Desi ghee has been the staple of Indian cuisine for centuries and is recently having a moment as a healthy version of the good ol’ butter. Scientific research has been demonstrating that various forms of fats, like ghee, seem to have a complex effect on human health. Moreover, professional chefs and home cooks alike are embracing alternative ingredients that are both tasty and healthy – and that’s where clarified butter comes in.
What is Ghee?
Ghee is made by first churning milk to produce butter, which is then heated to reach a clarified stage. With a high smoke point, the clarified butter is then skimmed off for any milk solid and the result is a clear product with a delicate smokey-nutty flavour. Many of us who have grown up in Indian households have probably seen our mothers and grandmothers make ghee in a similar manner. Herbs such as tulsi are also added during the heating process to fortify its anti-inflammatory properties.
Maybe our mothers knew this (or they didn’t) but ghee has been a part of Ayurveda for thousands of years and can be dated back to at least 800 B.C. This ancient system of medicine says that ghee is good for everything starting from sleep quality to intelligence, memory and wrinkles. Since the process of making ghee eliminates most of the milk solids, it can also be used as a lactose-free butter alternative for people who have dairy sensitivities. Ghee is gluten-free and high in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid used in the body as an energy source and anti-inflammatory.
Better than cooking oil
But is there any scientific evidence backing this ancient knowledge? Scientists have been studying the effects of ghee and have demonstrated results that show intriguing effects of ghee on human diet and nutrition. A 2010 review of ghee science in the International Quarterly Journal of Research In Ayurveda by scientists from Ohio State noted that studies conducted on ghee have shown a series of possible benefits, including decreases in cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins and triglycerides (which are associated with cardiovascular disease), and there is a potential link between ghee and lower coronary heart disease risk. A 2014 study also found that ghee was better for cooking than sunflower oil when looking at antioxidants and liver protection and that it helped to protect against the development of fatty deposits in arteries. Multiple studies in 2015 found that ghee, particularly low-cholesterol ghee, seemed to improve general cholesterol levels.
Amidst all the scientific evidence elucidating the benefits of ghee, moderation is key. Ghee is, in fact, a saturated fat and if it makes up less than 10 percent of the diet, it can reduce cholesterol by triggering an increased secretion of biliary lipids. Despite their bad rep, saturated fats are essential as they help boost immunity and keep viral infections at bay. But compared to other saturated fats such as butter and cooking oil, ghee is most notably said to stimulate the secretion of stomach acids that aid in digestion. With a high concentration of butyric acid, ghee is also believed to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumours. So, if you want a good source of saturated fat in your diet, then ghee is the best option. But don’t go overboard as high levels will damage your heart. Keep it to a minimum and you’ll enjoy its many benefits without hindering your diet goals.