On ghee, the Indian superfood

The desi favourite has made a comeback on dinner plates of gourmands and health nuts alike

August 02, 2018 04:11 pm | Updated August 03, 2018 02:30 pm IST - Hyderabad

Desi Pure Ghee or clarified butter in glass or Copper container with spoon, selective focus

Desi Pure Ghee or clarified butter in glass or Copper container with spoon, selective focus

Another desi ghee recipe? Whether you’re Paleo, Keto or simply chugging back Bulletproof coffee every morning, if you lurk around the Wellness web, you will inevitably stumble upon multiple fitness coaches gushing about the benefits of ghee. And a plethora of voices, from New York to Nairobi, asking for the recipe.

“Ghee is pure butterfat and is also called butter oil, because it is made after clarifying butter,” explains Sangeeta Khanna, a food writer, patiently explaining the procedure. “It comes from milk fat. And can be of two types: uncultured ghee made by skimming all fat from whole milk, or the more common cultured ghee that is made in most Indian homes. For this, the cream is collected over a period of time and cultured with a little yoghurt. It is whipped into butter, which is then heated and made into ghee.”

Puran Poli / Puranpoli / Holige / Obbattu - Indian sweet flatbread, selective focus

Puran Poli / Puranpoli / Holige / Obbattu - Indian sweet flatbread, selective focus

If you prefer to buy your ghee, Amazon alone lists about 300 options, starting from ₹75 to a 15-litre tin of Shree Radhey Certified A2 Gir Cow Ghee for ₹14,300. The variety is fascinating: ghee made from forest cows, indigenous cows and buffaloes. You can source your ghee from Uthukuli, famous for its milk, or from a gaushala . Of course, much of the small-batch ghee is grass-fed, hand-churned and artisan. But that’s not all. Vrindavan milk even has a version that is hand-churned, made on a full moon night on a cow dung fire following a traditional “ vilona bilona method (alternate direction churning)”.

The rest of the world is following suit. American supermarkets focus on ghee made from the milk of grass-fed cows (as opposed to cows raised on grain-based feeds with soy and corn, which may contain GMOs). LA-based artisanal food brand Fourth & Heart, which specialises in ghee, offers what they call “Himalayan Pink Salt Grass-Fed Ghee Butter... Pasture Raised, Non-GMO, Lactose Free,” in addition to Madagascar Vanilla Ghee, Californian Garlic Ghee and even — hold your breath — a Chocti Chocolate Passionfruit Ghee Cacao Spread.

Closer home, “Serve it hot with a spoonful of ghee” is how many Indian recipes conclude, conjuring up that familiar flavour and aroma. Once associated with the decadence of ladoos , halwa and puran poli , today, thanks to a slew of young nutritionists and increasingly media-savvy Ayurvedic spas, it’s become India’s favourite health food.

Blame game

And if there is anyone who still blames ghee for their weight, take a look at Kareena Kapoor Khan, who’s proclaimed her weight loss secret: dal, rice and ghee.

“The properties of ghee are constant, provided one is consuming the right kind. Grandmoms routinely recommend it for children and they would not have done so had it been harmful,” says Chef Kunal Kapoor. He talks about how ghee is one of the earliest cooking mediums, dating back thousands of years. Neutral oils are the resultant of what man discovered once he began to cultivate crops. “When cooked in ghee, both meat and vegetables taste better,” he says, cautioning that the superfood can also be counterproductive if consumed indiscriminately. He adds, “Ghee isn’t the culprit, it is our lifestyle and the quantities we consume that are a problem. Any superfood can go against us, if we do not lead an active life.”

Lifestyle matters

Desi Ghee with Indian sweets like Gujiya, Motichoor laddu and imarti or Jalebi

Desi Ghee with Indian sweets like Gujiya, Motichoor laddu and imarti or Jalebi

Celebrity dietician and author, Rujuta Diwekar, has brought joy to many by giving ghee a superfood tag. In her book Indian Super Foods, Rujuta says, “The reason why there are such combos as dal-chawal-ghee , roti-shakkar-ghee , puran-poli ghee , modak-ghee etc in our culture is that ghee reduces the glycaemic index of these meals. The magic of ghee isn’t just that it’s the world’s most high-functioning fat. It’s also that it’s a wonderful partner to other foods, complementing them to work better and harder for us.”

Promoted by influencers like her, ghee now has great market potential. However, as brands proliferate, consumers need to be able to identify pure ghee from the inevitable, cheap adulterated versions also flooding the market.

“Pure ghee doesn’t have an overpowering smell or flavour. Neither is it neutral in taste. This remarkable anti-ageing food, when adulterated with hydrogenated or animal fat, becomes a dangerous substance,” cautions Ayurveda practitioner, Sharad Kulkarni. He adds that besides several beneficial properties, pure ghee comes with a unique advantage: “Ghee is samskaraanuvartana, which means it retains its own goodness along with the health benefits of whatever it is cooked with,” he explains. He adds that, according to Ayurveda, the food can improve your skin, memory and strength. It helps you detox and is even a centuries-old aphrodisiac.”

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