When you’re preparing dinner or a dessert, some recipes may require butter. Butter adds flavor to certain dishes and can be used as an oil substitute for sautéed vegetables. While eating butter is not necessarily bad for you (in moderation), ghee may be a better alternative depending on your dietary needs.
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that’s made from heating butter and allowing the liquid and milk portion to separate from the fat. The milk caramelizes and becomes a solid, and the remaining oil is ghee.
This ingredient has been used in Indian and Pakistani cultures for thousands of years. When used in place of butter, ghee has several benefits.
Understanding the differences between ghee and butter can help you determine which ingredient to use when cooking.
Ghee has a higher smoke point when compared to butter, so it doesn’t burn as quickly. This is perfect for sautéing or frying foods. Butter can smoke and burn at 350°F (177°C), but ghee can withstand heat up to 485°F (252°C).
Ghee also produces less of the toxin acrylamide when heated compared to other oils. Acrylamide is a chemical compound that develops when starchy foods are prepared at high temperatures. This chemical has been known to increase the cancer risk in lab animals, but it’s unclear whether it also increases the cancer risk in humans.
Because ghee separates milk from fat, this butter substitute is lactose-free, making it better than butter if you have allergies or sensitivities to dairy products.
When choosing between ghee and butter, it’s also important to note the different nutritional profiles for each.
Ghee has a slightly higher concentration of fat than butter and more calories. One tablespoon of ghee has about 120 calories, whereas one tablespoon of butter has about 102 calories. The differences in fat content varies based on the food manufacturer, but typically ghee has a bit more. Here’s a breakdown:
|Type of fat per tbsp.||Ghee||Butter|
|saturated||10 g||7 g|
|monounsaturated||3.5 g||3 g|
|polyunsaturated||0.5 g||0.4 g|
The fat and calorie differences between ghee and butter are negligible. So, if you’re watching your fat and calorie intake, choosing one over the other may not impact your health.
Which types of fat are healthy?
Different types of fat should be included in a healthy diet. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and offer protection against heart disease. These essential fatty acids come from olives, nuts, seeds, and fish.
Saturated fats should also be included in a healthy diet. These are known as solid fats because they become solid at room temperature. Saturated fats include animal products like pork, chicken, and beef.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines recommend limiting our intake of saturated fats. Too much can increase your risk of heart disease and high blood cholesterol. For a healthy diet, no more than 35 percent of total daily calories should come from fat, with saturated fats consisting of less than 10 percent of total daily calories.
The body breaks down fat and uses it for energy and other processes. Unsaturated fats can lower triglycerides and cholesterol, which is why these are healthier than saturated fats. Too much saturated fat in the blood increases cholesterol and causes plaque to form in blood vessels. As a result, it becomes harder for blood and oxygen to travel through the body. This raises the risk for stroke and heart disease.
Even though unsaturated fats are healthier, they should be consumed in moderation. Too much total fat — whether good or bad — can increase cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Cooking with ghee
There are several ways to use ghee when cooking. Because of its higher smoke point, use it when sautéing or frying at a higher temperature. Ghee also has a nutty flavor, which creates a sweet aroma and adds a unique taste to dishes. You can also try:
- pouring melted ghee over popcorn or drizzling it over fresh steamed vegetables or corn on the cob
- allowing ghee to harden at room temperature and spreading it over crackers or toast
- adding ghee to cooking pans when scrambling eggs to prevent sticking
- using ghee instead of butter for mashed potatoes and baked potatoes
- drizzling ghee over vegetables before roasting for a caramelized texture
What about butter?
Butter is given a bad rap, but it isn’t bad for your health when consumed in moderation. It’s also a healthier alternative than margarine. It doesn’t have trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils found in different types of foods like cookies, cakes, and crackers. Trans fats are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, clogged arteries, and heart disease.
But while butter may make everything taste better, the recommended daily allowance is 6 teaspoons.
If you’re only looking at calories and fat intake, it doesn’t matter whether you choose ghee or butter. Their nutritional profiles are almost identical. But removing the milk from ghee does offer additional benefits, namely the absence of lactose and the higher smoke point.
If you’re sensitive to lactose or cook at high temperatures, ghee is the better choice. It’s available at grocery stores, health food stores, organic farms, and online. Or you can make your own! Simply melt butter in a pan over medium heat until it separates in three layers.