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Ghee: Indian-style Clarified Butter

Homemade dairy products, including ghee (right)Ghee - fully clarified butter - is an amazing substance. At room temperature ghee is semisoft and creamy. Melted, it pours like liquid gold. In fragrance ghee is sweet like caramel and more intense than butter. Because of its extraordinary taste, a little ghee goes a long way in flavour. Unlike butter, ghee can be stored at room temperature for months, and it can be heated to frying temperatures without burning.

The people of India have valued ghee for millennia, as they still do today. Ghee is the choice for classic dishes, it is essential for many aspects of temple worship, and Ayurvedic medicine praises it for health.

Some Facts about Ghee

Both Indian ghee and French clarified butter (beurre clarife) are made the same way, with only two small differences: Firstly Indian ghee is fully clarified whereas French clarified butter still retains a little water and butter solids. Secondly, when ghee is made, the butter is allowed to brown slightly, resulting in a more nutty flavour.

Ghee is made from unsalted butter, composed essentially of water, butterfat, and solids of the protein casein. To make ghee one slowly heats the butter until the water fully evaporates and the casein separates from the pure butterfat. French clarified butter, which still retains some water and casein, should be kept refrigerated to prevent spoilage.

Removing the casein from butter has the advantage of holding down cholesterol. Pure ghee contains no lactose or oxidized cholesterol. Though you're best off checking with your doctor, many lactose-intolerant people find little or no difficulty digesting ghee. Since ghee has no casein, it is similar to many nut or vegetable oils.

Ghee contains beta-carotene and vitamins A, D, E, and K. Beta carotene and vitamin E are both valuable antioxidants that help fight off disease and injury. Besides ghee, no edible fat except fish oil (if you consider that edible) contains vitamin A, which helps maintain good vision and keeps the outer lining of the eyeballs moist. Ghee contains four to five percent linoleic acid, which helps the body properly grow and develop. Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid often lacking in a vegetarian diet.

Modern research backs up the kitchen granny wisdom that mixing herbs and spices with ghee makes the herbs and spices more useful and beneficial. One or two daily teaspoons of ghee improve digestion, help assimilation, and nourish the brain. According to Caraka Samhita, an Ayurvedic text on health, ghee is "good for the eyes, stimulates digestion, supports skin glow, enhances memory and stamina, promotes longevity, and helps protect the body from various diseases."

Where and How to Use Ghee

Unlike butter, which burns at high temperatures, ghee can be used to saute, pan fry and deep fry at temperatures from 250 degrees to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use ghee in place of other fats in pastry dough to make the dough flaky. A little ghee jazzes up most plain foods. If you're trying to eat less fat, spray or barely drizzle warm ghee on plain steamed or baked vegetables. A few drops of ghee and freshly chopped herbs add a wonderful flavour garnish to unadorned fat-free soup, rice, pasta, or cooked beans.

Perhaps the most expressive use of ghee is in a seasoning called a chaunk or baghar. For a chaunk, ginger, chilies, and whole spice seeds are fried in small amounts of ghee until fragrant and added at either the start or the end of a dish. The possible flavours are virtually endless.

As well as being a popular choice for classic Indian and French dishes, ghee is also a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Ghee can be purchased at Indian or Middle Eastern grocery stores, or some well-stocked supermarkets.

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