Ghee has long been a staple in Indian cuisine and recently become quite popular in certain circles elsewhere.

Some people praise it as an alternative to butter that provides additional benefits.

However, others question whether ghee is superior to regular butter or may even pose health risks.

This article takes a detailed look at ghee and how it compares with butter.

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Nadine Greeff/Stocksy United

Ghee is a type of clarified butter. It’s more concentrated in fat than butter, as its water and milk solids have been removed.

It has been used in Indian and Pakistani cultures for thousands of years. The term comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “sprinkled.” Ghee was created to prevent butter from spoiling during warm weather.

In addition to cooking, it’s used in the Indian alternative medicine system Ayurveda, in which it’s known as ghrita.

Given that its milk solids have been removed, ghee does not require refrigeration and can be kept at room temperature for several weeks. In fact, like coconut oil, it may become solid when kept at cold temperatures.

Summary

Ghee is a type of clarified butter that’s stable at room temperature. It has been used in Indian cooking and Ayurvedic medicine since ancient times.

Ghee is made by heating butter to separate the liquid and milk solid portions from the fat.

First, butter is boiled until its liquid evaporates and milk solids settle at the bottom of the pan and turn golden to dark brown.

Next, the remaining oil (the ghee) is allowed to cool until it becomes warm. It’s then strained before being transferred to jars or containers.

It can easily be made at home using grass-fed butter.

Summary

Ghee can be made by heating butter to remove the water and milk solids from the fat.

Ghee and butter have similar nutritional compositions and culinary properties, although there are a few differences.

Calories and nutrients

Below is the nutrition data for one tablespoon (14 grams) of ghee and butter (1, 2):

GheeButter
Calories123100
Fat14 grams11 grams
Saturated fat9 grams7 grams
Monounsaturated fat4 grams3 grams
Polyunsaturated fat0.5 grams0.5 grams
Proteintrace amountstrace amounts
Carbstrace amountstrace amounts
Vitamin A13% of the Daily Value (DV)11% of the DV
Vitamin E3% of the DV2% of the DV
Vitamin K1% of the DV1% of the DV

Both contain nearly 100% of calories from fat.

Ghee contains a higher concentration of fat than butter. Gram for gram, it provides slightly more butyric acid and other short-chain saturated fats.

Test-tube and animal studies suggest that these fats may reduce inflammation and promote gut health (3).

It’s also slightly higher in conjugated linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat that could help increase fat loss (4).

Overall, the differences between the two are small, and choosing one over the other likely won’t significantly affect your health.

However, ghee is completely free of the milk sugar lactose and the milk protein casein, whereas butter contains small amounts of each. For people who have allergies or sensitivities to these dairy components, ghee is the better choice.

Culinary uses

Butter and ghee are rich in saturated fatty acids, which can handle high temperatures without becoming damaged.

Heating ghee also appears to produce much less of the toxic compound acrylamide than heating vegetable and seed oils.

In fact, one study found that soybean oil produced more than 10 times as much acrylamide as ghee when each was heated to 320°F (160°C) (5).

Furthermore, ghee has a high smoke point, which is the temperature at which fats become volatile and begin to smoke.

Its smoke point is 485°F (250°C), which is substantially higher than butter’s smoke point of 350°F (175°C). Therefore, when cooking at very high temperatures, ghee has a distinct advantage over butter.

However, while ghee is more stable at high heat, butter may be more suitable for baking and cooking at lower temperatures because of its sweeter, creamier taste.

Summary

Ghee and butter have similar nutritional profiles, but ghee may be a better choice for those with lactose or casein sensitivities. While ghee is typically better for high temperature cooking, butter has a sweeter taste that may be more suitable for baking.

Thanks to its impressive nutrient profile, ghee has been associated with several health benefits.

Here are a few of the potential benefits of ghee:

  • May reduce gut inflammation. Ghee is a great source of butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid that has been linked to lower levels of inflammation and improved digestive health in human and animal studies (3, 6, 7).
  • Rich in conjugated linoleic acid. Some research suggests that conjugated linoleic acid may be beneficial for conditions like cancer, high cholesterol, and obesity (8).
  • Boosts vitamin A intake. Ghee can help ramp up your intake of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that’s important for maintaining eye health, skin health, immune function, and more (9).
  • Could support heart health. Ghee is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help decrease inflammation and protect against heart disease (10, 11).
Summary

Ghee is rich in important nutrients like vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid. It may also help reduce gut inflammation and support heart health.

People’s responses to saturated fat intake are highly variable.

Those whose LDL (bad) cholesterol levels tend to increase in response to high saturated fat intake may want to limit their ghee or butter intake to 1–2 tablespoons per day.

Another concern is that during the production of ghee at high heat, its cholesterol may become oxidized. Oxidized cholesterol is linked to an increased risk of several diseases, including heart disease (12).

According to one older analysis, ghee contains oxidized cholesterol but fresh butter does not (13).

Summary

The potential adverse effects of ghee include increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and the formation of oxidized cholesterol during its production.

Ghee is easy to make at home using just one simple ingredient: unsalted butter.

To get started, cut 1 pound (454 grams) of butter into cubes and add them to a large skillet or pot on low heat.

Next, allow the butter to melt and bring it to a simmer. Using a slotted spoon, remove any foam or milk solids that float to the surface.

Allow the ghee to cook for 15–20 minutes, until the milk solids begin sinking to the bottom and turn a deep golden color. The ghee should also become very fragrant, with a rich, nutty aroma.

Once it’s ready, turn off the heat and let the ghee cool for a few minutes.

Finally, use a cheesecloth or coffee filter and strain the ghee into a glass container with a lid.

Homemade ghee can be stored at room temperature for 3–4 months or refrigerated for up to 1 year.

Summary

Ghee is easy to make at home using unsalted butter. It can be stored for 3–4 months at room temperature and lasts up to 1 year in the refrigerator.

Ghee is a natural food with a long history of medicinal and culinary uses.

It provides certain cooking advantages over butter and is certainly preferable if you have a dairy allergy or intolerance.

However, no evidence suggests that it’s healthier than butter overall. Both can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.