GHEE fully clarified butter is an amazing substance. At room temperature ghee is semisoft and creamy. Melted, it pours like liquid gold. In fragrance ghee is sweet like caramel and more intense than butter. Because of its extraordinary taste, a little ghee goes a long way in flavor. Ghee is golden yellow to alabaster white, depending largely on its carotene content and the type of grasses eaten by the cows that gave the milk for the butter. Unlike butter, ghee can be stored at room temperature for months, and it can be heated to frying temperatures without burning.
The people of India have valued ghee for millennia, as they still do today. Ghee is the choice for classic dishes, it is essential for many aspects of temple worship, and Ayurvedic medicine praises it for health.
The cooking classes in this column follow the textbook Lord Krishna's Cuisine. This month, as we begin a new chapter "Dairy Products and Dairy-Based Dishes" the focus is ghee. If you've been following the classes, most likely you've made ghee, but if you haven't, now is the time to buy some unsalted butter and make a few ghee variations.
Some Facts About Ghee
Both Indian ghee and French clarified butter are made the same way, the only difference being that Indian ghee consists of pure butterfat fully clarified and French ghee is not fully clarified. Ghee is made from unsalted butter, composed essentially of water, butterfat, and solids of the protein casein. To make ghee one slowly heats the butter until the water fully evaporates and the casein separates from the pure butterfat. French clarified butter, which still retains some water and casein, should be kept refrigerated to prevent spoilage.
Removing the casein from butter has the advantage of holding down cholesterol. Pure ghee contains no lactose or oxidized cholesterol. Though you're best off checking with your doctor, many lactose-intolerant people find little or no difficulty digesting ghee. Since ghee has no casein, it is similar to many nut or vegetable oils.
Ghee contains beta carotene and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Beta carotene and vitamin E are both valuable antioxidants that help fight off disease and injury. Besides ghee, no edible fat except fish oil (if you consider that edible) contains vitamin A, which helps maintain good vision and keep the outer lining of the eyeballs moist. Ghee contains four to five percent linoleic acid, which helps the body properly grow and develop. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid often lacking in a vegetarian diet.
Modern research backs up the kitchen granny wisdom that mixing herbs and spices with ghee makes the herbs and spices more useful and beneficial. One or two daily teaspoons of ghee improves digestion, helps assimilation, and nourishes the brain. According to Caraka Samhita, an Ayurvedic text on health, ghee is "good for the eyes, stimulates digestion, supports skin glow, enhances memory and stamina, promotes longevity, and helps protect the body from various diseases."
Like all fats and oils, ghee is high in calories, so how much you can eat will vary with your age, weight, and activity.
Where to Buy Ghee
Shoppers will have to look around to find quality ghee on the shelves. Like oil, ghee does not need refrigeration, but to keep its goodness it must be properly stored ideally in a cool, dark place in a well-sealed container. The only brand of ready-made ghee I buy is organic. It comes from Purity Farms, Inc., and is available at many large natural food and grocery stores. To find a store near you that sells it, you can get in touch with the company: 14635 Westercreek Road, Sedalia, CO 80135, phone (303) 647-2368. Organic ghee is not cheap; a one-pound jar costs $7 to $8, whereas you can make ghee at home from organic butter for about $4. If you live near an ISKCON farm community, call to see if they sell ghee.
The bulk of the world's commercial ghee comes from Holland, Australia, and Scandanavia. The quality ranges from acceptable to poor. Buy in small amounts to check quality. Look for vacuum-sealed containers. Don't confuse "vegetable ghee" with pure ghee vegetable ghee is basically margarine.
Where and How to Use Ghee
Unlike butter, which burns at high temperatures, ghee can be used to saute, pan fry, and deep fry at temperatures from 250 ¼ to 375 ¼ F. You can use ghee in place of other fats in pastry dough to make the dough flaky. A little ghee jazzes up most plain foods. If you're trying to eat less fat, spray or barely drizzle warm ghee on plain steamed or baked vegetables. A few drops of ghee and freshly chopped herbs add a wonderful flavor garnish to unadorned fat-free soup, rice, pasta, or cooked beans.
Perhaps the most expressive use of ghee is in a seasoning called a chaunk or baghar. For a chaunk,ginger, chilies, and whole spice seeds are fried in small amounts of ghee until fragrant and added at either the start or the end of a dish. The possible flavors are virtually endless. Srila Prabhupada once commented, "Good ghee, good chaunk."
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine; The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post andVegetarian Times. Write to her in care of Back to Godhead.
How To Make Ghee
I have made hundreds of pots of ghee in the last thirty years, and I always enjoy doing it. Preparing ghee is so easy and saves so much money that I rarely buy ghee. Like other fine-quality oils in my kitchen, most of my batches of ghee are flavor-infused with herbs or spices. My current favorite is made with cloves, cinnamon, and fresh curry leaves. I often make extra to bottle as gifts.
Of course, the quality of the ghee rests on the quality of the butter, so use the best available. You can get organic unsalted butter in some large natural-food stores, and you can always try to find a local organic dairy that has it.
To infuse ghee with flavor, for every pound of ghee you make add one, two, or even three of the following seasonings:
3-4 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
7-8 whole cloves
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
2-3 teaspoons of whole
1-inch piece of sliced ginger
1 large dried chili, such as chilpote, New Mexico, or Ancho
1 tablespoon of toasted cumin or coriander seeds
4-6 generous sprigs of mint or cilantro
Place all of the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, with the surface of the butter at least 2 inches below the rim of the pan. Melt the butter over moderate heat and bring to a gentle boil until the butter is covered with foam. Reduce the heat to very low, and simmer the butter uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Cook until the casein solids have settled to the bottom of the pan and turned from white to rich brown. A thin transparent crust should appear on the surface of the clear, golden, near-motionless ghee. (Toward the end of cooking, watch closely to prevent burning.)
With a skimmer remove the crust and set it aside to use in rice, legumes, or vegetables. With a ladle remove all but the bottom inch of clear ghee and pour it into a sealable container through a coffee filter or a fine sieve lined with a paper towel. Then pour the rest of the ghee from the pot, stopping just short of the brown solids.
When the ghee has cooled to room temperature, seal the container well. The ghee will keep for a few months at cool to moderate room temperature. When the weather is warm, keep the ghee in the refrigerator.
(pounds of butter)
(cups of ghee)
Time to make
Purported to strengthen a weak fire of digestion.
½ cup honey
¼ cup room-temperature ghee
Yield: about ¾ cup
Blend until well mixed. Spread on bread, toast, or flame-toasted capatis and offer to Krsna.