The Origins, Properties and Uses of Ghee
It is so good to see ghee back by popular demand and appreciated even by the younger generation. Classed as a prized ingredient in Indian cooking for its many properties, it is also used traditionally during religious ceremonies, weddings and funerals.
Going back to its origins, ghee is the ultimate medium to cook with in India - a country where poverty is still a huge issue and where using ghee to cook everyday meals is regarded as a sign of prosperity. Most people keep some supply of ghee even if they cannot afford to use it daily. It would typically be used as a remedy for a sick family member, to add flavour to food on festivals and to celebrate an occasion, such as birthdays or anniversaries. Ghee is also a key ingredient in traditional Indian sweets.
The properties of ghee are numerous. Ghee is pure butter fat and can therefore be taken by people who can’t normally tolerate dairy products. It is said to be cooling for the body which can be very therapeutic, as modern living means we tend to consume too many heat-producing foods such as meat products, ready-made meals, and food high in fat and sugar. Busy lifestyles also encourage unhealthy habits like eating on the go and consuming higher quantities of sugar for energy or comfort. Such habits can produce too much heat in our bodies which can interfere with our digestion - it hinders absorption of food, causes indigestion, and produces an accumulation of pitta in the body which show symptoms of dry skin and dry hair leading to premature signs of ageing.
There are many positive health benefits of incorporating ghee into our routines. According to Ayurveda, ghee cools any overheating thus balancing pitta and helping to restore digestion, which improves the absorption of nutrients in our bodies. It also softens the internal organs, lubricates and helps to increase energy levels. Some people believe in taking about a teaspoon of ghee by itself first thing in the morning and last thing at night in a cup of warm milk. Some even use it as a skin oil or light balm after having bathing. Some use it as a hair tonic after washing and also message it on the whole body if suffering from aches and pains. Pregnant women are given plenty of it during their pregnancy and immediately after childbirth as it accelerates internal and external healing. Elderly people take it regularly to help ward off infections and diseases brought upon by the natural process of ageing. So you can see that ghee is highly valued across generations and occasions. I could go on about other benefits but I think its time to say something about how we can all incorporate the use of ghee in our daily lives. The easiest way to consume little yet regular amounts of ghee is using it in cooking. It has a high melting point, which makes it versatile for cooking a variety of dishes from stir-fries, and sautés to adding a small amount on hot baked potatoes, rice, quinoa, polenta or even pasta.
Want to learn how to make ghee? Here’s a simple and easy recipe:
I usually buy budget unsalted butter from any supermarket or any general butter you use for your weekly shopping. You can use salted butter - it makes no difference to the end product as excess salt is filtered out.
Place the whole slab of butter into a stainless steel pan or Pyrex bowl. I prefer not to use aluminium, as it tends to leave a residue when cooking. Gently melt it over low heat. You can even use microwave to melt the butter - if you do use this method try the coolest cycle otherwise it may splutter and make a mess of your equipment. Alternatively, use the residual heat after you’ve switched off your oven following your cooking, then place the pan with the butter in the oven and the heat should be enough to melt it.
Once the butter is in a liquid state leave it aside to cool slightly, which enables the milk solids to settle to the bottom of the pan or bowl you’re using. After it has cooled for about 10 minutes, gently tip the pan and strain the top liquid, which is the ghee, straight into a storage container. Be careful not to tip the solids in as well because these contain whey, salt etc. If this does happen, you can gentle use a spoon to lift out the solids from the liquid ghee.
Let the ghee cool completely until it looks solid then cover it with a tight lid and keep in a cool area or in the fridge. Ghee can be stored for months at a time as long as the pure fat it was properly strained into the container, there’s no need to refrigerate it although there is also no harm in doing so. As I don’t like to waste anything, I pour cold water into the pan with the salt/whey residue and let it sit overnight by which time all the remaining ghee has solidified on the top of this water. When it cool it turns into a solid slab so I pick it up by hand, or you can use a spoon to remove it into a separate bowl. Do not mix it with the pure ghee you made earlier because this bit will have water in it and it will spoil your first batch. This solid slab of ghee can still be used in cooking and I then use the remaining water as a shower rinse for myself as it leaves my skin feeling soft and nothing wasted. That’s how I like to use any food in my kitchen. From here on, start using a teaspoon of pure ghee in frying, cooking or drinking and you will start to quickly see the benefits.