Chances are you’ve heard of ghee at this point.
Whether you’ve seen it scrolling across your social feed or saw it in a recipe, it’s pretty clear that ghee is experiencing a surge in popularity.
But what makes ghee so different from butter? And is one better than the other?
In this article, I’m going to break down the difference between ghee and butter and shed some light on why each of them should hold a place in your kitchen.
Let’s start with the simple stuff – butter. Butter is made by churning cream until the fat separates from the solid. The solids are butter. Butter does have some water and dairy protein remaining, it is about 80% fat by volume.
Ghee is a form of clarified butter, a process where butter is heated at a low temperature to separate and remove excess liquid and dairy solids (*). As a result, pure butterfat remains. During this process, a caramelized, nutty, rich flavor develops.
The butter also changes from a pale to a deep yellow color. The resulting product is shelf-stable, has a higher smoke point (this means you can cook with it at higher temperatures) and, based on USDA food analysis, is a bit more nutrient-dense than butter.
The History of Ghee
Ghee has been used for thousands of years in the Indian culture. The origins of ghee have both historical and practical roots. The heat in India and other parts of southern Asia does not lend itself well to storing butter. Once the butter is processed into ghee, it has a longer shelf life.
Ghee is considered a sacred fat in Hindu mythology and is a pillar of sacred Hindu rituals even today. Prajapat, the god of offspring, is said to have created ghee by rubbing his hands together. When he poured the ghee onto the fire, he created the first offspring.
In Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient healing science from the eastern tradition, ghee is used to blend herbs for medicinal purposes.
The Benefits of Ghee
#1. Low in Dairy Protein and Lactose
Ghee has trace amounts of the dairy protein casein and milk sugar lactose. This is advantageous for those with an intolerance to dairy proteins or lactose as it is so low that most people with sensitivities tolerate it.
However, those who are highly sensitive or allergic should probably avoid it. Butter does not have much of either of these either but, if you’re sensitive, a little is problematic.
#2 Nutrient Dense
Because ghee has less water and protein than butter, the nutrients that hang out in fat, like Vitamins A, E, D, and K, are more concentrated (*).
Ghee also contains butyrate (*), a short-chained fatty acid that is found in animal milk as well as produced by intestinal bacteria in the digestion of carbohydrates.
It has a wide array of health benefits including reducing inflammation in the gut lining, nourishing and reinforcing the gut barrier and may play a role in the prevention of colon cancer (*).
Finally, ghee is a source of medium chain triglycerides (MCT). MCT’s are easier for the body to digest than other fats and are especially good for someone following a ketogenic diet as the body can convert them into ketones pretty efficiently.
Before we move on, you may be wondering what all these vitamins and other nutrients actually do for our bodies? Take a look at this quick simple summary of the nutrients and their function to wrap your brain around why we want to boost them in the diet.
Of course, these nutrients don’t have one singular function but the purpose here is to give you the basics and keep it simple.
|Bone health, blood clotting
|Skin health, protects cells from oxidative damage
|Bone health, immunity
|Anti-inflammatory, improve body composition by reducing body fat (*)
|Anti-inflammatory, supports gut health
#3 Shelf Stable
Ghee does not require refrigeration. Because it is newer to the US culinary and health food scene you may sometimes find it in the refrigerated section – mostly because some people just don’t know it doesn’t need to be kept cold!
Ghee will last about 3 months after the jar is opened. It’s best to store ghee (and other fats for that matter) away from light and heat to maximize nutrient density, quality, and shelf life.
#4 High Smoke Point
Removing the dairy proteins and lactose, gives ghee a higher smoke point than butter, 485 degrees Fahrenheit compared to 300 degrees, to be exact. This means you can cook with it at higher temperatures without fear of burning the fat or the rest of your dish. Burning fat and food cooked in fat doesn’t just taste bad, it’s also bad for your health.
Burning damages food, especially fats, and turns otherwise healthy food into something that is harmful to your health. Eating large amounts of burned or charred foods is associated with an increased risk for colon cancer.
#5 Rich Caramel Flavor
The process of making ghee creates a caramel-like flavor that adds richness to foods and beverages like bulletproof style coffee, curries, sauteed veggies, and soups.
#6 Transports Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble meaning they require fat for transportation through the body. Cooking or topping food with ghee ensures these vitamins are absorbed.
The Benefits of Butter
#1 Transports Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble meaning they require fat for transportation through the body. Cooking or topping food with butter ensures these vitamins are absorbed.
#2 Mild flavor
Butter has a milder flavor since it is churned rather than heated (like ghee) and doesn’t stand out as much as part of the flavor profile of a dish or beverage.
Butter and ghee have all the same nutrients but there is more water and dairy protein in butter so the nutrients are slightly lower.
So just like ghee, butter contains vitamins A, D, E and K as well as CLA and butyrate. There is some discrepancy in whether butter or ghee is higher in butyrate.
#4 Less expensive
In general butter is technically less expensive. This is because there is more water by volume and butter requires less processing (fewer steps, fewer resources = lower cost).
Whether using butter or ghee, always choose grass-fed when it’s an option.
Sure, you’ll be at a restaurant or neighborhood party and it may not be available but when it is – it’s absolutely worth it to choose grass-fed.
You’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat”, well this goes for animals as well as people! Animals that eat green plants (ie cows that eat grass, fish that eat algae, etc.) are higher in nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and the CLA I mentioned above (*).
The green plants have more nutrients per calorie than grains like corn or wheat.
As a result, the meat, dairy, eggs and any other byproduct of these animals are going to be higher in nutritional value. Like humans, grain fed cows are less healthy.
What About the Saturated Fat?
Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap for the last several decades but what we now know is that much of the research supporting the theory that saturated fat is bad for health is weak and more recent, well designed studies show that it does not increase risk of heart disease or death (*).
Saturated fats do play a role in good health, one of the biggest is raising levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and increasing the size of LDL particles (**). The small particles of LDL are the subtype of LDL that are most closely connected with heart disease.
In fact, the MCT’s I mentioned earlier are a saturated fat. MCT’s are more easily turned into ketones and used for fuel as compared to longer chain fats and have a number of health benefits as noted above.
Ghee vs Butter Comparison – Per 2 Tablespoons
Nutritional Data from the USDA Standard Reference Database and sourced through Cronometer
|786.4 IU (34% DV)
|709.1 IU (30% DV)
|3.3 IU (1% DV)
|2.9 IU (0% DV)
|0.7 mg (5% DV)
|0.7 mg (4% DV)
|2.2 μg (2%)
|2 μg (2%)
|Rich, nutty, caramel
*Nutrients are measured in different ways based upon their chemical composition and the origins of their discovery, g=grams, IU = International Units, mg = milligrams, μg = microgram
Cooking with Ghee
Ghee can easily be swapped for any oil or butter in cooking. Because of its high smoke point its ideal for high heat recipes like roasting or pan-frying foods like meat, vegetables, and eggs. Ghee also blends well into hot liquids like coffee and tea for a foamy, frothy, latte like beverage.
Because ghee is higher in fat than milk, blended coffee with ghee is more satisfying and provides more energy than a traditional latte. Many people use ghee in morning beverages to simulate fasting without hunger. Because there aren’t any carbs in ghee, the body is sort of tricked into thinking it is fasting.
Where to Buy Butter and Ghee
Butter is typically sold in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. As discussed earlier, make sure to look for grass-fed butter. While organic butter does come from cows that eat grass, the labeling standards for using the terms “grass-fed” on the packaging are higher.
Anymore you don’t need to go to a fancy health food store to get grass-fed butter, in fact you can get it at most grocery stores.
Ghee is shelf-stable (hopefully, you’ve gotten that concept at this point!) so you can buy it through online retailers and specialty food companies or you can buy it at the grocery store.
Ghee should be on the shelf with other oils however, many grocery stores still put it near the butter. So, if you’re having trouble locating it, make sure to look in the dairy case.
Some good brands of ghee include Organic Valley Farms and Fourth & Heart. For butter, Kerrygold is my favorite.
How to Make Ghee
If you want to save some money, try making ghee at home. It’s simple. Here’s how:
1. Heat butter on medium low until it starts to separate
2. Skim the whey off top
3. Cook until it’s clear and all milk solids sink to the bottom
4. Let it cool and strain through a cheese cloth
Voila. One of the most nutritious foods in the world. It’s time to throw those vegetable oils in the trash.
The Take Home
Both grass-fed ghee and butter are nutritional powerhouses for the diet. Both have a place in the kitchen – butter in the refrigerator and ghee in the pantry.
While ghee can be used interchangeably in both low and high-temperature cooking, butter should be reserved for dishes cooked under 300 degrees F.
While ghee has slightly more nutritional value, the differences aren’t huge. The largest benefit of using ghee is that it is dairy protein and lactose-free.
So, if that is a concern for you choose ghee, if not use whichever you prefer for low temperatures and ghee for higher temperature cooking.