Referred to as liquid gold, ghee has been a sign of wealth in India for centuries. It’s important in Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old medical system, and also has significance in Hindu scriptures where it’s praised for its purifying, disinfecting and healing properties. In Vedic literature ghee is referred to as “food for the brain” and is the common choice for cooking.
So what is it?
Ghee is clarified butter, or butter with the milk solids removed. This makes it a better choice for frying and sautéing since it’s the milk solids in butter that can cause it to easily burn. Ghee has a unique flavor, described by some as “nutty and sweet,” and a dollop is delicious on top of a steaming pile of basmati rice or on a piece of toast.
But the benefits of ghee go far beyond its taste. According to Avurveda, clarified butter is a digestive aid that improves the absorption of nutrients from food it’s consumed with. It’s said to improve memory, lubricate the connective tissues, improve flexibility, and strengthen the brain and nervous system. Ghee is also said to nourish ojas, the subtle essence of all the body’s tissues, and acts as a carrier, bringing the medicinal properties of herbs to all seven dhatus—or tissues—of the body: plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, marrow/nerve, and reproductive tissues. A drop applied to the eyes can also relieve itching and improve eyesight.
Ghee also pacifies pitta and vatta, two of the three energies—or doshas—believed to circulate in the body and govern physiological activity according to Ayurveda. Ghee is ok for the third dosha, kapha, in moderation, and should be used sparingly by those who are obese or have high cholesterol. Ghee should not be consumed during a detox or cleanse.
While ghee used to be available solely in stores specializing in Asian goods, more and more it can be found in general grocery stores. But purchasing ghee isn’t necessary at all, as it’s relatively simple to make at home.
To make ghee, melt one pound of unsalted butter (ideally organic and grass-fed to ensure the highest quality) in a pot over medium heat, watching carefully to ensure it doesn’t burn. When the butter has melted, increase the heat and bring it to a boil. When the surface is covered with a frothy foam, stir gently with a stainless steel spatula and reduce the heat to very low. Continue to cook it at this temperature, leaving the pot uncovered, as it’s important to boil the water out and separate the solids.
Simmer undisturbed until the solids have settled on the bottom of the pan and turned from white to golden brown, and the crust on the surface of the butterfat is transparent. Cooking time should be no longer than 15-20 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and pour the contents of the pan through a sieve lined with a linen towel, or four layers of cheesecloth, into another pan. When the ghee has cooled a bit, pour it into a storing container with a tight-fitting lid and keep it at room temperature.