Ghee has been used in Indian cuisine for centuries and now its health benefits are finally being recognised around the world.
For years, in the West, Ghee has been dubbed as a bad, unhealthy fat, full of saturates. However, the beneficial properties recognised in India are becoming more widely understood. Finally, modern science accepts what Ayurvedic medicine and our ancestors have known for many years - ghee has both physical and mental benefits. Surprisingly, ghee is now categorised as a ‘superfood’ and is tipped to be a big food trend this year.
Let me explain what ghee is and 8 reasons why it’s great to cook with.
What is ghee?
Ghee is also known as clarified butter. It is made through a simple process of boiling butter and pouring off the buttermilk. The milk proteins (casein and whey) and the milk solids (lactose) are removed, leaving a concentrated pure saturated fat. Just like butter, ghee has been given a bad reputation over the past few years due to its high saturated fat content.
Research has revealed that Ghee made from grass-fed butter is packed with vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as fatty acids CLA and butyric acid leading to some interesting health benefits.
Personally, I have always been a ghee fan - I love the nutty taste, and the beautiful aromatics it adds to dishes. There are so many other reasons to cook with ghee but I do agree that consuming too much ghee can be unhealthy. However, when used in small amounts, it can be very beneficial.
Here are 8 of my favourite benefits of ghee:
1. It’s considered a healthier fat - There has been a huge rise in the popularity of ghee among people who are interested in ‘clean eating’. This is because it contains healthy fats that can help you burn other fats in the body and actually lose weight. Ghee contains medium chain fatty acids which the liver can absorb directly and burn them immediately, making ghee a good source of energy. It’s also rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is thought to protect against heart disease through reducing cholesterol and high blood pressure. A study on a rural population in India showed that men who ate higher amounts of traditional ghee had lower incidences of heart disease than those who ate less of it.
The high levels of omega-3 are also hugely beneficial in aiding flexibility by keeping the joints and connective tissues supple. Ghee’s high levels of vitamins, such as A, D and E can also help digestion, maintain a strong metabolism, balance hormone levels and protect sight.
2. It reduces food waste – Ghee can be stored in the cupboard and will keep for 12 months. As all the milk proteins have been removed, it doesn’t go rancid like butter. This is why it’s used in India and hot countries. As it keeps for so long, you are less likely to have to throw it out. Another advantage of ghee is that you use less of it to cook with compared to other oils and butter so not only does it last longer, but it also goes further too.
3. You can make it yourself – Right now, ghee is easily available and fairly inexpensive. However, once people realise its benefits, the price is likely to increase. There are some great heritage ghee brands available and one of my favourites is KTC Edibles. They make their ghee from the milk and cream of grassfed cows and it has won them Red Tracker approval. Ghee is easy and fun to make at home using butter here is my own recipe for ghee!
4. It’s good for your gut – Ghee is packed full of Butyric acid, which is known to boost digestion by healing the cells of the digestive tract and reducing inflammation. According to Phyllis A. Balch, author of Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 'butyric acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid that reduces inflammatory conditions, reduces seepage of undigested food particles, and aids in repair of the mucosal wall'.
Digestive health is becoming more important because people are struggling with issues around bloating and problems with certain foods. We are seeing a rise in popularity of fermented foods which are easier to digest because of beneficial microorganisms. These foods also introduce gut friendly bacteria back into the digestive tract improving your tummy’s microbiome. Indian food includes many dishes that are fermented - home made yoghurt, pickles, batters made with dhal and rice and so on. Anything that helps digestion has got to be a good thing because this is how we draw out the essentials nutrients we need!
5. Some people with lactose intolerance can still enjoy ghee – The process of making ghee involves removing the milk proteins so it is usually suitable for people with lactose intolerances without having any negative effects. Please be aware, if you have milk or casein allergies, you should avoid ghee as it may still contain trace amounts of these.
6. It has a higher smoke point – Saturated fats like ghee and coconut oil are more stable at high temperatures compared to mono-unsaturated fats (avocado and olive oils). Ghee has a smoking point of 250 °C which is very high so it doesn’t break down into free radicals when you are cooking with it. Many other oils have a low smoke point so they break down, forming chemical agents called free radicals. It is thought that free radicals are harmful to the cells in the body and could cause diseases. Ghee is great for tempering spices in and adds a unique flavour to dishes, such as biryani and dhal because it absorbs numerous fat soluble nutrients found in herbs and spices. It is also perfect for make breads with from flaky parantha like this Spicy Bacon and Paneer Paratha to a classic loaf!
7. It’s feelgood – The ancient system of Ayurvedic medicine separates foods into different groups depending on what they are made up of and how they interact with your body. Ghee is considered ‘satvic’, which is a group of foods that promotes good health and positivity.
8. It simply tastes great! – Ghee tastes fantastic - it’s like butter but with a more intense buttery flavour because the clarification process intensifies the flavour. It has a distinct and wonderful cooking aromatic too. It’s creamy with a slight nuttiness.
I am a firm believer in balance and everything in moderation is good, so it’s great to see that research is backing some of the benefits ghee has to offer. This said, it’s important to remember that ghee is still a saturated fat and, as with the use of any fats, less is more and you should use ghee in sensible quantities. It’s not an oil that I cook with all the time but it is a fat that I will use for specific dishes. There is a saying in India that “Without ghee, you cannot make a biryani” and I tend to agree. But don’t just take my word for it - cook with ghee yourself. It’s perfect for whichever biryani you prefer.Back to Blog