Is Ghee Vegan? Overview, Ethics, and Alternatives

If you think lactose-free ghee means vegan, think again.

Ghee clarified butter desi in glass jar with spoon made from wood on natural wooden background

Евгения Матвеец / Getty Images

With the explosion of vegan-friendly products hitting supermarket shelves, it’s no surprise that a curious vegan might see a lactose-free butter replacement called ghee and wonder if it’s also vegan-friendly. In almost all cases, it is not. Ghee is a dairy derivative, and even though the milk solids have been removed from the final product, making it lactose-free, ghee is not dairy-free or vegan. 

Fortunately, there are several widely available alternatives to ghee, and many restaurants serving cuisines that traditionally use ghee are offering more vegan options. 

Why Ghee Is Usually Not Vegan

Ghee is a type of animal-derived oil made from butter or cream. When butter is boiled, the water suspended in the butterfat evaporates off, and the milk solids separate from the liquid. The solids, made up of sugars (lactose) and proteins (casein), are scooped off, and the remaining condensed liquid fat is what we know as ghee—clarified butter.

In contrast to other clarified kinds of butter, ghee is boiled for a long time, giving it a distinct nutty, rich flavor. Most ghee is mostly made from cow or buffalo milk, making it a non-vegan food.

Since the milk solids are removed during the clarifying process, some varieties of ghee are labeled lactose-free. That labeling, however, doesn’t mean that the ghee is vegan or even dairy-free. Unless it’s designated otherwise, ghee is an animal product and is not suitable for vegans.

When Is Ghee Vegan?

Thankfully for vegans, both commercially available and homemade vegan ghees exist. These animal product-free ghees use a combination of vegetables oils and spices to simulate the deep color and richness of the traditional dairy product. Anything purchased in a store will likely be labeled vegan. If you’re dining in a restaurant, you’ll want to confirm that the ghee in your meal is indeed vegan-friendly.

Did You Know?

Cultures around the world depend on ghee and other dairy products as part of their agricultural economies. But climate change has altered the seasonal timing and yield of dairy products for many populations, including the people of Somaliland. Extreme weather conditions and soil erosion threatens traditional farming, making products like ghee more difficult and expensive to produce.

Foods That May Contain Ghee

Making Naan Bread Dish on Cast Iron Skillet
Many traditional naan recipes include ghee.

Ivan / Getty Images

Popular in India and other parts of southeast Asia for millennia, ghee can be found in several types of food. 


Curries from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan will likely contain ghee. Ask your server or look on the label of premade food to clarify whether or not that particular curry contains animal-derived ghee.


This leavened flatbread traditionally uses yogurt and ghee to give the bread its signature softness.


Sweet treats like kaju katli (silver leaf-covered diamond-shaped cashew bars), kheer (rice and cardamom pudding), and tres leches cake (a milk-soaked butter cake) often contain ghee or other forms of clarified butter.

Vegan Alternatives to Ghee

Coconut oil in a glass cup and split coconut in the background.
Coconut oil makes a great vegan replacement for ghee.

jayk7 / Getty Images

Ghee makes a good cooking oil because it contains very little water and is therefore very shelf-stable. It also has a high smoke point (nearly 500 degrees F), making it ideal for frying and other high heat cooking. These alternatives provide comparable durability and heat tolerance. 

Avocado Oil

With a similar smoke point of around 500 degrees C and a mild, unintrusive flavor, avocado oil makes a decent replacement for ghee. (This plant-based alternative is not without controversy: Some vegans abstain from eating avocados because of the small animal agriculture involved in their production.) 

Coconut Oil

This saturated fat has a medium-chain fatty acid similar to dairy products and makes a great ghee replacement. Some varieties of coconut oil have a distinct and sweet flavor profile while others have a more neutral palate. Be sure to read the label to determine which that particular variety has. Depending on how refined the oil is, coconut oil has a lower smoke point of between 350-400 degrees F.

Browned Cashews

Perfect as a substitute for ghee in curries, cashews browned in a pan or on the stove over low heat and then blended into a cream give dishes the nutty flavor of ghee and plus additional smoothness in texture.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can vegans eat ghee?

    By definition, vegans can’t consume ghee because it’s an animal product. There are, however, brands offering vegan ghee as well as other plant-based cooking oil alternatives.

  • Is ghee really dairy free?

    No, ghee is not dairy-free, but it is lactose-free. All of the lactose is removed with the milk solids during the clarifying process.

  • What can vegans use instead of ghee?

    In addition to commercially available vegan ghee, vegans can use a variety of plant-based cooking oils. Avocado oil, coconut oil, and even browned cashews can easily replace non-vegan ghee.