Yoga Food, Nutrition, & Recipes

Why You Should Be Eating Ghee, Plus How to Make It

According to Ayurveda, ghee, or clarified butter, has the healing benefits of butter without the impurities. Learn how it can fight inflammation, promote flexibility, enhance digestion, bolster the immune system, and more.

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The Health Benefits of Ghee.

Your yoga teacher says a little ghee will help loosen up tight hamstrings, and your Ayurvedic physician recommends ghee for a host of ailments ranging from poor digestion to memory loss. But what is this liquid gold and how does it differ from regular butter?

What Is Ghee?

Ayurveda places ghee, or clarified butter, at the top of the oily foods list, as it has the healing benefits of butter without the impurities (saturated fat, milk solids). 

Ghee is made by heating unsalted butter until it clarifies into its separate components: lactose (sugar), milk protein, and fat. Over a low flame, the moisture is removed, and the sugar and protein separate into curds that sink to the bottom and are later discarded, Suzanne VanGilder reports in Gold Standard.

In India, ghee is a sacred symbol of auspiciousness used medicinally as well as in cooking, VanGilder reports. It also makes appearances in ancient texts including the Mahabharata, in which it is described as an essence flowing through and sustaining the world.

The Health Benefits of Ghee

The Sushruta Samhita, an Ayurvedic classic, claims ghee is beneficial for the whole body, and recommends it as the ultimate remedy for problems stemming from the pitta dosha, such as inflammation.

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. Traditionally, the preparation has been used to promote memory, intelligence, quantity and quality of semen, and to enhance digestion. Modern science tells us that ghee also harbors phenolic antioxidants, which bolster the immune system.

Ghee is believed to assist with digestion by allowing food to be broken down more efficiently, by stimulating digestive enzymes, Linda Knittel reports in Benefits of Ghee: Why You Should Add It to Your Diet.

In Ayurveda, ghee is also believed to enhance ojas, or “life energy.”

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

Even better than ghee is aged ghee—up to 100 years—which treats alcoholism, epilepsy, fever, and vaginal pain, according to Ayurvedic physician Robert Svoboda. Medicated ghee (ghrita in Sanskrit), meanwhile, combines clarified butter with healing herbs. 

Ghee’s benefits extend to topical use as well. Ayurvedic beauty expert Pratima Raichur suggests it as a massage base to calm sensitive pitta-type skin. The Indian Materia Medica, a widely respected source book for Ayurvedic remedies, recommends ghee, sometimes mixed with honey, as an application for wounds, inflammation, and blisters.

Ghee also contains known vitamin E and beta carotene, which are known antioxidants.

Recipe: How to Make Ghee

You’ll find ghee at the health food store, but it’s easy to make. Place 1 to 2 pounds of butter in a saucepan on low heat. Melt until white curds separate and sink to the bottom. When a drop of water flicked into the pan boils immediately, the ghee is done. Discard the curds and store in a jar. If kept out of contact with water, ghee needs no refrigeration for 12 months, though some people prefer to refrigerate it. 

Ghee is not often recommended for cooking, because it is considered too heavy and heat can alter its chemical structure. Essential Ayurveda author Krishan adds one to two teaspoons per day to her meals, stirring a teaspoon into freshly cooked rice, spreading it on toast, or using it to top a baked potato. Or you could take 2 teaspoons per day as a supplement.

You could also blend a teaspoon of ghee into your tea, coffee, oatmeal, or smoothie, or use melted ghee instead of butter to top popcorn or sautéed veggies, according to John Douillard, co-leader of Yoga Journal’s Ayurveda 101 online course.

Just remember that ghee is fat, and only a certain amount of total fat is necessary in the diet. If you use ghee, reduce your total fat intake proportionately. 

Just remember that ghee is fat, and only a certain amount of total fat is necessary in the diet. If you use ghee, reduce your total fat intake proportionately.

See also 6 Creative Ways to Add Ghee to Your Diet