I love fat, and every two weeks or so I devote a little time to making my favorite type of it. For 15 minutes, I’m engrossed in the essential ritual of standing lovingly over a pot of delicious, bubbling butter, savoring the popcorn aromas and listening acutely for that vital moment when the ghee tells me it’s ready. I grab it off the stove and strain it immediately through cheesecloth into a glass jar, let it cool, then store it for daily use in cooking over the days to come. Contrary to what you may think, I’m at a healthy weight, and I don’t have high cholesterol.
Ghee is purified butter and is used commonly in India. While in the West we’ve had a complicated relationship with fat and butter over the past 30 years — resulting in that odd stepchild, margarine, that no one likes to mention — its benefits have been extolled by Ayurveda since time immemorial. The Charaka Samhita, a centuries-old Ayurvedic text, says, “Out of all the oils fit for human consumption, ghee is the best to eat,” and this healthy fat is used as both food and medicine to nourish the body’s tissues, cleanse toxins, improve eye health, lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and promote general vitality.
I was first introduced to ghee as a child, when my mum discovered the benefits of Ayurveda and started preparing it for our family. I loved coming home from school to its rich, inimitable aroma. Last year, when I was studying at AVN Narogya Ayurvedic Hospital in Madurai, India, patients were frequently placed on a ghee cleanse during their panchakarma treatments.
The idea of using fat to detox is so far removed from Western reasoning that it seems at first to defy logic. But recently, studies have shown that the Ayurvedic methodology holds true — the best way to remove fat-soluble toxins from the tissues (think heavy metals from fertilizers that leach into vegetables from the soil) is with fat itself. The more popular modern fruit and water-based cleanses can at best remove only water-soluble toxins, and worse, a diet lacking in fat can be detrimental to your brain health.
And the final selling point: fat, as they say, makes flavor. The reason curries at the Indian restaurant always taste better than your own? Ghee is used as the primary oil for Indian cooking.
Though you can easily buy ghee in many supermarkets, I recommend making your own. It’s enjoyable, easy, cheaper, and your housemates will love the smell!
1 lb. unsalted organic butter
1 clean, airtight glass container
1 clean white cotton handkerchief or cheesecloth
Place one pound of unsalted organic butter in a deep stainless steel pot over a medium heat — stay close at all times! Have a sieve lined with the cheesecloth and the clean glass container ready.
In a couple of minutes, the butter will come to a boil. Let it continue to boil over a medium-low heat. It will make a satisfying bubbling sound and your kitchen will fill with the smell of popcorn. A foam will appear on top of the ghee, which will cook off.
In 7-10 minutes (times vary depending on stove and thickness of pan), the bubbling sound will change distinctly to an occasional crackle. The ghee will be golden and at the bottom of the pan you will see brown solids forming at the bottom of the pot.
Immediately remove the ghee from the heat and pour it through the cheesecloth into the glass container. Allow it to cool, screw on the lid, and store at room temperature or refrigerate. Use it as a cooking oil, spread it on toast, or even add a scoop to your steamed veggies to ensure every meal has a healthy fat component.