The Divine Nourishment & Healing of Ghee
Cow’s milk is said to possess the essential sap of all plants, and ghee is a most valued form of milk. The clear golden liquid known as ghee is the crown jewel of oils.
In India, ghee has always been a sacred and celebrated symbol of auspiciousness, nourishment and healing; especially in the daily rituals of cooking and worship.
Ghee is one of the best fats that helps to absorb the nutrition of the food.
The word ghee comes from the Sanskrit ghrta [ghrit], or “sprinkled”. Aayurghritam means ‘ghee is life’, and this is reflected in the many sacred ways ghee is used in devotional practice, from cooking to feeding the sacred fire and other ceremonies.
Ghee is a premium cooking oil celebrated for its taste, nutritional benefits, and medicinal qualities. Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India, recognizes ghee as an essential part of a balanced diet, and considers it to be the best fat one can eat. Ghee is the very essence of butter; the end result of a long, slow, careful clarification process that removes all the moisture, milk solids and impurities. The absence of milk solids and water in ghee make it completely shelf stable. Ghee has one of the highest flash points (485ºF) which make this oil the best choice for high temperature cooking.
- Ghee is made by heating butter to remove the milk solids and water. However, it is heated longer than clarified butter to bring out the butter’s inherent nutty flavor.
- It has a high smoke point, is free of lactose and casein, and contains several fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, E and K.
- Ghee benefits include improving digestion, reducing inflammation, promoting weight loss and strengthening the bones.
- According to Ayurveda ghee promotes learning and increased memory retention.
- Compared to butter, it has a higher smoke point, more intense flavor, and a greater amount of short- and medium-chain fatty acids — not to mention a host of ghee benefits.
- Incredibly versatile and easy to use, ghee can replace other fats in your diet and can be used for roasting, sautéing or baking a variety of dishes.
- If enjoyed in moderate amounts, most research indicates that ghee can make a nutritious addition to the diet. For best results, pair it with a balanced diet and other heart-healthy fats, like coconut oil and olive oil.
How is Ghee Made
Pure ghee is made by simmering butter churned from the cream portion of cow’s milk, a clarification process which strips away the parts of butter that are the most difficult to digest, such as lactose, casein, whey proteins, and trace minerals. The butter is cooked over a slow fire until the impurities rise to the top and the whey separates, dropping to the bottom. Sandwiched between these two layers is a depth of pure, golden liquid that is carefully separated out.
The quality of ghee is dependent on many things, first and foremost, the quality of life of the cow. Cows treated properly as the sacred Mother are invited to pasture on good quality grasses which produce the richest milk. The richest cream separated from the milk is churned into butter, and separated out from the concentrated butter fats are the liquids, known as buttermilk and skim milk. It takes about five gallons of whole milk to produce just two pounds of butter.
The more high quality the butter, the better the ghee. Try to make ghee with organic grass-fed butter from happy cows from your local farm. Try to support cows who are protected for life not sent to slaughter. One way to tell if the butter is from grass-fed cows is the color will be much more yellow and gold instead of white.
Best to use grass-fed organic butter from happy cows who live their whole life feeding on grass in open pasture.
Ghee is best made in a stainless steel pot, and aluminum pots should always be avoided, as they leech toxins into the food. The heavier the pot, the more effectively heat will be distributed across the bottom. Whenever possible, make arrangements to cook your ghee over fire, rather than electrical heat. Again, the sattvic qualifies will be much improved this way.
Never stir the pot when you’re making ghee, at any point during the process, as it’s important to let the heat do the job of separating out all the impurities and milk solids, so you can drain off only the pure liquid oil.
Depending on the quality of the butter being used, the milk solids and impurities will rise to the top and drop to the bottom in somewhat different consistencies. If you use salted butter, most of the salt will get thrown off as impurities, in a brown crust that forms on the surface, although some of the salt will remain. Unsalted butter is far preferable to use for ghee.
Lightly boil a pound of unsalted butter on a stovetop until the milk solids settle to the bottom. Once the milk solids are removed, what remains is a high concentration of fats and other nutrients. In fact, it is said that ghee is 99% fat.
Ghee with Fresh Chapatis
Ghee & Ayurveda
Ghee has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda for cooking and religious ceremonies, as well as therapeutically, both internally and externally.
In Ayurveda, ghee—especially when made from local, grass-fed, organic, unsalted butter—is the purest essence of the earth element.
Ghee symbolizes creation, auspiciousness, nourishment, and healing in its purest and most noble form.
Ghee is a catalytic agent that carries the medicinal properties of herbs into the seven dhatus or tissues of the body. Ghee pacifies pitta and vata and is acceptable, in moderation, for kapha. Persons who already have high cholesterol or suffer from obesity should be cautious in using ghee.
The History of Ghee
The ancient seers viewed ghee as more than a food substance. As with all foods, ghee holds a certain energy.
Garlic and onions have a heavy, tamasic (mode of ignorance) energy; coffee and chocolate have an active, “can do” or rajasic (mode of passion) energy. Ghee, on the other hand, holds a pure or sattvic (mode of goodness) energy. Sattvic foods are thought to be abundant in prank, the universal life force. They have a harmonious and peaceful nature. Sattvic foods also support physical strength, a strong and pure mind, good health, and longevity.
How to Make Ghee Then & Now
Historically, the process of making ghee began with churning butter by hand. Today most commercial butter is made by pushing the cream and protein of milk through a fine mesh screen versus churning the milk. This does create a considerable difference, in that the traditional churning process with which ghee was often made added a stronger quality of digestive fire (agni), which balances the ghee and increases its sattvic energy.
Making Butter in India
Though hand-churned butter may not be readily available, commercial butter still has similar properties to it. To make ghee, lightly boil a pound of unsalted butter on a stovetop until the milk solids settle to the bottom. Once the milk solids are removed, what remains is a high concentration of fats and other nutrients. In fact, it is said that ghee is 99% fat. Being all fat, it is naturally high in calories, containing 112 calories per 1 tablespoon serving, 12.7 grams of fat, minimal protein, and no carbohydrates, fiber, or sugars. Most of the fat is saturated fat (60-65%), with a relatively greater concentration of short and medium chain triglycerides (25%, versus 12-15% in butter), which are known to have many health benefits.
With the milk solids removed, most of the calcium is also removed. On the other hand, ghee contains a whopping 108 micrograms of vitamin A (a natural antioxidant) in just one tablespoon! It also contains a considerable amount of butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid, which acts like a natural probiotic (the intestinal bacteria feed off this for energy), supporting digestion and the immune system.
Thanks to its penetrating qualities, ghee butter can act as a vehicle to carry substances deep into all seven tissue layers. It is a wonderful anuran (vehicle) for herbs and other medicinal substances, and Ayurvedic practitioners often combine herbs to a base of butter to create a “medicated ghee” with the intention of utilizing ghee’s qualities to bring the herbs deeper into the tissues. Some examples of medicated ghee include Sita's Turmeric and Ashwagandha Paste with Ghee base (also available with Coconut Oil base).
How to Use Ghee
Ghee can be used both internally and externally. Externally, ghee will soothe irritated skin. Internally, it soothes and nourishes the digestive tract and any tissue it is carried to, particularly the reproductive tract.
- Cooking with ghee is a popular component of most Ayurvedic recipes. Ghee is an ingredient in kitchari, baked apples, green mung beans, rice porridge, creamy urad masala, spiced rice with cashews and more.
- For beauty, ghee makes an excellent natural eye makeup remover.
- Ghee is commonly used in cleansing.
- The nourishing and hydrating qualities of ghee make it good for massage, particularly for dry or vata-type skin.
- Ghee’s affinity for soothing irritated skin makes it ideal for comforting infants with diaper rash.
- Consider using ghee for hair to add moisture and nourishment to dry follicles.
How to Store Ghee
Ghee does not need to be refrigerated. Because the water content of ghee is minimal (0.03 grams per 1 tablespoon serving, versus more than 2.5 grams per 1 tablespoon of butter), ghee stays fresh for much longer than butter. In fact, as long as it is kept sealed and in a light-proof, dry area, ghee will keep for a year or more easily.
10 Ghee Benefits
1. High Smoke Point
The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to burn and smoke. Not only does heating a cooking fat above its smoke point put it at a greater risk of hitting its flash point and causing a fire, but it also breaks down important phytonutrients and causes the fat to oxidize and form harmful free radicals.
Unfortunately, most cooking oils with a high smoke point are less-than-stellar for your health. Canola oil, peanut oil, corn oil and soybean oil are usually genetically modified and also often partially hydrogenated to increase their stability.
Ghee, on the other hand, is an excellent choice for cooking because of its high smoke point and beneficial effects on health. You can easily use ghee for baking, sautéing and roasting without the risk of destroying the important nutrients that it contains that provide all these wonderful ghee benefits.
2. Packed with Fat-Soluable Vitamins
Adding a few servings of ghee into your day is an excellent way to squeeze in some extra fat-soluble vitamins. It can help boost your intake of vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K, all important nutrients that play a role in everything from maintaining healthy vision to keeping your skin glowing.
This can be especially crucial if you suffer from any conditions like leaky gut syndrome, IBS or Crohn’s, as your body may have difficulty absorbing these fat-soluble vitamins. Ghee benefits your health by providing a boost of these nutrients to help you meet your daily needs.
3. Free of Lactose and Casein
One of the best ghee benefits is that it’s free of lactose and casein protein. Some individuals have a milk allergy, which may stem from a heightened sensitivity to casein, and others may be hypersensitive to lactose. For individuals with a casein allergy, the reaction may include swelling of lips, mouth, tongue, face or throat; hives; or congestion.
Those with a lactose intolerance have a difficult time digesting the milk sugar lactose, but symptoms are generally much less dangerous than a casein allergy. Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, gurgling and cramps. The majority of people who have sensitivities to either casein or lactose don’t have an issue with ghee, as these elements have been removed through skimming and straining.
4. Contains Conjugated Linoleum Acid
Ghee is jam-packed with conjugated linoleum acid (CLA), a fatty acid associated with a long list of health benefits. Some studies have found that CLA may be effective in reducing body fat, preventing cancer formation, alleviating inflammation and even lowering blood pressure.
Keep in mind that grass-fed dairy provides a higher concentration of this important fatty acid. Opt for grass-fed ghee whenever possible, or be sure to use grass-fed butter if you’re making ghee at home.
5. Loaded with Butyrate
Butyrate, or butyric acid, is a short-chain fatty acid that plays a central role in gut health. Some studies have suggested that it may help support healthy insulin levels, fight off inflammation, and provide relief for individuals suffering from conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
This important fatty acid is also made by the gut flora when you eat fiber. As the primary source of energy for the cells in your colon, butyrate is key to promoting a healthy gut microbiome, which plays an integral role in health and disease.
6. Strong, Buttery Flavor
By removing the milk solids and water from butter, ghee is left with a stronger, more intense flavor than regular butter. Its taste is also often described as nuttier, richer and deeper than butter. When you’re cooking with ghee, you may find that you’ll need even less to get that same satisfying, buttery flavor.
7. Strengthens Your Bones
Regularly incorporating a few servings of ghee into your diet can help you meet your vitamin K needs. Vitamin K is essential to many aspects of health, such as blood clotting, heart health and brain function. It’s also incredibly important when it comes to keeping your bones healthy and strong.
This is because vitamin K is directly involved in bone metabolism and increases the amount of a specific protein that is required to maintain the calcium in your bones. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the diets of 2,591 adults and found that a low intake of vitamin K was associated with a reduced bone mass density in women.
Ghee supplies a small amount of vitamin K but can make a big difference when combined with an overall healthy diet and lifestyle — not to mention all the other ghee benefits you can get.
8. Promotes Healthy Weight Loss
The medium-chain fatty acids found in healthy fats like ghee and coconut oil can boost fat burning and help ramp up weight loss. A 2015 review comprising 13 trials actually found that medium-chain triglycerides helped decrease body weight, waist and hip circumference, total fat, and belly fat compared to long-chain triglycerides.
Not only that, but CLA, one of the primary fatty acids found in ghee, has also been associated with reduced body fat mass as well.
Curious how to use ghee for weight loss to achieve maximum results? Swap out unhealthy fats like vegetable oils for ghee instead, and try roasting, sautéing or baking your favorite healthy dishes to get the most out of these ghee benefits.
9. Improves Digestion
As mentioned above, ghee is an excellent source of butyrate, the short-chain fatty acid that is crucial to maintaining optimal digestive health. Butyrate provides energy for the cells in the colon, helps support gut barrier function and fights off inflammation.
Additionally, some studies have suggested that butyrate may provide relief from constipation. A review out of Poland, for example, noted that butyric acid has been shown to reduce pain during defecation and improve peristalsis, or the contraction of muscles in the intestines, to help propel food through the digestive tract.
10. Relieves Inflammation
Although inflammation can be a normal immune response to help defend the body against foreign invaders, long-term inflammation is believed to contribute to the development of chronic disease.
Ghee contains butyrate, a type of fatty acid that has been shown to inhibit inflammation in some test-tube studies. This could have far-reaching benefits when it comes to preventing inflammatory conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even certain types of cancer.
More uses for Ghee
For Body Massage-Abhyanga. Apply ghee all over the body, rubbing into head, chest, limbs, joints and orifices. This will bypass the digestive system and allow the qualities of Ghee to penetrate directly into the deeper tissues. It is said that 60% of what is placed on the skin is absorbed into the body. We literally “eat” what we put on our skin. Western science has discovered that massaging the skin creates endorphins or peptides, which enhance the body’s immune system. Peptides are thought to be the vehicle that the mind and body use to communicate with each other, a literal chemistry of emotion. According to the Charak Samhita, regular Abhyanga slows the aging process.
Ghee is used in Purvakarma, (early Panchakarma) where a small amount of Ghee is taken first thing in the morning by the practitioner to oleate the internal organs and “dissolve” the ama or toxic wastes in the tissues, allowing them to be carried to the digestive tract for elimination.
Ghee is used as a carrier or “yogavahi” for herbs and bhasmas because of its supreme penetrating qualities and thus ability to carry these substances deep into the dhatus or tissues.
One or two teaspoons first thing in the morning followed immediately with hot water will promptly produce a bowel movement. It will also warm the body quickly. Two spoonfuls of Ghee in warm (non-homogenized) milk before bedtime is soothing to the nerves and lubricates the intestines and facilitates a bowel movement in the morning.
Ghee is excellent for cooking and sautéing or stir-frying. Ghee has one of the highest flash points of all oils and is very difficult to burn. In India, it is said that food is incomplete without the use of Ghee.
Ghee is excellent for a gargle-gandush, to improve the health of the teeth and gums.
Ghee can be used as a bath oil. Take two tablespoons of Ghee and mix with several drops of an essential oil of your choice.
Ghee is excellent for scrapes and both chemical and heat or fire burns. Ghee can be used in the eyes for tiredness or fatigue.
Ghee is an exquisite facial moisturizer.
In India it is said that if a few drops of ghee are placed in the nostrils then nosebleed can be checked. If this is done twice in a day, then headache can be relieved.