grill, and fry with ghee without it burning.
In some way, dairy-free.
People with lactose intolerance or milk protein sensitivities will probably tolerate ghee better than other dairy products. This is because ghee has only trace amounts of both .
Of course, being made from cow’s milk, ghee isn’t really dairy-free, but you get the gist.
Ghee is mostly fat, which is good news for keto eaters. But it also has some vitamins A, E, and B12 .
Plus, it’s a source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a tiny bit of butyrate, and beta carotene, all compounds which promote good health. CLA, for example, was found to promote healthy metabolic functioning .
Ghee vs. Butter
Ok, so far, ghee seems to be fairly good for you, especially if you’re on a keto diet.
But is it any better than butter?
Probably not. Ghee is simply butter without water, milk sugar, and milk proteins. But you need to keep in mind that even butter is fairly low in these things — both have only trace amounts.
Ghee may perform better in cooking, though. Butter’s smoke point is only 302° F (150 °C). This means it’s more likely to form harmful compounds during most cooking, while you can safely prepare all your meals with ghee.
Ghee is also a much better option if you need to avoid lactose and dairy proteins since their concentration is much lower, if not almost absent, than in butter.
On the other hand, ghee is higher in calories than butter. A tablespoon of ghee has over 120 calories, while the same serving of butter has just around 100 calories. While the difference isn’t huge, it could add up on high-fat diets like keto.
And being a concentrated form of milk fat, ghee is much more expensive than butter.
How to Make Ghee
If your nearest store doesn’t sell ghee, but you’d love to make it your new staple, then you can make ghee from butter at home.
To make ghee from butter, follow these five simple steps:
- First, cut 1 lb (454g) of unsalted butter into cubes and add to a pot or skillet.
- Place over medium heat and let simmer.
- Skim the milk solids once they start appearing on the surface. Use a slotted spoon or tablespoon for this.
- Let the ghee simmer for up to 20 minutes or until the remaining milk solids sink to the bottom and turn brown.
- Once done, let the ghee cool for a couple of minutes and then strain using a cheesecloth into a glass container. Store in the fridge.
You will get around 0.8 lb (370g) of ghee this way. Ghee’s shelf life is up to a year or even longer.
Making ghee from butter that’s about to expire is a great way to avoid food wastage.
While ghee is often touted as a superfood, it’s not much different from butter as health benefits go.
It’s a source of ketogenic fats, fat-soluble vitamins, and health-boosting compounds. But so is butter.
Ghee does shine, though, in its high smoke point, low levels of lactose and allergens, and the long shelf life of ghee.
Ghee is a source of saturated fat but other fatty acids as well. So it’s definitely a great addition to your keto pantry, and you can even make your own at home!
- Ghee: A Short Consideration from an Ayurvedic Perspective. Ancient Organics website. June 20, 2005.
- Lamsal B, Bhandari TR, Panta P, et al. Preparation and physicochemical characterization of ghee and mūrcchita ghŗ̥ta. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2020;11(3):256-260. doi:10.1016/j.jaim.2020.06.004
- Clarified butter and ghee from Practical Paleo. Nutrition Data. Accessed July 2021. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/recipe/2603984/2
- Saturated Fat. American Heart Association website. Accessed July 2021. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/saturated-fats
- Gershuni VM. Saturated Fat: Part of a Healthy Diet. Curr Nutr Rep. 2018;7(3):85-96. doi:10.1007/s13668-018-0238-x
- Torres-Castillo N, Silva-Gómez JA, Campos-Perez W, et al. High Dietary ω-6:ω-3 PUFA Ratio Is Positively Associated with Excessive Adiposity and Waist Circumference. Obes Facts. 2018;11(4):344-353. doi:10.1159/000492116
- Perumalla Venkata R, Subramanyam R. Evaluation of the deleterious health effects of consumption of repeatedly heated vegetable oil. Toxicol Rep. 2016;3:636-643. Published 2016 Aug 16. doi:10.1016/j.toxrep.2016.08.003
- Lehnen TE, da Silva MR, Camacho A, Marcadenti A, Lehnen AM. A review on effects of conjugated linoleic fatty acid (CLA) upon body composition and energetic metabolism. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:36. Published 2015 Sep 17. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0097-4