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Ghee vs Butter – Which Should You Use and Why?

Ghee vs Butter

Ghee is a healthy dairy fat that’s becoming increasingly popular. But, it’s actually been around much longer than that – for thousands of years.

The fat is created from regular butter, through a process that removes the water and milk solids.

The end result is a type of clarified butter, one that has many advantages in the kitchen. 

In this post, we’re looking at ghee vs butter, including the similarities and differences between them.

We also consider how you can use ghee and even show you how to make it for yourself.

What’s the Difference Between Butter and Ghee?

Ghee and butter are similar in many respects. The biggest difference is that ghee is almost entirely butterfat. Any other components are present in trace amounts only. In contrast, butter contains additional compounds, including milk solids and lactose.

Both options can even be used in the same ways. For example, you can spread ghee on your bread instead of butter and you can use either when sautéing food.

Ghee offers a deeper and more intense flavor – making it especially desirable in some situations.

Ghee and butter have many similarities, although ghee has more fat and fewer other components.

Ghee vs Butter – What You Can Expect

Ghee vs Butter

Even with their similarities, ghee and butter have some distinct differences too. These are important for deciding which one you’re going to use.

Visual Appearance

Ghee tends to be a deeper yellow than butter. This is particularly obvious if you compare them side by side.

They have different textures as well. Butter tends to look and feel creamy, as a result of the milk solids. In contrast, ghee has a more oil-like texture.

Flavor Differences

You already know about butter, but what does ghee taste like?

The general flavor profile between the two is similar. But, ghee is richer and more intense. There is also a slight nutty note that you typically don’t find with butter.

This means that ghee is actually better than butter at adding a butter-like flavor to your food. Go figure.

But, ghee does have disadvantages too. It doesn’t taste as creamy as butter.

Some people prefer ghee, others prefer butter, although both taste good.

Nutritional Differences

The table below highlights key nutritional differences between butter and ghee (1,2).

Nutrition Facts: Butter vs Ghee (100 grams)

Butter

Ghee

Calories

717

900

Total Fat

81.1 g

100 g

Carbs

0.4 g

0 g

Protein

0.9 g

0 g

As you can see, ghee tends to be higher in fat and calories but lower in other components.

The calorie difference is slightly misleading – as the nutritional details are given per 100 grams. Ghee is denser than butter (as the water has been removed), which is why the values are higher. The difference is negligible for the amount you use anyway.

Butter and ghee are nutritionally similar in other areas too. This includes their fat content and the various vitamins and minerals present (like vitamin K2 and butyrate, a type of short-chain fatty acid). Ghee is a slightly more concentrated source of nutrients, but the difference isn’t dramatic.

There will also be some differences between brands. These are typically minimal and aren’t likely to significantly impact your health.

Smoke Point

Ghee has a smoke point of roughly 485°F (252°C), compared to 350°F (177°C) for butter (3). This difference is substantial. It means that ghee is much easier to cook with – and it’s less likely to burn in the pan.

The smoke point is a key reason why people choose ghee over butter.

This is also why ghee is so popular as a cooking oil. Other options, like coconut oil, have their advantages too. But, there’s something amazing about the buttery flavor that you get with ghee and butter.

Allergy Differences

The process of making ghee removes the milkfat from butter. This also removes the lactose – making ghee almost completely lactose free. As a result, many people can consume ghee, even if they can’t tolerate other types of dairy.

On the other hand, butter contains a decent amount of lactose. People who are lactose intolerant often need to avoid it entirely.

The same is true for casein, which is a dairy protein. Butter doesn’t contain much casein anyway, but it does have some. The casein is removed during ghee production.

These aspects make ghee a better choice for many people with an allergy or sensitivity to dairy.

Price

Ghee tends to be considerably more expensive than butter – and you get less for the price you pay too. For example, a 9 oz jar of ghee might set you back $10 or more. That’s much more than you pay for butter.

You don’t even need to buy ghee. You can make it yourself from regular butter, without too much effort.

Still, many people do buy ghee. If you’re not using a large amount at a time, it might be worth purchasing a jar simply for the convenience.

Ghee has a more intense flavor than butter. It also has a higher smoke point and is effectively lactose free.

Grass Fed Ghee vs Grass Fed Butter

Butter on a board

Ghee and butter both come in grass fed and regular forms. As EcoWatch points out, grass fed butter is often better for health, due to the superiority of grass fed milk (4). In particular, grass fed butter may be higher in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2.

This means that, if possible, you should focus on butter from grass fed cows.

The same may be true for grass fed ghee. After all, ghee and butter do have similar nutrient profiles.

But, as is the case with butter – you don’t have to go with grass fed. Many people focus on regular alternatives, especially if their budget is tight. You’ll see most of the same benefits regardless of the type you choose.

Grass fed ghee may offer more nutrients than regular ghee.

Are Butter and Ghee Healthy?

Ghee on a table

The health implications of butter have been under intense debate. We’ve long been told to avoid butter, as it is high in saturated fats.

That’s true – it is.

But, modern research suggests that saturated fat isn't the villain that many assume it to be. Large-scale analyses of studies have shown there isn’t even enough evidence to recommend limiting saturated fat intake (5).

As Dr. Mercola points out, saturated fat may offer various health benefits.

The end result is that you do need saturated fat. Butter and ghee are both healthy ways to consume it.

Other types of fat are important too, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These can help promote heart health. You’ll find them in many whole foods, including olives, seeds and nuts (not to mention fish!).

This means that a healthy diet should include a variety of types of fat.

Butter and ghee both contain saturated fat. Despite all the myths, this type of fat is important for health.

Benefits of Ghee vs Butter

Because they’re so similar, ghee and butter offer most of the same health implications. In fact, the various health benefits of butter apply to ghee as well.

You can choose either one (or both) to promote your health.

Ghee may be more beneficial for some people, due to the lack of lactose. This may make it easier to digest, especially if you’re lactose sensitive.

Some research does suggest that ghee may increase cholesterol less than regular butter (6), although both can raise cholesterol (7,8).

But, the actual impacts on health are less well-known. As Chris Kresser highlights, there are many myths surrounding cholesterol and heart disease – and impacts of cholesterol mightn’t be as bad as they seem.

That aside, studies like these tend to use large amounts of butter and/or ghee. If you’re simply using the fat as a condiment, negative impacts are much less likely.

In the end, ghee and butter aren’t that different. More research is needed but their effects on the body are likely to be similar and beneficial.

Ghee and butter offer most of the same health implications, although ghee may have some advantages.

How to Cook with Ghee

Curry on rice

Ghee is extremely easy to use as a cooking oil. You simply rely on it in the same way that you would butter. For example, you can add some ghee to a frypan for roasting, sautéing or stir-frying food. There are also plenty of great recipes to choose from, including the following.

Sweet Recipes with Ghee
Savory Recipes with Ghee

Other Ways to Use Ghee

Cooking isn’t the only way to take advantage of ghee. You can use it in many other ways, just like with butter. For example:

  • Spread ghee on bread or toast
  • Spread it anywhere else you might normally use butter, like on crackers or muffins
  • Add to oatmeal or porridge to create a more appealing flavor
  • Cook quinoa or similar grains with ghee
  • Melt ghee over roasted or steamed vegetables
  • Melt ghee over your popcorn
  • Stir it into hot soup before you serve it

You can also add ghee into coffee, along with coconut oil.

Can You Substitute Ghee for Butter in Baking?

Ghee is easily used in place of butter as a cooking fat. But, baking is more complex.

  • Ghee is denser than regular butter. So, the same weight of ghee and butter will have different volumes
  • Ghee does not cream in the same way that regular butter does. This can alter the texture of recipes that rely on creaming butter
  • Butter can also release steam when cooked and some recipes rely on this. Ghee will not, which can change your outcomes

This means you can’t simply replace ghee for butter if you’re baking.

The same is true for complex recipes and ones that heavily rely on specific properties of butter. For example, ghee often does not work in icing.

A good general rule is that ghee will typically work if the recipe calls for melted butter. But, if it has specifications like ‘cold butter cut into cubes’, ghee is unlikely to be a good choice.

Still, some baked goods do use ghee, partly because of its intense flavor. The trick is to look for recipes that already include ghee, rather than trying to add it in.

Once you’ve worked with these recipes for a while, you’ll have a better sense of how to add ghee into your own baking.

Ghee can be used in place of butter when you’re cooking. But, the same isn’t true for baking or for complex recipes.

Where to Find Ghee

Close up image of ghee

There are many places to buy ghee, including local health stores. Grocery stores will often stock it as well and their prices may be more reasonable.

You can also turn to Amazon. Amazon is perfect if you don’t want to waste time visiting multiple stores.

Plus, this gives you the chance to browse multiple products at your leisure. The reviews act as a great guide too, helping you see which items perform well. There are many to choose from, but we’ve listed some of our favorites below:

Ghee can be easily found in local stores or online.

Making Your Own Ghee

Liquid ghee

Buying ghee is easy and there are some great brands to choose from. But, you can also make ghee from butter. The process is fairly easy and doesn’t take a long time.

This video shows how you can do it.

If you prefer written directions, you can follow the steps below.

Ingredients and Equipment Needed

You should use unsalted butter to make ghee. If possible, focus on organic and grass fed brands. Lower quality products often contain extra chemicals and water, which can make the process more difficult.

You’ll also need the following equipment:

  • A saucepan (ideally a deep pan with a heavy bottom). You can also use a double boiler to make the process easier
  • A glass jar (for storing the ghee)
  • Large bowl
  • Sieve
  • Cheesecloth
Step One 

Chop the butter into small pieces and then add it to your pan on medium heat. Stir periodically until it is entirely melted.

Step Two

When the melted butter starts to bubble and foam, decrease the heat but ensure it continues to simmer.

Keep an eye on the butter as it simmers. It will begin to separate into three layers.

  • The first is foam, this will boil off over time
  • The second layer is milk solids, which have a red/brown color. These may stick to the sides and you’ll need to stir them back into the mixture

Keep the butter simmering until it is golden and transparent. There should be very little foam left at this point. The process will take roughly 30 minutes, although that will depend on the pot, the amount of butter and the heat source you’re using.

Step Three

Take the pot off the heat. Use a cheesecloth to strain the butterfat into a bowl.

The strained liquid is your ghee. You can then transfer it into your jar (or jars) and leave it to cool. It will harden over time.

You can make your own ghee without too much work. 

Common Questions About Ghee

Ghee on rice

Is Ghee Dairy Free?

Many people who avoid dairy can eat ghee, simply because it doesn’t contain lactose. This makes it a great alternative and means you can still enjoy the flavor of butter in your meals.

But, ghee is still created from butter, so it’s not dairy free.

Whether this matters depends on why you’re avoiding dairy to begin with. If you’re reacting to the lactose in dairy, ghee could be a great alternative. If you’re avoiding dairy for another reason, ghee may not be any better.

Is Ghee Lactose Free?

Ghee is almost entirely lactose free, with very pure ghee often being between 99% and 99.5% pure butter oil (9). But, trace levels of lactose can still remain.

These levels are low enough that most people won’t experience any issues, even if they can’t normally eat dairy. Despite this, people who are extremely lactose sensitive may not be able to consume ghee either.

Is Ghee Vegan?

Ghee is made from butter, so it’s not suitable for vegans.

Is Ghee Paleo?

Paleo diets traditionally exclude all forms of dairy. But, butter and ghee are both heavily debated – partly because of their nutritional benefits.

Sites like Paleo Plan argue that ghee can be included on a paleo diet, as long as it meets your needs. One good approach is to exclude all dairy from your diet for at least a month. You can then add back in ghee to see whether you tolerate it.

Does Ghee Go Bad?

Ghee tends to be more shelf stable than butter. Some people even leave it on the counter for months, without it going rancid.

But, it’s still best to keep it in the fridge, especially if you live in a hot environment. Ghee can easily keep for a year or more in the fridge. Of course, you will have used it up long before that point.

Like butter, ghee can go bad, given enough time. Always make sure you smell it before using it. If it has gone rancid – you’ll know. 

Is Ghee Clarified Butter?

Some people call ghee a type of clarified butter, while others say that the two are different.

As a Beautiful Plate points out, clarified butter is simply pure butterfat. It forms a bright yellow liquid that can be easily used in recipes.

  • When you make clarified butter, you cook regular butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids separate out. Then, you stop
  • To make ghee, you continue the cooking process until the milk solids begin to caramelize. This creates a liquid that is less yellow and more golden

These differences mean that ghee isn’t quite the same as clarified butter. But, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Final Thoughts

Ghee and butter are both healthy sources of fat – and are a valuable addition to your diet. They have many similarities, to the point that you can often use one or the other.

The best choice will ultimately depend on your diet and individual needs. Ghee will often be better if you’re lactose intolerant or if you want extra flavor for your meals. On the other hand, butter is easier to find, less expensive and most of us already use it regularly.

Of course, you could simply keep both types on hand. This allows you to choose the best option for each individual purpose.

Turmeric Smoothie

Want to Improve Your Health?

Turmeric Smoothie

Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use. 

Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started. 

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