Ghee and butter look similar, taste similar, and are sold next to each other in grocery stores, but there are some big differences between ghee vs. butter. Ghee, an Indian version of clarified butter, has been touted as a healthy alternative to butter. But is that really the case? We went straight to the experts—Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RD and owner of Millennial Nutrition and Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN of Maya Feller Nutrition— to find out.
What’s the Difference Between Ghee vs. Butter?
Butter comes in many varieties—salted and unsalted, cultured and uncultured, American and European, low butterfat content, and high butterfat content. The specific type of butter you use will depend on your personal preference, price point, and what the recipe you’re cooking from recommends. Butter has a low smoke point of about 250°F, which means it is less ideal for frying and searing and better as a flavorful fat in recipes.
Ghee is an Indian variety of clarified butter, a process that involves melting regular butter, evaporating the water content, and removing the milk solids until all that’s left is pure butterfat. Ghee is a more flavorful version of clarified butter due to a nutty, caramel essence that is achieved by browning the milk solids before straining them out of the butter. The milk solids are also what causes regular butter to have a low smoke point; by removing them, the smoke point of ghee is raised to about 400°F, which does make it suitable for cooking at a high heat.
While ghee is a product derived from regular butter, it has a different nutritional profile than butter because the milk solids and casein are removed. This step allows ghee to be a suitable butter substitute for individuals with lactose intolerance.
Is Ghee Healthier Than Butter?
Butter is well known for its association with high cholesterol due to its hefty saturated fat content, according to the American Heart Association. While ghee is a lactose- and casein-free fat and therefore beneficial for those with dairy sensitivities, it is still a fat. “Just as with butter, you do need to consider the amount you eat,” says Barkyoumb. “Too much total fat—whether monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, or saturated—can increase health risks such as heart disease.”
Additionally, when you compare the nutritional numbers of ghee vs. butter, butter comes out slightly better. “Ghee has a slightly higher concentration of fat than butter and more calories (1 Tbsp. of ghee has 120 calories and 1 Tbsp. of butter has 100 calories),” Barkyoumb adds.
The hype around the health benefits of ghee dates back to Ayurvedic medicine. Individuals who practiced Ayurveda, mainly in India, believe ghee to have gut cleansing, immune system boosting, and internal healing benefits. This belief stems from the fact that true ghee following ancient traditions is made with yogurt-like cultures, which have probiotics. However, most brands of ghee that are sold in commercial grocery stores and cooked at home are not made with cultures, therefore decreasing its health benefits.
So, who is ghee recommended for? “If someone is looking for a lower lactose product, ghee would be the better alternative for them,” says Feller. “If someone is following a prescribed ketogenic diet, ghee would be a better choice due to the higher fat content.” (This ghee butter is both keto and paleo friendly, amazon.com, $10.) However, “if someone is looking for a less energy dense and lower fat product, butter would be the better option,” she adds.
How to Cook with Ghee
Barkyoumb uses ghee in moderation but does enjoy drizzling ghee over vegetables like brussels sprouts before roasting. “It caramelizes and makes a delicious side dish!” she says. “Melted ghee drizzled on popcorn is also a favorite treat.”
On the other hand, Feller prefers skipping saturated fats altogether and instead uses a variety of plant-based oils for cooking.
Curious to try ghee for yourself? Drizzle it on our Za’atar Popcorn in place of, or in addition to, coconut oil for added flavor. For individuals following the keto diet, try using ghee in our recipe for Salmon, Green Beans, and Avocado
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