For many decades we have been hearing of the need to eat a low fat diet for good health from food manufacturers, government, and weight loss experts. The paradigm appears to be shifting with increasing evidence that dietary fat is not to be blamed for America’s health problems. Regardless of the origins of this low fat theory and the final outcome of this fifty-year experiment, I think the term low fat is overly simplistic and confusing to many people. First consider that the three primary macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Certainly we don’t believe that one of the three macronutrients should be removed from our diets, do we? Second, there are obviously many different types of fats with some being better than others. Much of what makes a type of fat good for cooking or eating depends on the fat’s chemical structure, how it is processed, and how it is cooked. Some of the better fats are those that are relatively stable, those that are extracted from their source using minimal processing, and those that are able to withstand a higher temperature during cooking. In Ayurveda coconut and sesame oil are very popular oils used for cooking, externally on the skin, or as carriers of medicinal herbs.
Ghee is perhaps the food most representative of Ayurveda and is used extensively for it’s nourishing benefits. Ghee is simply butter with the water removed through evaporation and the solids removed through filtration. Yes, you read that correctly; I am advising you to eat butter. However, with the solids and water removed, the remaining pure butterfat is considered to be a completely different food with qualities that ordinary butter cannot claim. As a side note, in Ayurveda blanket statements are rarely made, and there are certain cases when ghee is not best for all. Anybody who reads food labels knows that there are many to recognize and understand these days, and when making ghee finding the ideal butter with the correct labels can be very challenging depending on where you live. In order from most to least necessary, the labels you need to look for when buying butter are as follows: unsalted, cultured, grass fed, and organic. If you can find all four of those labels from a local family farm then congratulations, you have access to a perfect source of butter. In Ayurveda ghee is always made from unsalted butter, and butter was traditionally made by fermenting raw cream, also known as buttermilk. Before the arrival of modern day factory farms raw cream always came from small family farms where animals were able to access pasture and eat grass. These animals were raised using methods similar to what we now refer to as organic. Though this might all seem like a nostalgic view of an agricultural system that no longer exists, the reality is that these products do still exist if you look hard enough, and the more people look the more farmers will begin to supply the demand. Again, meet as many of the four labels as is practical, and let’s move on to the recipe:
I usually prepare six pounds of butter, but you could make as little as a pound. Bring the butter to a light boil in a pot, and then reduce the heat to a very low simmer. After 30-45 minutes the butter should change from cloudy to clear. After 45-60 minutes watch carefully for signs that the ghee is ready, and avoid burning it. As the water evaporates there should be a point where if you look close enough there will no longer be any steam coming off the surface, don’t mistake smoke for steam. You should see foam on the surface and solids at the bottom. Another sign would be that the color changes from light golden to amber; the degree of darkness is based on your preference. When the ghee is ready turn off the stove and allow it to cool a bit. After cooling, slowly pour the ghee through a very fine strainer; I use a stainless steel loose-leaf tea filter. You could also skim the foam off the surface before pouring if you want. I pour my ghee into glass canning jars. Avoid storing your ghee in the refrigerator by always using a clean, dry spoon to scoop the ghee out of the jar.
I use ghee for everything from adding to my oatmeal, to frying an egg, to drizzling over steamed broccoli. Don’t be afraid of fat, give it a try, and for the less adventurous they do sell ghee in a jar.