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by Kunal K August 07, 2016 6 min read

What is ghee?

Ghee is a class of clarified butter that is caramelised to give it a unique nutty flavour. Although the termclarified butter is often used interchangeably with ghee, they are not the same:

Clarified butter is made by heating unsalted butter on gentle, low heat until all the water in the butter vaporises. After all the water disappears, milk solids comprising of whey protein and casein rise to the top and are skimmed off. This melted butter hat is then removed from the heat and strained, is clarified butter.

Ghee is made by continuing to heat the clarified butter until the colour of the liquid changes from light yellow to deep gold due to the process of caramelisation. At this point, any remaining milk solids and other impurities will clump and sink to the bottom of the pan. The ghee is then removed from the heat and strained before storing.

Brown butter is another class of clarified butter that is cooked even longer than ghee and is unstrained.

Traditionally, ghee is made with unsalted butter that is churned from cultured cream. Cultured butter is made from cream that has been inoculated with strains of lactic acid bacteria. Ghee is normally not made from salted butter, but flavoured infusions are increasingly common.Ghee made from butter from grass-fed cows has a superior nutritional profile:

  • Favourable omega 3:6 ratio
  • Higher levels of Vitamins A,K, E
  • CLAs

History of ghee

Ghee originated in India, where it was considered to be a sacred food that was used both in cooking and in religious ceremonies. Besides India, ghee is also found in the cuisines of the middle-east and some African communities. Egyptian ghee is made from the milk of water buffalos and is calledSamna baladi. Regular Samna is made from cow’s milk. In Ethiopia, ghee is calledniter kibbehand is made with added local spices. Moroccan ghee is fermented, aged for months or years, and is called Smen. Ghee is even found in Europe, where it is more commonly used in the form of brown butter. It is known asbeurre noisette in France and Germans refer to their clarified butter asbutterschmalzor ‘boiled butter’. In Brazil, ghee is calledmanteiga-de-garrafawhich means butter-in-a-bottle.

The ancient Indian medicine system ofAyurveda considers ghee to be central to good health. Uses include:

  • Massage to stimulate the immune system
  • As a potent medicine all by itself, and as a carrier for other medicinal herbs.
  • The topical use of ghee extends to skin and eye care and treatment of wounds and burns.
  • It recommends the consumption of a small amount of ghee first thing in the morning to aid in digestion and elimination, lubrication of internal organs and joints, increase intelligence, learning, and memory.
  • Regular intake of ghee is also prescribed to increase longevity and promote sexual health.
  • A vehicle to aid in the absorption of medicinal herbs because of its supreme penetrating abilities.

Ghee is essentially 99.9% FAT:

Ghee is made up of the full spectrum of short, medium, and long chain fatty acids, both saturated and unsaturated. It is a more concentrated source of fat than butter and possesses a  high degree of saturation (53.9–66.8%). Ghee is rich in essential fatty acids omega 3 and omega 9 and fat soluble vitamins A (beta-carotene), D, E, and K. It also contains phenolic antioxidants and is rich in butyric acid (also known as butyrate). Ghee made from the milk of grass-fed cows is one of the highest natural sources of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) and also contains Vitamin A as a by product of beta-cartonene ingested by the cattle. It is important to note that the cholesterol fraction in ghee resists oxidation.

The vitamins in ghee can help in maintaining the health and well-being of the metabolism and organs:

  • Grass-fed ghee is particularly high in vitamin K which is important in building strong bones.
  • The rich antioxidants present in ghee stimulate the immune system.
  • The phospholipids help the nutrients in ghee to be easily absorbed by the cell walls.
  • Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that present in ghee and it plays a central role in healing the intestinal lining and improving digestion and elimination. It also reduces inflammation in the body and helps support healthy insulin levels.
  • Specifically, grass-fed ghee provides, even more, health benefits. The high levels of CLA are responsible for lowering cholesterol and inflammation, improving immunity, and increasing lean body mass.
  • It prevents weight gain, aids in weight loss, and protects against carcinogens, artery plaque, and diabetes.

Why use ghee instead of butter?

A richer and nuttier flavour.

Unlike butter, ghee has a higher smoke point because it has more stable saturated bonds. This means that ghee can be heated to a higher temperature before it starts to smoke.

Heating fats to temperatures higher than their smoke points can destroy vital nutrients and result in harmful changes to the structure of the fatty acids and increase free radicals.  Oxidised oil from cooking as typically experienced with plant oils, is a carcinogen. So, it is best to avoid high-temperature cooking with fats that have low smoke points. Fats with low smoke points are also more likely to cause fires in the kitchen.

Ghee has a long shelf life even at ambient temperatures and does not need to be refrigerated like butter. This is because ghee has almost no moisture or milk solids, but is rich in natural antioxidants. The high-temperature process that is used to make ghee also kills pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms including spores. Because the milk solids casein and lactose have been removed, ghee can be consumed by people who are sensitive to dairy.

Comparison of Nutrition Facts of Grass Fed Ghee and Butter for 1 tablespoon:

Nutrition Facts




112 kcal

102 kcal

Total Fat

14 g

12 g

Saturated Fat

7.9 g

7 g


36.5 mg

31 mg


0 mg

3 mg

Vitamin A

438 IU

350 IU

Vitamin D

15 IU

7.8 IU

Vitamin E

0.4 mg

0.3 mg

Vitamin K

1.2 mcg

1.0 mcg

Omega-3-fatty acids

45 mg

44.1 mg

Omega-9-fatty acids

390 mg

382 mg

Smoke Point

450 °C

350 °C

*Values for some nutrients such as vitamin E will vary depending on the source of the cream used to make the butter. Grass-fed sources of butter and ghee have higher vitamin E values.

What is vegetable ghee and why is it harmful?

Vegetable ghee is to ghee, what margarine is to butter. It is made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The hydrogenation of the oils leads to the formation of trans fats which increase the risk of heart disease.

Ghee and the ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, mid-protein, low-carbohydrate diet (80:10:10) that forces the body to primarily burn fats instead of carbohydrates. The aim of the ketogenic diet is to elevate ketone bodies which are a byproduct of fat metabolism.

The percentage of medium-chain fatty acids in ghee are around 25% or higher, whereas butter contains only around 12-15%. For comparison, coconut oil contains 62%. Medium-chain fatty acids are more ketogenic (accessible as a fuel) than fats containing long-chain fatty acids. Pure MCT Oil an Exogenous Ketones aside, this makes ghee one of the best choices to achieve ketosis versus other dietary fats such as butter.

Some of the other dietary fats that are recommended for the ketogenic diet and the paleo lifestyle are coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.

Coconut oil does not share the rich nutritional profile of ghee. Coconut oil also carries a strong flavour that is not conducive to all applications.

Olive oil is extremely healthy due to the abundance of monounsaturated fatty acids but has a much lower smoke point than ghee making it unsuitable for high-temperature cooking.

Avocado oil, which has a similar nutritional profile to olive oil does have a higher smoke point. However, it contains much less saturated fat which is a key component of the ketogenic diet.

Ghee is easy to make at home with any unsalted grass fed butter.


















Kunal K
Kunal K

Co-Founder, OptimOZ.com.au

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