Homemade ghee is one of India’s most sacred foods, with a history that traces back 5,000 years. Ghee is the cooking fat most associated with Vedic cooking, a cooking tradition from the Vedas.
The Vedas are among the oldest Hindu spiritual texts. The large body of knowledge contained therein is understood to have come by way of revelations received by ancient sages after intense meditation.
Another way of understanding this is that Vedic cooking was passed down from the heavens.
As such, even today ghee is one of the most spiritual and healing foods in India.
The golden oil made from butter has subtle qualities that are particularly good for supporting digestion.
This is especially important, because India’s traditional science of life, known as Ayurveda, views digestion as the root of overall health.
Ghee is distilled from butter using extended, gentle heat. The cooking technique imparts the important element of fire (angi) into the ghee.
The fire is important because Ayurveda thinks of one’s digestion as a fire. So ghee strengthens digestive fire.
The Properties of Ghee
Ghee has some amazing properties that make it a delight to use in the modern kitchen.
It has a very high smoke point of 485 degrees Fahrenheit (very unlike butter), so it doesn’t burn when used for cooking. Flavor-wise, its buttery and nutty flavor complements and enhances the subtle and pleasing flavors of foods cooked in it.
See my post: 10 Healing Benefits of Ghee
Unlike butter, ghee can be kept in the cupboard for months at a time without spoiling, because all the moisture is removed in the process of making the ghee, and it's typically moisture that makes things spoil.
Ghee is a natural, unprocessed fat, with a consistency similar to coconut oil. Being semi-solid at room temperature, it melts into a liquid easily if the room temperature warms. In India, the ghee is usually liquid because it is so warm there.
Because the milk solids are removed in the process of making ghee, it contains little to no lactose or casein, so it may be suitable for people who cannot normally digest dairy.
I cannot guarantee if you make this recipe it will be entirely free of milk proteins, but you can purchase ghee that is certified for very low quantities. Pure Indian Foods is the safest option I have found. The company says its ghee contains no more than 0.25% lactose and 2.5 ppm casein/whey.
See my post: How to Identify Quality Ghee, and Ghee Buying Tips
Externally, ghee is moisturizing and nourishing for the skin, and a balm for wounds and rashes. It is also a burning fuel for the countless prayer candles lit in Hindu temples every day.
A newcomer to Indian cuisine will quickly discover that ghee is a prominent ingredient in Indian sweets.
Many of these sweets are associated with rituals and temple culture. Many of these sweets are also exceptionally delicious, and I will share some of these ghee recipes in the future.
Desserts make with you ghee that you may enjoy
Processing Butter Into Ghee
Although many other recipes include much shorter cooking times, I find it takes about an hour of gentle simmering of a pound of butter to coax out all of its moisture and evenly caramelize the nuggets of milk solids that drop to the bottom of the pot as it cooks.
Mine is more of a spiritual approach. It concentrates on extracting the subtle essences from the butter in accordance with Vedic traditions, and on transferring the fire element to the ghee so it can encourage good digestion.
In India, my mother-in-law makes her own butter before making homemade ghee.
It begins when she collects the cream that rises to the top of her daily boiled milk. (Milk is delivered to the house daily, and it is always boiled before use.) After about a week, she has enough cream to make butter.
If you taste that cream, it has a cultured taste, but it is certainly not spoiled.
She churns the cream into butter using a wooden tool with thick ridges on the bottom to help make the butter, and a long stick handle that she spins between her palms. In just a few minutes, it turns into butter.
The remaining liquid is buttermilk. The buttermilk is a wonderful natural probiotic for drinking.
The fresh butter is removed from the buttermilk and transferred to a cooking vessel, where it is simmered into homemade ghee.
The best butter is made in the way my mother-in-law makes it, by hand. The back-and-forth action of the hand churning helps to impart a balancing quality to the butter, and subsequently the homemade ghee.
As for vedic ghee specifically, the traditional way is to make it from cultured cream. That is cream that has been turned into yogurt. And then the yogurt is churned into butter, and that butter is simmered into ghee. There are special rules for equipment used, and techniques in the vedic tradition that I have not talked about here.
Of course, doing all this work from scratch is asking a lot for most people today, and this is why I offer this quick method below, starting with butter.
Homemade Ghee, The Spiritual Way
In the process of making ghee, one concentrates the butter, and extracts its essence, so I encourage you to start with the highest quality butter you can find.
I will assume that you will not follow my mother-in-law’s method, so look to purchase grass-fed and cultured butters, butter made from raw milk, or organic unsalted butters.
These are all perfect, however the best is unsalted cultured butter. And the absolute best is to make your own butter, starting from heavy cultured cream (but that's a story for another day).
If possible, use an enameled cast iron saucepan, or a thick stainless steel saucepan, to make the ghee.
This will help the heat to distribute more evenly. As the heat surrounds the ghee, it helps to bring out more of the butterfat’s subtle qualities.
The process of transforming butter into ghee invites a calming sensory experience. Its scent while simmering elevates the mind, and imparts a warm and inviting feeling.
Consider approaching this cooking project with a clean appearance and a calm mind. After all, you may use this ghee for months to come, so why not make it special?
Recipe for Homemade Ghee, the Spiritual Way
- 1 pound of unsalted butter
- You will need an enameled cast iron saucepan, or a thick stainless steel saucepan; a wooden spoon, and a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
- You will also need a couple of jars to store the ghee. This recipe will yield about 1 and ⅔ cups of ghee.
- Place the butter into a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-low heat. Choose a saucepan that will accommodate the melted butter with at least 2 inches on the sides to spare.
- Allow the butter to come to a boil. The ghee will begin to foam, froth, and sizzle. The sound indicates that the water is evaporating from the butterfat. The surface will be very foamy.
- After a few minutes, reduce the heat to very low. Raise the pot using a flame tamer if necessary to minimize the intensity of the heat.
- Simmer undisturbed on very low—the butter should be bubbling very minimally —for up to an hour, until the milk solids that settle on the bottom of the saucepan turn golden brown. Do not stir the bottom of the pot. There is no need to stir at all.
- As it simmers, the butter will transform. The foamy surface will slowly transform into a thin, transparent crust. The butterfat below the surface will transform from cloudy to transparent as the milk solids fully settle out on the bottom of the saucepan. Once the milk solids settle, they will begin to brown.
- The heat level, and the length of time you cook the ghee, will determine the ghee’s flavor. Watch carefully near the end. Maybe turn the pot if you notice certain areas getting darker than others. Turn off the heat when you are satisfied with the color of the milk solids. The darker the milk solids become, the nuttier the ghee will taste. Many recipes I have read suggest much shorter cook times. However, my understanding is that the longer, gentler cooking time increases the ghee’s flavor and potency. See the notes for more on this. Let the ghee rest for 5 minutes before straining.
- Strain the ghee through fine cheesecloth, a fine mesh strainer, or through 4 layers of regular cheesecloth, into a pourable container. Remove the cheesecloth and transfer the strained ghee into one or more clean glass storage jars. Cover the jars only after the ghee has fully cooled. Don’t forget to admire the gorgeous golden color of the ghee as it cools. It will transform from clear liquid, to an opaque, semisolid state.
- Retain the strained solids of the ghee separately or discard them. You can use a wooden spoon to scrape off the milk solids from the bottom of the cooking pot. See the notes section below for details on cooking with milk solids.
- Use your ghee as a cooking oil just as you would any vegetable oil. It will impart a mild buttery flavor to your dish.
- For Western cooking, try it on potatoes, or for cooking eggs or sautéing vegetables. Toss vegetables in it prior to roasting in the oven.