Ghee: Benefits and Uses of Indian Clarified Butter
What Is Ghee?
Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is pure butter fat and boasts many benefits and uses. It's rich golden color is soothing, welcoming and oh so promising of something amazingly decadent. Ghee has a rich buttery flavor that compliments any dish or baked good in a way ordinary butter just doesn't quite cut it. Having a high smoke point you can even deep fry in it. Imagine that!
My first experience with ghee was only recently, having moved from America to India. You can't live in India and not know about ghee. People are passionate about it and for good reasons, considering its benefits and uses, not just for food but for health and spirituality as well. I will cover these in a moment. Being an American, I was terrified of it at first, having been trained that although butter, and god forbid butter fat, is heavenly it's a heart attack waiting to happen and better to be avoided. Since then I've come to learn quite a bit about this manna of the gods.
A Short History
Centuries ago, ghee was originally created as means of preserving butter. It was initially made from the milk of buffalo indigenous to south Asia and Pakistan, but in more modern times cow's milk is used. It's use can now be found throughout the Indian sub-continent, Egypt, as well as other areas of the Middle East.
How To Make Your Own Ghee
How Ghee is Made
Ghee is created when the water and solids are removed from butter by systematic cooking. Whole cream milk is heated until the thick part of the cream rises to the top. This cream is what's used. It's then heated to boiling until it separates further. All solids are removed and what's left is fragrant, flavorful ghee.
The video to the right is an easy way to make your own ghee if you don't want to purchase it in a shop.
Nutritional Benefits of Ghee
Now here is where it gets a little sticky waving the banner for ghee. It's composed almost entirely of saturated fats which have been associated with cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancers in the past. However, this has recently come under debate by the scientific community and is being re-evaluated so don't throw the bathwater out with the baby just yet!
Ghee contains no hydrogenated fats. We can pick that banner back up again and breathe a sigh of relief. This means ghee consumption won't adversely affect cholesterol levels which are associated with coronary and degenerative diseases.
Here's another advantage ghee offers. It contains no milk proteins. If you're lactose intolerant this is joyous news indeed.
Ghee is also said to replace oxidized fats which help cell membranes maintain a low state of oxidation. To us lay people this means it helps reduce cellular decay.
Now for the nitty gritty:
Fat and Calories:
Ghee contains approximately 112 calories per tablepoon and 33 mg of cholesterol. The fat content is 12.7 g. It also contains many essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6. These provide anti-inflammatory properties, regulate DNA production and help with cellular communication.
Other Nutritional Information:
Ghee provides .04 g of protein per tablespoon, including 17 amino acides. It also contains 3% linoleic acid which is an antioxidant. There are 393 IU of vitamin A per tablespoon including 105 mcg of retinal and 25 mcg of beta-carotene. Other vitamins include .36 mg vitamin E per tablespoon, 1.1 mcg of vitamin K and small amount of riboflavin and pantothenic acid. Ghee also contains 1 mg of calcium and potassium per tablespoon.
A Brief Note About Fats:
I'm coming full circle to my inner fears about fats, however let's examine why cooking with and eat fats are not entirely a bad thing. Fats are needed in our diets so we can assimilate vitamins A, D, E and K. They help nourish the skin, hair and cell membranes as well as protecting internal organs and the brain. Lastly, fats help store energy. Since ghee doesn't contain hydrogenated oil, it's actually a healthy choice to cook with.
The Premier Indian Ayurvedic Ingredient
Ghee is considered the ultimate cooking oil with benefits for both mind and body. It's been given the cherished title of “rasayana”--sanskrit for "the way of the juice" which translates to "chemistry". Essentially what this is means is that the constituents of this oil bond most effectively with those of herbs and foods aiding in overall health, longevity overall well-being.
The following is a list of the benefits of ghee from the Ayurvedic texts:
Ayurvedic Balance: Ghee balances both Vata (the ayurvedic mind/body operator that controls movement in mind and body) and Pitta (the operator that controls heat and metabolism). It is good for growth of the all seven dhatus in the body (body fluids, blood, flesh, fat, bones, marrow and semen). It's also considered suitable for people of any age. Ghee is also said to reduce toxins in the body.
Mind: Ghee is used to promote and benefit all three aspects of mental functioning -- learning, memory and recall, and said to increase intelligence.
Absorption: Ghee is important to the science of ayurvedic herbal formulation. It bonds with lipid-soluble nutrients and herbs to penetrate the lipid-based cell walls of the body. It's also said to increase the potency of certain herbs by carrying the active components to the interior of the cells where they can deliver the most benefit.
Preservation: Ghee doesn't spoil easily. It actually preserves the original freshness and potency of herbs and foods and doesn't need refrigeration.
Digestion: The ayurvedic texts say that the use of ghee can help to balance excess stomach acid. It also assists with the maintainence and repair the mucus lining of the stomach.
Burns and Wounds: Much like aloe, ghee prevents blisters and scarring if applied quickly to the mildly burned skin. It's also said to be good for the healing of wounds having both antibiotic and antiseptic qualities.
Ghee can be applied as a massage oil, a gargle or swabbed onto the skin.
The Divine Substance
Ghee is used in religious ceremonies. It's considered by Hindus to be a precious substance because it comes from the sacred cow which is venerated in India.
Hindu mythology states that Lord Brahma rubbed his hands together and created ghee. He poured it into a fire to engender his progeny.
Ancient Vedic ceremonies re-enact creation by pouring ghee onto a fire.
It's used to light puja lamps used in acts of worship and to annoint temple deities.
Ghee is an ingredient in Sikh holy "prashad" offered in the gurdwara (sikh place of worship) and it is among the 16 precious substances used to annoint the 57m tall statue of Gomateshwara, son of the first Jain Tirthankara in Karnataka, south-west India.
A religious hymn has even been written to ghee.
Ghee is used in marriage as well as funerals.
It's considered the food of the devas.
Gee, ghee really is manna from the Heavens!
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