Ghee and the Canolification of India

My Indian cooking project is still going strong. Yesterday I decided to make my own ghee. It was even easier to make than paneer. I can’t believe I used to buy $7 jars of this stuff. Never again. Here is how you make it.

  1. Slowly heat unsalted butter on a low for about 30 minutes or until it is clear.
  2. Take off as much foam as you can.
  3. Filter the rest through cheesecloth. Done!



Isn’t it pretty?

Minor Rant

In the past three months, I have checked out about 10 Indian cookbooks from the library. EVERY SINGLE ONE THEM is downplaying ghee. They all suggest using canola or some other vegetable oil. Like Americans, they have become saturated fat phobic. The author of one cookbook states that ghee and other fatty components of Indian cooking are somehow responsible for the diabetes crisis in India today. Huh?

It is sad when traditional food preparation techniques get blamed for modern health problems. My hope is that these cookbooks that advise using canola oil over ghee are just aimed at the American audience still afraid of real fat. It would be a tragedy if our misguided view of saturated fat made it back to India because it will only make their health issues worse.

UPDATE September 2012: I learned there exists a difference between regular clarified butter and ghee. With ghee you let the milk solids brown a little bit so it gives a toasty flavor.


Add yours

  1. Mmmm. No doubt some of our misguided views of ‘healthy’ food have already made it over there, fueling their diabetes epidemic.

  2. Two years ago I went to buy my first jar of ghee. At the Indian food store I found ghee made in India. Only when I got home did I read the label carefully and discovered it was “100% vegetable oil”! So I gave it away and finally found some real ghee.

    I thought all ghee was the same, but I was wrong. These wrongheaded ideas are propagating around the globe.

  3. OK, I know this will seem totally ignorant, but you posted a recipe for clarified butter? That’s what it looks like.

  4. @Garymar – That is just awful. I had no idea such a product existed.

    @Scott – Yes. Ghee is clarified butter, well unless it is made with veggie oil like Garymar found.

  5. The Wikipedia entry you linked to says that advertising non-milk products as ghee is illegal in India. So I rechecked my previous ghee purchase – it was only mostly vegetable oil with milk fat listed as the second ingredient. And, it was made and sold in Japan – but in Indian food stores!

    Here’s a real 100% vegetable oil ghee that seems to be made in India (probably only sold outside it) but consists of palm oil. Isn’t palm oil one of the better vegetable fats, like coconut oil? The nutrition fact sheet lists it as roughly 1/3 each of monoun-, polyun-, and saturated fats.

    The English translation on this page is pretty poor. The ghee seems to be concerned about skin cancer: “I avoid direct rays of the sun”!

  6. @Garymar – I found this post about Palm vs Palm Kernel oil.

    I don’t own any Palm oil, but I really like the taste.

    The next time I visit my local Asian markets, I will investigate what is being sold here in Seattle.

  7. Excuse my ignorance, why is ghee better than regular butter?

  8. @Becca – Ghee has a few advantages over butter.

    1- Much higher smoke point.
    2- Casein- and Lactose-Free.
    3- Shelf stable.

    But the primary reason I am using it is because so many traditional Indian cooking recipes use it. It has a more nutty flavor than butter.

  9. Michael, I don’t have a reference, but I’ve heard that heart disease in vegetarian areas of India has taken off since the people started using veg. Oil ghee. Anybody else heard this or have a reference?

    I regularly make my own ghee exactly like you do, but I filter it through a paper towel. Saves buying cheesecloth! I just place a paper towel in a big metal seive and pour it through.

    Ghee makes the tastiest pan scrambled eggs you’ll EVER make, as the intense butter flavor goes all through the eggs.


  10. @Dan – I’ll have to try eggs with my ghee.

    I spent about 30 minutes searching on health outcomes in India and it seems they have quite a few issues going on. Their press is blaming saturated fats (along with smoking) as a culprit to CVD. That will likely make things worse.

  11. @MAS

    I have been using and doing my own ghee from grass-fed butter for more than a year now.
    Once I transfer the hot butter liquid to the jar I leave it there for more than 20 hours.

    The problem I have is that the ghee just will not become solid at room temperature. The temperature in my kitchen is at roughly 22°C.

    Organic ghees you can buy off the shelve are also kept at roughly the same room temperature but the consistence is more solid and not doesn’t stay liquid like my homemade version.

    Any suggestion? These days I keep my ghee in the fridge.


  12. @Stephan – I’ve only made ghee once and I put it into the fridge. That is the extent of my experience.

  13. @Stephan: Ghee often will not solidify if you don’t cook it enough. Make sure that you cook it until the solids sink to the base and the ghee is a light brown color.

    @MAS: I made ghee with some goat butter that I had bought and was too strong-tasting for me. The ghee version is really good though.

    BTW, try this old family recipe: Heat about 1 tbsp of ghee in a pan, add 3-4 cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick. When they start to sizzle, add 1 chopped onion and fry until golden. Then add 1 cup of basmati rice and fry for a few mins, add 2 cups of chicken/veggie/other stock and salt if needed. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 mins. Let the rice stand covered for 10 mins after, then uncover and “fluff” with a fork. You can add frozen peas before covering, if you like. Best rice dish ever, the ghee makes all the difference! 🙂

  14. @TigerlAl – Thanks for the tip and recipe!

  15. BTW, wrt the issues with real ghee (we always called it “pure ghee”), remember that the people using ghee in India often combine it with tons of flour, carbs and sugar. There are issues with unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles among that group that further compound the problem.

  16. sharon or 'she who is a nun in the film 'Les Miserables'!

    Jan 23, 2013 — 8:53 am

    Firstly I must apologize for boring the rest of the world with the fact that I am an extra in that film. But if I didn’t tell you you would never know!! On to much more important issues;
    I recently watched a you tube lecture on the wide scale view on fats and oils and how over the years the whole world has been duped into thinking saturated fats are bad for you. How could so many people be so wrong. The video is about 2 hours long and is called ‘Oiling for America’ It needs to be watched…….

  17. @Sharon -. Thanks for the tip. It looks like the full video is on YouTube.

    I’ll watch it later!

  18. Hi Mas!

    I belong to India and it’s really sad that not just media but also health professionals consider regular intake of ghee as a matter of concern. They say, it should be treated like dessert – should be taken in small amount occasionally. I found out ghee is wonderful stuff only when I researched more for a good diet for some of my chronic ailments.

    But I must tell you I have seen many people, including my sis, taking too much ghee according to Indian standards today and gaining weight. Do you it has more to do with higher calorie intake and mindless eating without regards to hunger cues? I’m ignorant in this matter. Can you throw some light on this topic?

  19. @Swati – One theory of obesity is called food reward and hyper palatability. I covered it in the 3rd review on this post.

    And also here:

    It is possible to eat a health nutrient dense diet and be overweight if we continually are able to eat past satiety. There is no way for me to know about your sister, but this might be an avenue of exploration. It doesn’t contradict other diets, it works along side them.

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