Some Clarification about Butter Fat (… and How to Make Ghee)
At the first (and only) Hare Krishna wedding that I attended, I watched in fascination throughout the ceremony as the bride and groom tossed drops of clarified butter into a sacred flame. I had utilized clarified butter, or ghee, as food, medicine, and skin lotion, but never considered its use as a sacrament to love, health, and wealth. Over the years since, as I have learned to use and love ghee more and more, this reverence has seemed more and more deserved. Read on to learn more about health benefits of this amazing fat- and how to make it yourself!
Get into Ghee
Why bother clarifying butter? Ghee has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine as a critical compound that helps to reduce inflammation (also known as balancing a fiery, or pitta, constitutional type), promote memory, improve semen quality, and improve digestion. Ayurvedic medicine is centered on balance stemming from digestive wellness, which appeals to my dietetic sixth sense.
By definition, butter is at least 80 percent milkfat, but clarified butter is almost entirely milkfat. Clarifying butter is the process of removing water, proteins, and other solids from the butter and leaving the fat behind.
I often recommend clarified butter as a high-quality health-restoring food to my patients. There are several reasons for this.
Butter is a concentrated source of the short chain fatty acid butyrate, which researchers think is primarily responsible for ghee’s unique health benefits, such as:
- Improved insulin signalling. Butyrate is a histone deacetylase inhibitor, meaning it affects gene expression and protein-making. It has been shown to promote the division and function of the pancreatic beta cells that improve insulin sensitivity. Lower levels of butyrate and butyrate-producing probiotics are found in people with diabetes.
- Your gut will thank you because this histone deacetylase action of butyrate is also thought to be responsible for its role in improving integrity of the gut lining and reducing inflammation by modulating your immune system’s local response. Butyrate is both a fuel for your intestinal cells and gut anti-inflammatory. It may help to reduce inflammation in your entire body as well!
- Butyrate may support brain health and reduce “brain fog!” Further exploiting this gut-brain connection for healing is an exciting area of research.
- Without the right probiotics living inside you, you are unlikely to produce adequate butyrate for your needs. Butyrate in food or supplement form may bridge the gap for those working to build up their inner ecology
- Butyrate in animal feed has been shown to reduce bacterial infection risk!
Clarified butter is better tolerated by sensitive people. Are you mildly allergic to dairy proteins? Lactose intolerant? Without proteins to trigger your immune system or lactose for you to digest, most sensitive people digest and process ghee without issue. Ghee also has a higher smoke point and its highly-oxidizable impurities have been removed, so it is less likely to go rancid during storage or during high-heat cooking. This makes it a safer cooking fat because less oxidation means less inflammation. Remember: a rancid fat or oil is worse than no fat or oil at all.
Healthy Saturated Fat?
With the final nails in the coffin of the war on saturated fat, those of us who have hid in the bushes for years feeling not-quite-right are free to come out and discuss our research-based points of view. From the scientifically-supported benefits of grass-fed animal meats and coconut oil to the many wondrous benefits of eating cholesterol, it would appear that we have learned some important rules about saturated fat:
- It stores fat-soluble nutrients but also toxins. Saturated fat can be a concentrated source of fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, OR it can be a storage depot for pesticides, other xenoestrogens, and fat-inducing hormones. Quality is key.
- Short and medium chain saturated fatty acids can be used for fuel easily and quickly by you and some of your gut bacteria. Bypassing the complex digestion of fat- bound to bile, partially digested with enzymes, sent through your lymphatic system, and then stored or burned, this energy costs very little to get access to.
- Saturated fat and cholesterol support brain health and cell membranes. More and more focus in recent years has shown that healthy cellular communication requires healthy cell membranes. Since these membranes are made up of several types of fats, reason dictates we must include all of these fats in our diet (or at least eat the parts to make them). Low cholesterol compromises brain health, all cellular membranes, sex hormones production, and more; in fact, it is a larger risk factor for death and disease than high cholesterol.
- Cholesterol is critical for brain health, sex hormone production, stress management, and more. In fact, low cholesterol is a rarely-mentioned risk factor for all forms of cancer. (More on cholesterol in other posts!)
How to Clarify Butter
In Ayurvedic medicine, ghee is often used with healing herbs (with medically-desirable fat-soluble compounds) to deliver their benefits internally or topically. The recipe that follows is my personal favorite recipe, but you can change the herbs and spices or omit them entirely.
Gather your equipment:
- 1 or 2 quart stainless steel saucepan, depending on how much butter you would like to clarify.
- Fine Mesh Strainer
- Funnel (optional – I do not use)
Assemble your ingredients:
- 1-3 pounds of grass-fed, organic, unsalted butter
- Add-ins (optional)
- –> Fresh spices (such as herbes de provence)
- –> Dried spices (such as turmeric)
Let’s Get Cooking!
Into your stainless steel saucepan over low heat, melt 1 to 3 pounds of butter. Ideal temperature range is 105 – 115 degrees F.
- Add any herbs or spices you choose to let their oils mingle with the butter. I chose fresh oregano and rosemary for their anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin, the main ingredient in turmeric, is known as an anti-inflammatory, but I include it in my ghee because it helps promote bile flow. Bile helps you absorb and digest fat, and this fat is so good that I don’t want to risk not absorbing it!
Heat over a low flame until white solids separate and sink to the bottom.
When a drop of water flicked into the pan boils immediately, the ghee is done.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool just enough to handle safely.
Pour and strain slowly into a glass jar, discarding the solids.
I refrigerate my ghee and use it mainly for cooking, to blend into coffee, chai, or cocoa. However, if you don’t get any water in your ghee, it shouldn’t need refrigeration. Given that all fats oxidize to some extent, though, I advocate keeping all fats and oils refrigerated- better safe than sorry.
Consume 1-2 teaspoons of ghee daily if dosing for supplemental reasons.
Each teaspoon has 11 mg of cholesterol. Ghee is ⅔ saturated fat (mostly butyrate), ⅓ monounsaturated fat, and has trace amounts of polyunsaturated fat.
See? Making ghee is fast and easy!