If you, like many Netflix-subscribing foodies, recently binged all of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, you might be overhauling your pantry as we speak (because you watched Tidying Up With Marie Kondo right afterwards) and simultaneously wondering if you should be using different fats when you cook.
One common, often demonised, fat that most of us use on the regular is butter. But butter is surprisingly good for you: it's a source of fat, it keeps you full, has some vitamins, and makes foods way tastier. On your journey for the perfect alternative, you may have heard that super-trendy coconut oil isn't actually any better for you than butter. But what about butter's exotic cousin, clarified butter, aka ghee?
Ghee is technically a type of clarified butter that's often used in Indian cooking, says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in Chicago. When butter is melted down, the milk solids separate out, and turn brown as they simmer, he says. This leftover buttery oil is considered "ghee."
The process of making ghee raises its smoke point — the point at which a fat stops simmering and starts smoking — to about 375 degrees, Wolfram says. For context, regular butter's smoke point is around 300 degrees, coconut oil's smoke point is 350 degrees, while olive oil's smoke point is 410 degrees. "If you want to cook something at a higher temp, oils such as olive oil and grape seed oil are a better bet," she says, but for temperatures in the 300-375-degree range, ghee might be preferred.
Most people turn to ghee because they prefer the flavour of it, Wolfman says. The caramelisation process makes ghee's flavour sweet and smokey, similar to butterscotch. People use ghee as a substitute for other cooking oils, or slip it into rich drinks like bulletproof coffee and moon milk.
Lately, ghee has been popular with people who have adopted Whole30 or paleo diets, which don't allow you to eat dairy products. Filtering out milk fat gets rid of the lactose and casein inside of butter, which is good news for anyone who has a dairy allergy.
Beyond the dairy factor, ghee is still 100% fat like regular butter, and contains roughly 60% saturated fat, Wolfman says. "I personally prefer oils over ghee and butter for their heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and their higher smoke points," she says. While ghee has its place in certain cultural cuisines, for those just looking for a fancier, "cleansed" version of butter, it might not be worth it, she says. After all, it's still just another cooking fat — and an expensive one at that.