There's nothing harder to resist than the scent of melted butter. It's a warm, rich smell, evocative of grandma's kitchen and movie theater popcorn.
Unfortunately, lactose-intolerant folks know butter is off limits. Sometimes, though, coconut oil or olive oil just doesn't add enough buttery oomph. For all the flavor without the dairy, there's ghee. Though it's made like clarified butter, ghee is both more versatile and healthier than butter. (And pssst: It tastes better, too.)
Paleo eaters are also big fans of ghee. Sure, it's derived from butter, but by the time it's purified, all of the milk solids are gone, so it's not technically dairy. Instead, you get pure, rich fat.
What makes this fat so special? The secret lies in how it is made. Ghee is made by purifying butter, a process that removes the water and milk solids. Before the milk solids are strained away, though, they are allowed to slowly caramelize over low heat, giving ghee its rich, nutty flavor and deep golden hue.
Why is that good? Two reasons: First, removing the milk solids removes the casein, a protein in butter that can be seriously harmful to anyone with a milk allergy. Secondly, removing the milk solids and water makes ghee much more shelf stable—meaning it doesn't need to be constantly refrigerated like butter.
An added bonus of ghee? It has a much higher smoke point (375-485 degrees Fahrenheit).The higher the smoke point, the more versatile the fat. That's why ghee is useful—it can be used for almost any kind of cooking! When fats and oils reach their smoke point, they start to smoke (surprise, surprise) and destabilize. This not only makes whatever you're cooking taste terrible, but also releases free radicals—atoms that can cause cellular damage and have been linked to aging and cancer.
It's versatility is one of the reasons why ghee has been the preferred cooking oil in India for centuries. India’s traditional Ayurvedic medicine has long valued ghee for its health benefits. In the Ayurvedic tradition, cooking with ghee is known to promote longevity, aid in digestion, improve the memory, and strengthen the brain and nervous system. Now that's what I call a healthy fat!
In fact, fats, including ghee, are a vital nutrient in our diet. The brain is made up of nearly 60 percent fat, and needs a diet rich in fatty acids to stay healthy. Plus, fat helps the body absorb fat soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, K, D and E. Without some fat in your diet, your body simply won't be able to use these vitamins.
While ghee is traditionally been used mainly in Indian cooking, don't let that limit you. Ghee can do it all. Spread ghee on toast, or try it in any recipe that calls for butter or oil. Ghee also works great in baked goods, like these gluten-free blueberry muffins, or even in compound butters.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont