Ghee (specifically clarified butter ghee as opposed to vegetable ghee) is perhaps the most common cooking oil in India, it is used almost everywhere on the Indian sub-continent as well as other areas of the Middle East such as Egypt.
Ghee is simply clarified butter; that is butter which has had the milk solids (proteins) removed from it. It is yellowish in colour and can now be bought reasonably easily - certainly all Indian shops will stock ghee and it can now be found in many supermarkets.
It is possible to make your own ghee, this basically involves simmering unsalted butter very slowly and separating the resultant liquid from the solids. Full instructions are at the end of this page.
Clarified butter ghee is consider by the Hindus to be a most precious substance as it is provided by the sacred cow. According to Hindu mythology, Prajápati, the Lord of Creatures, created ghee by rubbing his hands together. Butter is considered by many mythologies to be a symbol of semen or fertility.The Vedic ritual of pouring ghee into fire is, therefore re-enactment of creation.
Almost as if to illustrate its importance, ghee also has great significance in many other religious ceremonies. It is used in Hindu anointment rituals and is burnt in other religious rituals.
Ghee has one of the highest smoke points of all cooking oils at 485°F (252°C) and so is excellent for high temperature frying; and since saturated fats break down less at high temperature and therefore will last a long time without becoming rancid.
Ghee is used all over India both as a cooking oil and as an ingredient. Roti and naan can be brushed with ghee. Parathas can have ghee rubbed into the flour to make the bread more crispy. It is used in Indian sweets such as halvi, Mysore pak and laddu. In Bengal and some other parts of Northern India, rice is served with ghee. Punjabi food uses large quantities of ghee.
Clarified butter ghee has no milk solids in it, and so can be stored without refrigeration in an airtight container, although if you make your own then it is probably best to keep in the fridge as you won't be able to separate the solid as well as can be done commercially (unless of course you have an industrial centrifuge in your kitchen - no? thought not).
Nutritionally ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fats. The bad press associated with saturated
fats is now being seriously challanged by scientists who have recently
found positive aspects to saturated fats, as well as evidence that the
much touted negative aspects were based on somewhat dubious science. Clarified
butter ghee also has no hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) which have been linked to
degenerative diseases and inflamation. The same is also true of cholesterol -
it begins to emerge that it is not bad for you at all.
The lack of milk proteins mean that it can be used by people who are lactose intolerant.
This will be discussed more in the Nutrition pages (which I haven't written yet).
Make your own Ghee
You need a quantity of good quality unsalted butter - you can make as much or as little as you like, it will keep.
Put into a saucepan, preferably heavy bottomed, over a very low heat - too much heat will burn the ghee.
If you are making this by the pound then you need to continue heating for up to 45mins less for smaller quantities, this ensures all the water in the butter has boiled off or evaporated. As the water boils off be careful not to burn the ghee.
The solids will now be brown sink to the bottom of the pan or stick to the sides.
When you are happy that all the water has gone, you can either tip the pan and spoon out the ghee leaving the solids behind, or you can strain through muslin or cheesecloth (folded a few times to strain better).
When ghee was harder to come by and I made my own, I generally just made what I needed. If you want to go industrial then keep in an airtight jar in the fridge.
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