Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Real Food VIII: Ghee

All this talk about butter is making me hungry. Richard mentioned in the comments that he bought some ghee recently and has been enjoying it, so I thought I'd post a recipe. Ghee is the Hindi word for clarified butter. It's butter that has had everything removed but the fat. Rich in fat-soluble vitamins and lacking the sometimes problematic lactose and casein, ghee has rightfully been considered a health food in India since ancient times.

Another advantage of ghee is its high smoke point, which is higher than butter because it doesn't contain any protein or sugars. Consequently, food sauteed in ghee has a clean, rich taste.

The recipe is simple but touchy. I recommend using the best butter you can get your hands on. 100% grass-fed, unsalted cultured butter is the best.

Ingredient and materials
  • Butter (1 lb minimum)
  • Wide-mouth glass jars
  • Cheesecloth
  • Rubber bands
  1. Place the butter in a saucepan and turn the heat to medium until it's melted.
  2. Once it begins to boil, turn the heat down to low. It's very important to calibrate the heat correctly. Typically, you will want the burner on its lowest setting. The idea is to evaporate the water without burning the oil. It should boil, but slowly.
  3. The melted butter starts out cloudy but gradually clears up as the water evaporates. At the same time, a crust will form on the surface of the ghee and the bottom of the pan. Keep the heat very low.
  4. Push a portion of the top crust to the side with a spoon to see inside of the saucepan. When the butter looks clear and bubbles only rise from the bottom every few seconds, it's done. You have to be very careful because once the water has evaporated, the fat heats up quickly and burns the crust. This gives the ghee an acrid flavor and color. Make sure to handle the pot cautiously, because hot oil can give severe burns.
  5. Allow the ghee to cool until it's warm but not hot. Place a piece of cheesecloth over the lid of your jar. Secure it with a rubber band. Pour the ghee through the cheesecloth, into the jar.
  6. Store ghee in the refrigerator or at room temperature. It keeps much longer than butter.
The picture above is of my last batch of ghee.


Chris said...

Nice recipe.

Ghee is available in some of the Asian/pakistani/Indian shops here in Scotland / UK, but it comes in big tins and I've always assumed there were dodgy additives in there too. I'll have a look next time I'm near such a shop.

Debs said...

Chris, ghee in a shop may not have additives, but if it's from poor quality dairy, I wouldn't use it. I strongly agree with Stephan's point about the quality of the dairy used being important. Here are a few reasons why:

Highly toxic compounds like dioxin and mercury are stored in animal fats and passed on to us when we eat those fats, where they build up in our own bodies. These compounds are more likely to be in the fat of animals non-organically-raised in regions where there is significant industrial pollution.

Butter from such areas is already a concentrated source of these compounds. With ghee, the butter is reduced down to its fat exclusively, concentrating further the part of the butter where the toxic compounds are stored.

It gets worse if cows are fed grain, non-organic feed, or worst, bits of other cows (all that animal fat that has stored up pollutants going directly into their animal fat and increasing their levels). Pollutants are found in higher levels in grains than in grass. Plus, grain-feeding decreases the quality of the fats both in affecting the omega-3/6 ratio and in reducing the fat-soluble vitamins Stephan's been talking about.

It's a good argument for making your own ghee from the butter of cows raised organically on pasture (preferably spring or early autumn grass) in as unpolluted a region as possible. Nowhere is free from highly toxic pollutants, due to air and water contamination of soil, but some places are better than others.

Food Is Love

Stephan Guyenet said...

Thanks Debs. Another thing to watch out for is "vegetable ghee", which is hydrogenated vegetable oil. Many, if not most Indian restaurants use it instead of real ghee because it's much cheaper.

debs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debs said...

I'd never heard of vegetable ghee before. That's pretty scary.

I wonder if there's a problem with fraud, of vegetable ghee being labeled as real ghee, similar to the level of fraud around olive oil detailed in this New Yorker piece. I wouldn't be surprised.

Food Is Love

Scotty said...

Hey all,

I've been preparing ghee and bone broths recently. I've read about these oxysterols/COPS, which arise during heating and increase with storage at ambient temperature.

Some traditions say to add curry or betel leaves to the melted butter during clarification as an antioxidant (as well as heating in ceramic, not metal), but I was wondering what anyone's suggestion may be...

Also, I often neglect to skim my broths due to other commitments, as well as allowing them to cool/re-heat. Does the strange flavour imply oxidation products or things like heterocyclic amines or aromatic hydrocarbons (maillard molecules)? Sometimes I allow the broth to cool and then forget to empty the crockpot, so I heat it up again to destroy any undesirable bacteria before it goes in the fridge. Is this intermittent heating pro-oxidative to a considerable extent?

Generally, I'm eating most of my meats/fats in a raw state, so I'm slightly preoccupied with oxidation products during thermodynamic preparations like bone broth and ghee.

Thanks for your consideration.



Nutrapro said...

The best Ghee is that comes from 100% grass fed cows.


Hilderbeard said...

I've always wondered about oil counterfeiting, ever since I read Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi." Check out chapter 39: http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/mtwain/bl-mtwain-lifemississippi-39.htm

Nutrapro said...

Below is an answer to Mr. Hilderbeard:

I think this way: Most people are honest.

The Butter Oil / Ghee that you will buy from NutraPro International has Third party Organic and quality certification attached with it. We are committed to serve the community.

Please check here: http://nutraprointl.com/2009/04/19/certification/

Roger Pelizzari said...

Another ghee recipe. I got it while studying Ayurveda at Maharishi International University (Now Maharishi University of Management).

Ghee Recipe

Place a pound of fresh, unsalted butter in a steel pan and turn on burner to medium heat. In 3-5 minutes it will begin to simmer. Just as it begins to bubble and begin to boil turn down heat to low.

In another 3-5 minutes, it will be barely simmering, with tiny bubbles at the bottom of the pan and occasional bubbles coming to the top.

Let this slow simmering continue for an hour or so. Don’t let it scorch.

About half way through this hour of simmering, take a spoon and push any solids which have not sunk to the bottom of the pan towards the sides. You may have to do this a couple of times if there are still solids floating around.

When all the solids have settled and you smell a sweet odor—bring the ghee to 240 degrees for a minute or so. Then turn off heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes or until 212 degrees. (If it does not reach 240 degrees, it is not ghee and does not have the beneficial qualities mentioned in Ayurveda)

Set up a filter—unbleached cheesecloth or paper—and pour ghee slowly through. Finally, scrape brown solids off pan and place in filter to slowly drip for 2-3 minutes, (without getting any solids into the ghee).

Do not cover until cool. If you want it to remain liquid then store it in a warm place.

Nutrapro said...

Raj: When you boil butter at 240 degree to make ghee, most of the short chain fatty acids get evaporated. You losse about 8-10% of the nutrients. That is why Butter oil is better than Ghee. Butter oil is not prepared by boiling but oil is extracted from milk cream at very low temperature to preserve the original nutrients and aroma. If Ghee tastes Nutty that means it was over heated.

Roger Pelizzari said...

Actually, I just bring it to 240 for a couple seconds at the end of slow cooking. That is what's required for true ghee that will not spoil, EVER. In India, ghee that is a hundred years old is prized for its medicinal value, curing loss of hearing, etc.