Ghee is a type of clarified butter that is commonly consumed in Asia and Africa. This food is typically made from cow's milk or buffalo's milk. Ghee's nutrient values are somewhat similar to those of butter, but it is lactose-free.
Is Ghee Butter?
Ghee and butter are both made from animal milk products. Technically, ghee is made from butter and is classified as an anhydrous milk fat. This essentially means ghee is primarily fat and lacks water_._ Any butter can be used to make ghee, including untreated butter, spiced butter, salted butter and nigur kibe, a melted, refined butter made in Ethiopia.
Ghee is essentially made by heating butter in order to separate the liquid and milk from the fat. When the water has evaporated and milk solids have separated from the fat, you can end up with clarified butter. Ghee requires these milk solids to brown and caramelize — only then is the fat separated out and filtered to produce the final product, sometimes also referred to as desi ghee or asli ghee.
Like butter, ghee can be used to cook or fry. It can withstand higher temperatures than butter, however: While butter has a smoke point around 347 F (175 C), ghee can tolerate heat up to 464 F (240 C). This high smoke point means that ghee can withstand higher temperatures than animal fats like lard and commonly used plant-based oils, including coconut oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil and sunflower oil.
Ghee Nutrition Facts
According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Food Research and Technology, ghee is primarily fat and is rich in short-chain fatty acids and essential fatty acids, linolenic acid and arachidonic acid. Ghee also contains fat soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K, trace elements like copper and iron and carotenoids.
The USDA Branded Food Products Database states that in every 100 grams of ghee, you can find 100 grams of fat, which means it has protein and no carbohydrates. Out of this fat content, ghee is primarily saturated fat, with 60 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams. This amount of ghee also has 2,000 IU of vitamin A (each tablespoon has 300 IU).
Antioxidants in Ghee
The nutritional content of your ghee can vary depending on the manufacturer you've bought it from or if you've made ghee at home. Ghee butter is often infused with antioxidants to prolong its shelf life. This is because ghee undergoes degradation during storage which can affect its color, flavor, aroma and nutrition. Addition of antioxidants can minimize this.
A common antioxidant used is the synthetic additive butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). However, use of more natural antioxidants has become increasingly popular since synthetic antioxidants have been associated with birth defects and carcinogenic and mutagenic effects.
Natural antioxidants are able to influence flavor and, in some cases, may also provide additional nutritional value. Some of them may be stronger antioxidants than BHA. Antioxidant foods you may find infused in ghee include:
- Shatavari root
- Indian gooseberry juice
- Betel leaves
- Curry leaves
- Tulsi leaves
- Sorghum grain powder
- Mango seed kernel powder
- Orange peel powder
- Tomato seed powder
- Arjuna bark extract
- Onion skin extract
Ghee vs. Butter
Given that ghee is made from butter, these two fats are obviously similar. Both ghee and butter are highly valued as high-fat products. These fats are not only used to cook with, but have therapeutic and cosmetic purposes, as well. Notably, butter has less fat and contains a wider variety of nutrients thanks to the milk solids in it.
According to the USDA Branded Food Products Database, ghee is 100 percent fat, while butter is 81.11 percent fat. This means that every 100 grams of butter has 0.85 grams of protein and 0.06 grams of carbohydrate; the remainder is water. Although they are only found in minimal quantities, butter also contains a wider variety of vitamins and minerals compared to ghee.
As products made from animal fat, both butter and ghee are both rich in saturated fat. As a similar product with less total fat, butter also has less saturated fat than ghee. There are 50.5 grams of saturated fat in every 100 grams of butter. According to the Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association, minimizing your saturated fat content is good for your health. Excessive saturated fat consumption is associated with increased cholesterol and can be detrimental for your cardiovascular health.
Fat Consumption and Healthy Diets
According to the Food and Drug Administration, most people should consume 65 grams of fat per day. This fat is made up of many types of fats, including saturated fat, trans fat and unsaturated fats. Saturated fat and trans fat should be restricted, while there is no DV for trans fat, saturated fat should be limited to less than 20 grams per day. This means that most of your fat consumption should come from healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Healthy oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include most plant-based fats, like extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil, corn oil and walnut oil. Unhealthy saturated fats are typically animal products, like lard, tallow and dairy based fats. However, saturated fats can also come from plant-based sources, like tropical plant oils.
Despite its saturated fat content, ghee is often considered to be healthier than other fats since it has short chain and essential fatty acids. Short-chain saturated fatty acids typically come from plants and are generally considered to be healthier than long-chain saturated fatty acids. In contrast, it's usually long-chain saturated fatty acids that you would find in animal products. While ghee isn't made up of only healthy fats, this means that it's certainly a healthier choice compared to lard or tallow.
- Immunity: "Dietary Fatty Acids Directly Impact Central Nervous System Autoimmunity via the Small Intestine"
- Journal of Food Research and Technology: "Natural Antioxidant Use in Ghee - A Mini Review"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Saturated Fat"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Trans Fat"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Total Fat"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release: "Basic Report: 01145, Butter, Without Salt"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Full Report (All Nutrients): 45179816, Organic India, Organic Ghee, Upc: 801541508617"
- African Journal of Food Science: "Traditional Butter and Ghee Production, Processing and Handling in Ethiopia: A Review"
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: "Antioxidant Activities of Orange Peel Extract in Ghee (Butter Oil) Stored at Different Storage Temperatures"
- Indian Journal of Dairy Science: "A Study on the Physico-Chemical Changes Occurring in Ghee (Butter Oil) During Storage"
- Dairy Research & Information Center: "What Is the Smoke Point of Butter?"
- Materials Letters: "Catalyst Free Low Temperature Synthesis and Antioxidant Activity of Multiwalled Carbon Nanotubes Accessed From Ghee, Clarified Butter of Cow's Milk"