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Pass the Ghee, Please

Ghee, or clarified butter, is a simple, powerful tonic used to nourish and heal the body.

By Linda Knittel

It is difficult for most Americans to believe that a little fat in their diets can be healthy, let alone be considered good medicine. In Ayurveda, however, pure clarified butter, known as ghee, is one of the most powerful tonics. It is used to heal wounds, improve digestion, fight free radicals, and boost the immune system. Ghee is also believed to enhance one's ojas, or "life energy."

"For centuries, ghee has been considered a rasayana, which means a healing food that balances both body and mind," says Shubhra Krishan, author of Essential Ayurveda.

And ghee has science on its side. "Most of the digestive enzymes are fat-soluble, and their precursor is fat," says Jay Apte of the Ayurvedic Institute of America in Foster City, California. "Since ghee is 100 percent pure fat, it stimulates those enzymes, allowing food to be broken down more efficiently." Building on this idea, Ayurvedic practitioners often use ghee as a base in their herbal formulations. For example, the preparation pancha pikta ghrita combines five bitter herbs with ghee in order to quickly and evenly deliver herbal healing deep into the body's lipid-based cell walls. Ghee can help protect those cells as well. Two of its ingredients—vitamin E and beta-carotene—are known antioxidants, so it can be categorized as a free-radical fighter.

Ghee is not something you want to overconsume, though, especially if you have weight or cholesterol issues. "We need fat in small amounts to stay healthy, and Ayurvedic physicians recommend consuming ghee in very small quantities," explains Krishan, who adds one to two teaspoons per day to her meals.

Although ghee is simply butter with the sugar and protein solids removed, it is not often recommended for cooking, because it is considered too heavy and heat can alter its chemical structure. Instead, Krishan suggests stirring a teaspoon into freshly cooked rice, spreading a bit on toast, or using it to top a baked potato.

Ghee can be found in most health food stores and specialty markets, but it is easy to make at home and keeps well. Melt one pound of organic, unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered and unstirred for 45 to 60 minutes. Once the water is gone and the milk solids have settled to the bottom, ghee will appear as a transparent, pale golden liquid on top. Immediately strain it into a clean jar. Ghee stays fresh for weeks (some say up to a year) at room temperature.

Linda Knittel is a nutritional anthropologist, freelance writer, and coauthor of The Soy Sensation.

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Reader Comments


@ Mikko - If you want to use science as your supportive stone, then I can say the same goes for the recommendations given by the government and public health agencies regarding cholesterol. Over the years, they have misconstrued and manipulated data in every which way to make citizens believe that fat, especially saturated fat, is harmful. They created these cholesterol claims based on HYDROGENATED vegetable oils, which to this day, have been shown to be deleterious to health. But now, most researchers are abandoning this 'myth'. There is SUBSTANTIAL evidence showing that saturated fats, in the presence of MODERATE carbohydate intake (below the AHA recommended 45-65% of daily calories), actually have favorable effects on cholesterol. SFA do indeed raise LDL-C, but if seeing SFA in light of research done on LDL-C particle size, you'll come to realize that SFA tend to increase the size of LDL-C, which is a good thing. Not to mention SFA decrease triglyceride levels, which are by far a better predictor of cardiovascular health. Read up on Ronald Krauss, the researcher who was one of the first to begin studying LDL-C particle size; the Great Fat Debate, a roundtable of Walter Willeet and Dariush Mozaffarian; Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov.

There is a reason that ghee, coconut oil, palm oil, butter, and pretty much any other FOOD has been used in cultures for eons. Populations believed in the nourishing effects of these foods. However, the prevalence of these foods is dwindling, and polyunsaturated fats such as corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean oils are taking their place. Guess who was partly responsible for our misinformed impression on vegetable oils? Scientific literature. Real food is being pushed off the table by man-made food.


Mikko - I am one of those healed by the miracles of ayurveda and yoga as they go hand in hand. They have been practised for over 5000 years and as you said they are based on old religious scriptures but are based on experienced and utter observations. For more information please read this article.


I don't think there is too much scientific evidence to validate these kinds of suggestions to include butter (clarified or not) in one's dietary regimen. It seems to me somewhat irresponsible for someone to give such recommendations based on few dodgy literary sources, some of which are older than old.

How many people you know that have actually been healed from a serious illness by ayurvedic healers? I know or have heard of none.

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