Cultured Ghee

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photography: William & Susan Brinson

from What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen (copyright Rizzoli)

If I had to choose one staple I couldn’t go without, that would be ghee. It is the magical golden substance that makes everything cook well and taste better. Ghee has been glorified throughout the Vedas, used through centuries in cooking and yogic rituals, and included in numerous Ayurvedic remedies. I am so glad that more and more nutritionists and naturopaths today value ghee’s nurturing properties and recommend it as an essential component of a healthy diet.

Ghee is the deeply nourishing core essence of milk. It has all the micronutrients and antioxidants of butter but without butter’s water, milk protein (casein), and lactose. I’ve met many lactose-intolerant people who do not react to ghee. In fact, cultured ghee helped them repair their gut damage.

There are two types of ghee, depending on how its starting ingredient, butter, is derived: 1) from sweet cream, and 2) from cultured cream. The first type I call “regular” ghee—it is higher in cholesterol and it increases body fat; it is the ghee widely sold and used today. The second type, known as “cultured” or “probiotic” ghee, decreases bad cholesterol and regulates fat metabolism; it is really the best ghee to cook with, but it is harder to find. What distinguishes cultured ghee from even organic store-bought products is the culturing of cream as the first step. The culture infuses the cream or butter with beneficial bacteria, making it easier to digest and thus promoting overall health.

Chemically, ghee is the end result of a clarification process beginning with butter’s three main components: water, milk fat solids, and butter oil. As the butter simmers, the water evaporates, and the nutrients, transfer from the milk fat solids to the butter oil. Once the butter oil clears, it is strained to separate it from the milk fat solids, and the end result is called ghee.

The subtlest requirement for ghee making is a proper environment because ghee is highly absorbent, both physically and energetically. Make your “ghee kitchen” a clean and peaceful space; you may even play a continuous recording of sacred music or chants. Make ghee when you feel happy and settled, free from negative thoughts. Some healers recommend making therapeutic ghee during a waxing moon or a few hours before the full moon, when nurturing energy in the environment is on the rise.

In this recipe, I want to share the traditional secrets for making cultured ghee that I have learned from my one of my Ayurvedic teachers, Vaidya R. K. Mishra. The process of churning your own butter and transforming it into “liquid gold” is not only alchemical; it is truly magical. Note that there are so many ways you can cut corners when making ghee, but if you want the best, curative product, make it without compromise. If you are unable to make your own cultured butter, you can follow my Quick Ghee Making guidelines below using store-bought cultured butter. Making ghee may seem intimidating at first, but with practice it becomes easy and enjoyable. Keep in mind that the larger the quantity, the longer the cooking time.

Makes about 20 ounces ghee

  • 4 pints raw or pasteurized organic, grass-fed heavy whipping cream (do not use ultrapasteurized)
  • 1 cup plain, full-fat organic yogurt or 2 teaspoons Natren yogurt starter

Utensils and equipment:

  • Food processor fitted with the “S” blade or standing mixer set with the wire beaters (a blender does not work well for butter churning)
  • Sieve
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • Rubber scraper
  • Heavy 3- or 4-quart pan that heats evenly on all sides
  • Wooden cooking spoon
  • Dry cheesecloth or flour sack towel
  • Dry sieve and a bowl
  • Jars for storing

Culturing the cream
Follow the instructions for making Yogurt, but substitute heavy whipping cream for the whole milk. Let the cultured cream chill completely. You will be tempted to stop there and indulge with the delicious, custard-like cream-yogurt—taste a teaspoon as an educational experience, but keep going!

Churning cultured cream into butter
The quantity of cultured cream you churn at a time depends on the volume capacity of the appliance you’re using. Whether churning with a food processor or a standing mixer, fill it with cream-yogurt halfway and turn it onto one of the highest speeds. Within a minute (or a couple of minutes, depending on the volume), the cream-yogurt will transform into thick whipped cream that will gradually loosen up and become sloshy. At this point, turn to the lowest speed (if that’s an option). As it keeps churning and looks more and more buttery, gradually lower the speed to the lowest setting, when the cream breaks and you hear a splashing sound. Now you have produced two marvelous products: the fresh butter and buttermilk. When they have fully separated and the butter clusters into a ball, turn off the churning device.

Transfer the churned butter to a sieve over a mixing bowl. Press the butter between your hands to press and squeeze out the buttermilk as much as possible. You may be tempted to slather some gleaming butter on toast right now, yes? Be patient; you’re not done yet.

Cooking butter into ghee
Place the fresh butter in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot; turn on the burner to the lowest possible setting. Stir occasionally as the butter melts and starts to bubble. Notice how the three components of butter begin to separate: water will be on the bottom, butterfat will take up most of the pot, and milk fat solids will mostly rise to the top. As the temperature rises to 200°F, the separation will become more and more distinct; the water will bubble up, maybe with a few eruptions. Many cooks skim the foam on top to speed up their ghee making—that’s not the traditional way; it’s best let the foam disappear naturally.

Stir the pot occasionally in order to avoid sediment burning and to help the water evaporate. Thermodynamic physicists will explain why the butter oil resists serious heating until the water is gone. For us cooks, we’re happy as long as the butter is cooking without burning.

When the solids have more or less settled to the bottom (as opposed to floating around), stop stirring from the bottom up. Let the milk fat solids rest at the bottom. Because the water is reduced, the temperature rises faster and the butterfat begins to lose its cloudiness; the large bubbles you saw earlier have turned into thin foam.

The ghee is ready when the butter oil is clear, amber color, and the solids you see on the bottom of the pan are consistent golden brown. You should be able to clearly see the bottom of the pan. Light tan or blackish solids are not good signs. If the solids are mostly tan, keep the ghee in the refrigerator between uses. If the solids have become black, you’ve scorched the ghee and all its healing properties—remorsefully, you will have to discard it.

Straining the ghee
Fold cheesecloth into 8 layers (2 layers if using flour sack towel) and place it in a strainer atop a mixing bowl. From now on, all utensils the ghee comes in contact with must be completely dry, as moisture will spoil the ghee. Carefully pour or ladle the hot ghee through the cheesecloth. You want to do this quickly. If the temperature drops below 200°F, the fatty nutrients so important to the ghee begin to crystallize. Discard the strained solids. To clean and reuse the cheesecloth, soak it in boiling hot water with soap; hand-wash while the soapy water is still warm.

Let the ghee cool for a few minutes, allowing for any air molecules to dissipate. Pour the ghee into glass jars. Put the lids on only when the jars have cooled to room temperature in order to avoid condensation falling in the ghee. Transfer the closed jars to the refrigerator—this will prevent the formation of layers. Once the ghee has solidified, transfer the jars to a dry and dark space such as a cabinet.

Storing the ghee:
Ghee has a long shelf life at room temperature, generally weeks or months, but it’s best to keep the unused jars refrigerated and the jar you’re currently cooking with in the cabinet. Store it in the dark between meals and protect it from even a drop of moisture.

Quick Ghee Making
I am aware that most cooks do not have the time, patience, or motivation to churn their own butter from cultured cream. Quick Ghee is the next best option, but unfortunately it will not grant you the benefit of fresh buttermilk as a by-product. Purchase organic, grass-fed, unsalted cultured butter (Organic Valley’s is excellent) and follow the above instructions for cooking butter into ghee. You can make ghee with regular sweet cream butter, but it will be lacking the probiotic goodness and it will be higher in cholesterol. Whatever butter you use, make sure it is unsalted and organic, ideally grass-fed.

Related:
General Guidelines for Cooking with Ghee
The Ghee Controversy: Good or Bad Fat?
The Healing Benefits of Cultured Ghee

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10 replies
  1. Ravi
    Ravi says:

    Do you sell this cultured Ghee? I’m very interested in buying it online and having it shipped to where in live in Colorado. Unfortunately don’t have enough time or would attempt to make it on my own. Loving your website by the way! Took a course with Vaidya Mishra ji back in 2008 while I was in college and loved every minute. Miss him dearly.

    Reply
  2. CJ
    CJ says:

    You said:
    “(regular) ghee—it is higher in cholesterol and it increases body fat; it is the ghee widely sold and used today. The second type, known as “cultured” or “probiotic” ghee, decreases bad cholesterol and regulates fat metabolism.”

    Where did you get this information and how exactly is this true? Cultured or not, it’s still primarily butterfat with the same cholesterol and calories.

    Reply
    • Divya Alter
      Divya Alter says:

      Hi Christopher, thank you for your great question.

      I’m a scientist to provide you with exact scientific evidence, but I can refer you to Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum’s article, as she does a lot of research. To quickly summarize in simple words, the friendly bacteria in the cultured cream break the butter fat down into smaller particles so cultured ghee can be more readily absorbed across the cell walls. Cultured ghee is thus lighter and easier to digest (than common ghee); it’s also much better tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant. Ghee contains the shortest chain monounsaturated fatty acids (easy to digest). In general, ghee is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is known to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Cultured ghee from grass-fed cows has almost twice as much CLA as common ghee. Cultured ghee is a great source for good cholesterol, much needed for the proper function of our brain, liver, cell walls, and hormones. Hope this satisfies your curiosity!

      Reply
      • CJ
        CJ says:

        I’ve read the article and Vaidya Mishra made many claims but has no documentation to back it up. I’ve made a request for those documents. We shall see if he actually can support his claims.
        I noticed in another comment that you were pointing readers to purchase Vaidya Mishra’s Mom’s Ghee. Vaidya Mishra is making “claims” of the huge health benefits of cultured Ghee… which you confirmed is a product his mother is selling. This looks like a conflict of interest and definitely makes me question his claims. Where do you fit into this? Are you receiving monetary gains from promoting this Ghee? Are you in any way affiliated with Vaidya Mishra and his mother?

        Reply
        • Divya Alter
          Divya Alter says:

          With respect, you have misunderstood, CJ. Mom’s Ghee is a brand name of pure cultured ghee that I recommend my readers to purchase when they don’t have the time to make it themselves. I simply want to help my readers find high quality cultured ghee, and I do not receive any monetary gain in this. Vaidya Mishra is deceased. Here are just a few of many research articles on the benefits of cultured ghee (aka “desi ghee”):

          Wadodkar, Day R., Evaluation of volatile compounds in different types of ghee using direct injection with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, Journal of Dairy Research, (Cambridge University Press), Volume 69, Issue 1, February 2002, pp. 163-171

          Joshi, Kalpana S., Docosahexaenoic acid content is significantly higher in ghrita (ghee) prepared by traditional Ayurvedic method (from cultured cream), Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 2014, 5 (2), 85

          Nawaz, Hina Ali H., Saleem, M, Nurjis, F, Ahmed, M, Qualitative analysis of desi ghee, edible oils, and spreads using Raman spectroscopy, Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 2016, 47 6 706-711

          Reply
  3. Agnes Marie
    Agnes Marie says:

    Hi Divya,

    My mother in law sent me your cookbook and I’ve been wanting to do your cultured ghee recipe, but I am not sure I understand it correctly: In the first step of culturing the cream, do I go through all the steps to make yogurt (including adding the starter and incubating the yogurt?) or do I stop after step 2 (“cooling the milk”).
    Thanks in advance for your feedback,
    Agnes

    Reply
    • Divya Alter
      Divya Alter says:

      Hi Agnes,
      Yes, the first step of making cultured ghee is to culture the cream by following the steps of making yogurt (cooling, adding starter, incubating, refrigerating). It’s the same as making yogurt but instead of milk you’re using heavy cream. Once your cultured cream has chilled fully, you go to the next step: churning the cultured cream into butter, then cook that butter into ghee. Have fun with the process!

      Reply

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