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What is Ghee?

Nutritional Data, Interesting Facts, and Allergy Information

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What is Ghee

Many Indian food dishes are prepared with Ghee butter.

Photo by Yadavop / Creative Commons

Many people have heard of its use, but exactly what is ghee?

Made from cow milk, ghee is a clarified butter used widely in Indian and South Asian food. More than just a culinary substance, ghee is considered sacred and is used in rituals, as a traditional ayurvedic medicine, and even as lamp fuel.

If you've ever enjoyed an authentic Indian meal or tried Pakistani or Iranian food, then you've probably eaten ghee without even realizing. Ghee has a rich, nutty, strong butter taste and is used to flavor and fatten foods that would normally require the use of oil.

Ghee is considered more flavorful and healthy than animal fats, regular butter, or frying oils when used for cooking.

Ghee in Indian Food

Much to the frustration of vegans and people with milk allergies, avoiding ghee while traveling in India isn't easy. Many popular Indian foods are fattened and even 'blessed' with the sticky yellow butter, however, its use depends upon the discretion of the restaurant and varies from eatery to eatery.

A few popular Indian favorites usually containing ghee:

  • Roti and naan are sometimes brushed with ghee
  • Biryani Rice
  • Dosa
  • Parathas
  • Kadhi (chickpea gravy)
  • Many Indian sweets and cakes
  • Some daal/lentil soups
  • Potentially any dish calling for butter or cream

Dishes from the Punjabi region of India, particularly Amritsar and northwestern India, often contain generous amounts of ghee.

How to Avoid Ghee

If you are vegan, allergic to dairy products, or just want to avoid the concentrated saturated fat found in ghee, you can try asking for your food to be prepared without it; in reality, this may or may not be possible. Remember that the rules of saving face still apply and you may simply be told that your food is made without ghee to alleviate your worries.

The Hindi word for ghee is, of course, ghee. You can also try saying: mayng ghee na-heeng (I do not eat ghee). The word ghee can be substituted with mak-kan (butter) or dood (milk). Alternatively, you can also try saying: mu-je dood kee e-lar-jee hay (I am allergic to milk).

If in South India, the Tamil word for milk is paal.

Ghee Nutritional Facts

Although purported to have many health benefits, ghee is basically a form of pure fat.

One tablespoon of ghee contains:

  • Around 115 calories
  • 12.73 grams of fat
  • 7.9 grams of saturated fat
  • 33 milligrams of cholesterol
  • 1 milligram of potassium
  • .04 grams of protein

Interesting Facts About Ghee

  • Ghee doesn't have to be refrigerated, only stored in air-tight containers.
  • Ghee is often substituted for oil during deep frying because its smoke point is much higher (482 degrees Fahrenheit) than that of many oils.
  • Ghee is reported to help memory functions, ulcers, burn wounds, and even to slow cancer and certain diseases.
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