What Is Ghee and Is It Good for You?

You can make your own ghee with butter, a saucepan and some cheesecloth. (Photo: marekuliasz/Shutterstock).

If you already know what ghee is, it's probably because you're familiar with Indian cooking. Ghee is a type of clarified butter commonly used in South Asian cuisine, and it also plays a role in traditional medicine and some religious rituals.

Typically, butter is made up of butterfat, milk solids and water. If you take out the milk solids and water and only have pure butterfat left, it becomes clarified butter. Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked long enough so that all moisture is gone and milk solids are browned and then strained off. That caramelization gives ghee a nutty tasty.

When it's hot, ghee is a golden liquid. Once it cools, it looks like creamy butter.

Cooking and shelf life

One advantage ghee has is that it won't spoil as quickly as regular butter. Some ghee mixtures can last as long as 100 years, according to Care2.

In addition, ghee has a higher smoke point, which means you can cook with it at higher temperatures. The smoke point is just what it sounds like — the temperature when fats or oils start to smoke.

The smoke point for butter is usually between 325-375 degrees Fahrenheit (163-191 degrees Celsius). The smoke point for ghee is typically between 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit (204-260 degrees Celsius).

Letting a fat or oil reach its smoke point is a bad idea. Besides setting off your smoke detector, it can be dangerous to your health.

As the Cleveland Clinic points out: "The smoking point is the temperature that causes oil to start smoking, which produces toxic fumes and harmful free radicals (the stuff we’re trying to avoid!)."

Ghee and nutrition

Ghee is very high in saturated fat and cholesterol. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of ghee has 12.7 total grams of fat (7.9 grams saturated) and 33 mg cholesterol.

But ghee is also very rich in vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that is key for vision, immune function, reproduction and cell growth. One tablespoon of ghee nearly has as much vitamin A as 1/2 cup of carrots.

Ghee also acts as an antioxidant and is good for the immune system, according to LiveMint. It has a high concentration of butyric acids and fatty acids that have antiviral properties.

Health benefits

woman enjoying ayurveda-massage
Ghee is often associated with Ayurveda, an ancient form of natural healing. Ersler Dmitry/Shutterstock

Ghee is often closely linked with Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old form of natural healing with roots in India. Ghee is used in the Ayurvedic diet and in Ayurvedic medicine. It is often used in detoxification and massage.

However, because of its high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat, over the past several years, ghee has been blamed for an increase in coronary artery disease in Asian Americans who may liberally use the clarified butter product.

But according to a study published in 2010 in the journal AYU (an International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda), a moderate amount of ghee consumption may increase triglyceride levels, but doesn't increase the processes that are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

In other research, ghee has been found to have protective effects on the liver, anticonvulsant benefits, and may help with wound healing and memory enhancement.

Making ghee

You can make your own ghee using unsalted butter. The only other equipment you'll need is a saucepan and cheesecloth or a strainer. Try this recipe from Alton Brown.

Make your ghee last longer by keeping it away from water and sunlight, says Care2.

  • Store ghee in a dark place in a well-sealed container.
  • Don't store it in the refrigerator. When you open it in warm air, water will condense on top of the ghee, and that can cause oxidation.
  • Ghee should last two or three months in an airtight container or up to year unopened in the refrigerator.