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What Is Ghee, Really?

Ghee has been around for thousands of years, but it’s recently regained popularity in the health world. (We’re talking coconut oil-level popularity, people.) Let’s start with the basics.

What Is It?

If you’re into Whole30 or the paleo lifestyle, or if you eat a lot of Indian food (in which ghee is often used), you may already be familiar with ghee.

Ghee is clarified butter, essentially. “Ghee is made by slowly melting butter and bringing it to a boil,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Nutrition Starring You. “The water evaporates and milk solids separate and can be strained out, leaving behind a golden liquid that solidifies when cooled.”

Ghee has a much higher smoke point than regular butter, so you can use it as a replacement for refined vegetables oils (like corn, peanut, soybean and canola oil) that are often used for pan-searing or frying, says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. (Butter will start to smoke around 250 degrees, while these oils don’t smoke until around 350, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. If you prefer butter to oil, using ghee for high-heat cooking is a good way to avoid setting off the smoke detectors…oops.)

Is Ghee Better Than Butter?

While ghee gets love from many health gurus, there’s no research to suggest any noteworthy benefits of ghee, says White.

Nutritionally, ghee is a more concentrated source of fat because the milk solids and water found in unclarified butter have been removed, White explains.

A teaspoon of ghee contains 45 calories, five grams of total fat, and three grams of saturated fat, while a teaspoon of butter contains 34 calories, four grams of total fat, and two grams of saturated fat.

“Since ghee is a source of saturated fat, it should be used in limited quantities,” says White. He warns that too much saturated fat can contribute to weight gain and issues related to heart health, and that it should be limited to less than 10 percent of our daily calories.

Harris-Pincus suggests working with a registered dietitian to manage the saturated fat elsewhere in your diet if you’re interested in incorporating ghee regularly.

A Note On Dairy

Some people believe that ghee is better than butter for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies because it’s had the milk solids removed. However, ghee is still dairy-derived, so those with milk allergies still need to avoid it, says White. But since butter and ghee are both quite low in lactose, either is generally safe for someone with lactose intolerance, adds Harris-Pincus.

Related: An Ode To Egg Yolks—Yes, You Should Be Eating Them

But ‘Ghee’ Sounds Cool And You Still Want To Use It!

Like any fat, ghee is OK to consume in moderation. Plus, it’s rich, nutty flavor can give your dishes a little more oomph than many other cooking oils. White recommends swapping ghee for refined vegetable oils when frying, stir-frying or sautéing, or adding it fresh herbs and spice rubs for meat or fish.

“Basically anywhere you would use butter, ghee will work,” says Harris-Pincus. “You probably won’t need as much ghee as you would butter since the flavor is a bit more concentrated.”

Just remember that the extra flavor comes with extra calories and fat, so less is more.

Related: Shop a variety of healthy oils.

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