To Ghee or Not to Ghee

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According to the Sushruta Samhita, an <a href="/health/ayurveda">Ayurvedic text, ghee is beneficial for the whole body and the ultimate anti-inflammatory. However, research has not been done in the West to back up these claims. "As far as I know there is no physiological research about ghee," says Jeffrey Migdow, M.D., holistic doctor at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. "Basically it's just a form of fat in terms of American medical research. From my experience as a yoga practitioner, yoga teacher, and physician, I've seen that ghee can be very helpful for balancing the excess heat that comes up in intense sadhana [spiritual discipline]. According to yogic scriptures, it helps cool the fire element that gets stimulated."

Traditionally, ghee has also been used to boost memory and intelligence, anoint joints, and aid digestion. Long a favorite of yoga practitioners, ghee lubricates the connective tissues and promotes flexibility, says Dr. Vasant Lad, director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ghee can also be used topically to soothe blisters, heal wounds, and calm irritated skin.You can take two teaspoons of ghee per day as a supplement or simply use it in your cooking.

Ghee can be found at the health food store, but it's also easy to make. Here's a recipe from Miriam Kasin Hospodar's cookbook Heaven's Banquet: Vegetarian Cooking for Lifelong Health the Ayurveda Way (Dutton, 1999). Ghee is made by simmering butter until the water evaporates and the solids separate from the oil. The solids are then strained out, and the pure, golden oil that remains is ghee. Two pounds of butter yield approximately 1 1/2 pounds of ghee. Always use unsalted butter. Slow cooking over very low heat allows the milk sugar to caramelize and is the secret to spectacular ghee. Because it takes a long time, it is best to make large amounts. Don't go for any less than one pound of butter; smaller amounts burn easily. One pound of butter takes under an hour to prepare. Use the heaviest pot you can find. Placing a heat diffuser on the burner is also helpful. Do not stir cooking ghee. One Ayurvedic recommendation that differs from other methods of ghee preparation is to refrain from skimming off the foam that forms at the top during cooking. This foam has medicinal properties. Leaving it on requires an extra measure of alertness when the end of cooking is in sight, to ensure that the solids don't burn.

1. Melt the butter over low heat in an uncovered pot with high sides. Make sure the pot is completely dry before adding the butter and allow some room at the top for the butter to bubble up and foam.

2. Turn the heat as low as possible and cook the butter until it is clear and golden. Do not skim off the foam. The solids may brown, but take care that they don't burn. Check the butter frequently. If it starts to darken, remove from heat.

3. Line a large sieve with three layers of clean cotton cloth. Pocket handkerchiefs work well, as do pieces of unbleached muslin. Set the lined sieve over a pot and pour the ghee through it while still hot. Carefully transfer the ghee to clean glass jars with lids. Ghee keeps for two months without refrigeration, but it can go rancid in warmer weather.