Ghee can be found in the international section of most grocery stores, and clarified butter on the pages of many culinary magazines, but what are these fats, and how do they differ from normal sticks of butter?
Butter is made from milk, which itself is composed of globules of butterfat suspended in water, with carbohydrates, minerals and proteins dissolved in the mix. So, when you melt butter it separates into three layers.
From top to bottom they are milk solids (the proteins, minerals and carbs), butterfat, and a combination of more milk solids and water. Clarified butter is simply this middle layer of butterfat, which can be attained by skimming milk solids off the top, evaporating the water, and decanting the butterfat.
Ghee simply requires an extra step: simmering. After the risen milk solids are skimmed off the top, the butterfat, with sunk milk solid still present, is simmered until it begins to brown. The browning of the milk solids provides the nutty flavour that makes ghee so desirable. The butterfat is then decanted off, leaving the browned milk solids, but taking some of their flavours with it.
Why go through this skimming and decanting hassle? A few reasons. First of all, because you’ve eliminated almost all of the milk solids, clarified butter and ghee are essentially lactose-free, something your lactose intolerant friends will appreciate considerably.
Second, butterfat, unlike the butter is was made from, does not burn at such low temperatures. Where butter’s smoke point (the temperature at which an oil begins to create a smoke, and its associated bad flavour) is 302˚F (150˚C), clarified butter’s smoke point is 482˚F (250˚C), which allows it to be used to cook at higher temperatures than any other standard cooking oil.
Thirdly, ghee and clarified butter are shelf stable. They can last about 12 months once opened, or many years if not opened, making them an attractive option for emergency kits, campers or those in rural areas.
If you’re not cooking at really high temperatures, lactose intolerant, or an adventurer, however, there’s no reason to switch to the clarified variety of your toast spread.
While ghee has been part of traditional Indian medicine (specifically ghee made from breast milk) there’s no evidence to support the many health claims made of this fat. Ghee and clarified butter are almost nutritionally identical to the butter from which they’re made.
In the end, clarified butter is still butter, and butter is not a health food.
|Per 1 tsp||Butter||Ghee|
|Total Fat (g)||4.1||5|
|Saturated Fat (g)||2.6||3|
|Vitamin A (%)||2||4|