Although ghee is often referred to as clarified butter, the two are not exactly the same. Clarified butter is made by heating butter over a low flame. When the water in the butter evaporates it separates into yellow fat and white milk solids. If the milk solids are skimmed off or strained off what is left behind is clarified butter.
However if you are trying to make ghee, then instead of skimming off the milk solids, you would keep cooking until they get browned or burnt and fall to the bottom of the pan or stick to the edges. The remaining liquid which is strained through a cheesecloth is ghee
A unique property of ghee is that being pure fat it can be kept unrefrigerated. This was probably why it originated in India where high temperatures were not ideal for milk solids like butter. Ghee also has a high smoke point making it a naturally ideal medium of cooking. In addition it has a rich flavor and aroma that is a mainstay of many Indian dishes. Ghee is now used in not only Indian cuisines but in many Middle-eastern and African dishes as well.
Health Benefits of Ghee
Helps in digestion and absorption
In fact many ayurvedic herbs and medicines are often prescribed to be had along with ghee. This is because ghee is easily absorbed by the body and acts as an excellent medium of absorption whether it be medicines or food.
In fact ghee is added to rice or smeared on rotis (tortilla like bread) in India not only on account of its flavor but because it makes food more easily digestible. This is due in part to its short-chain fatty acids.
In Ayurvedic science ghee is also said to ignite the digestive fire.
Excellent for joints health
Ghee helps to lubricate joints and connective tissue. In Ayurveda, Amavata refers to the set of symptoms corresponding to rheumatism, stiffness and swelling in joints. Ghee also called "Amrita Ghrita" in Sanskrit is generally prescribed in these conditions.1
In a study of 28 patients suffering from rheumatism, it was shown that consuming ghee helped to reduce rheumatoid arthritis (RA) titer, Antistreptolysin O (ASO) titer and C-reactive protein (CRP) titer.
Good for your heart and cholesterol levels
Even though ghee is 65% saturated fat - when consumed in moderate levels it is actually good for your heart. Ghee is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which helps to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 2
Ghee has anti-oxidant properties
In a study of rats it was shown that ghee increased the activities of catalase and superoxide dismutase in the blood.2
These enzymes help in preventing oxidative damage to cells. Ghee also increased these enzyme activities in the liver along with the enzyme glutathione transferase which helps in detoxification and also sends signals to prevent cell death thus slowing the aging process.
Helps to moisturize skin and in wound healing
Ghee is well known as a skin moisturizer both by direct application and by ingestion. Consuming ghee is said to improve skin lustre.
Ghee is also used as a household wound healer for small nicks and cuts.
High in Congugated Linoleic Acic (CLA)
Ghee is very high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is said to have anticarcinogenic, antiatherogenic, antidiabetic and antiadipogenic properties. A 2016 study showed that CLA helps reduce insulin resistance, lipid disturbance and oxidative stress. 3
Good cooking medium
Ghee is saturated fat and has a high smoke point making it an ideal cooking medium. Ghee also helps to reduce the glycemic index of foods. Due to its high fat content sugars get metabolized slowly. No wonder it is the preferred ingredient in most Indian sweets - including the popular halwa.
What Ayurveda says about ghee
Ghee is prominently mentioned in various ancient Indian texts. Ghee is an essential element of prayer and is poured into the fire as an offering to God. Ghee along with honey, milk, yogurt and liquid jaggery are the five elements of Panchamrita. Panch means five while amrita means nectar. This ayurvedic preparation of five secret nectars is often prepared during religious ceremonies.
According to the Charaka Samhita - the well known Ayurvedic reference text - ghee is considered the best oil for consumption out of all other oils. Ghee's properties as per Ayurveda are sweet and cooling. It helps to balance Vata and Pitta dosha. Ayurvedic texts list many benefits of ghee which are as follows:
- Ghee is a good food for the brain
- It lubricates the body and makes it flexible
- It is beneficial for the immune system
- It improves digestion and goes well with foods
- It is a good carrier of herbs and ayurvedic medicines
- Ghee makes the skin and hair lustrous
1. Lekurwale PS1, Pandey K, Yadaiah P."Management of Amavata with 'Amrita Ghrita': A clinical study."Ayu. 2010 Oct;31(4):430-5. doi: 10.4103/0974-8520.82033.
2. Chinnadurai, Kathirvelan et al. “High Conjugated Linoleic Acid Enriched Ghee (clarified Butter) Increases the Antioxidant and Antiatherogenic Potency in Female Wistar Rats.” Lipids in Health and Disease 12 (2013): 121. PMC.
3. Ebrahimi-Mameghani, Mehrangiz et al. “Conjugated Linoleic Acid Improves Glycemic Response, Lipid Profile, and Oxidative Stress in Obese Patients with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.” Croatian Medical Journal 57.4 (2016): 331–341. PMC.