"Ghee" is the Sanskrit word for clarified butter. Since butter is simply churned cream, butter, like cream, contains a small amount of milk protein and lactose in addition to its main constituent: fat. Butter fat itself is very similar to storage fat in wild game mammals.
An analysis by Cordain and colleagues found wild game storage fat is 60 to 65 percent saturated, 25 to 30 percent monounsaturated, and less than 5 percent polyunsaturated, with an average of 2.5 times more omega-6 than omega-3.1 Butter is 63 percent saturated, 29 percent monounsaturated, and 3 percent polyunsaturated, with about 1.5 times more omega-6 than omega-3––almost identical to the game fat, except the omega 6:3 ratio is better.2
However, the small amounts of protein and lactose present in butter make butter prone to burning when it is used in cooking, and for some people, they may cause immunological reactions. The clarification process removes the protein and lactose, leaving pure fat. Some people who are immunologically sensitive to milk products including butter can tolerate clarified butter.
Traditionally ghee is made on the stove top. You heat the butter until the fat separates from the milk solids, boil off the water and air and skim or strain off the solids. However, this task is a bit tedious and needs constant attention. In addition the milk solids tend to burn in the process.
With the oven method, you can accomplish the clarification without standing over the stove or burning the solids. Here's how I do it.
Besides an oven, you will need these tools to make ~4 cups of ghee:
First, I set the oven to 250 ℉. While the oven heats up I put 1-2 pounds of butter in a heat-proof skillet or Dutch oven.
This is two pounds of butter in an all stainless steel skillet, ready to put in the oven.
I put the skillet in the oven on the top shelf, without a cover. Do not cover. You want the water to evaporate out of the butter and this will not happen if you cover it. Leave the butter in the oven for 30 minutes and it will look like this:
The solids have separated from the fat, but now you have to let all the water evaporate out of the butter. Leave it in for another 45 minutes (1 hour 15 minutes total) and it will look like this:
The photo doesn't convey much difference, but now the butter is clear. The next step is to pour the clarified butter through a few layers of cheesecloth. I put the fine mesh strainer over a heat-proof glass 4-cup measuring cup, then put 6 layers of cheesecloth in the strainer. Then I pour the clarified butter through the cheesecloth and it will look like this:
Here's a closer look at the milk solids removed in the process of making ghee.
After it cools down a bit, I pour the clarified butter into glass jars.
Ghee does not need refrigeration. We store one of the jars in the refrigerator and leave one on the countertop so it is soft and ready for use for cooking or topping foods, especially eggs, low-fat meats and vegetables.
1. Cordain L, Watkins BA, Florant GL, Kehler M, Rogers L, Li Y. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: Evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56:181-191.
2. Enig M. Know Your Fats. Silver Spring, MD: Bethesda Press, 2000:284.