Clarified Butter: The French Ghee

Clarified butter history

Clarified butter has a long history, but it has not been well documented. So while historians do have some information about the origin of butter, the first person to clarify it is not known. Ghee may well have been the first kind of clarified butter. Ghee originated in India around 1800 BCE. It is believed that ghee was first made to extend its shelf life in the warm temperatures of the sub-continent.

Clarified butter is sometimes called drawn butter and is often described as being interchangeable with ghee. Many online resources consider them identical, but they are not. Ghee is a specific type of clarified butter (butterfat minus milk proteins) but not all clarified butter is ghee.

Clarified butter as we know it today — and as distinct from ghee — is associated mostly with French cuisine. Unlike ghee, the reasons for making clarified butter in Europe were likely not about preserving it in warm temperatures and more about being able to cook with it at very hot ones. Clarified butter shares one very important characteristic of ghee: its high smoke point.

Clarified butter flavor profile

Clarified butter has some of the richness of butter since it consists of pure butterfat, but it lacks the creaminess that you would get from the milk proteins.

Health benefits of clarified butter

While clarified butter is not widely regarded as a healthy food item, it does have some nutritional benefits. Those benefits come from compounds like:

  • Vitamins: Like whole butter, clarified butter is a good source of vitamins A and E.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Clarified butter contains a significant amount of omega 3 fatty acids, which means that it does provide some cardiovascular benefits.

With clarified butter in your diet, you may be able to protect yourself from health issues like:

  • Inflammation: Clarified butter contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds like vitamin E and butyric acid. These compounds can help it to fight inflammatory diseases like arthritis and asthma.
  • Lactose Intolerance: Because much of the milk proteins in butter have been removed, clarified butter might be better for people whose bodies are unable to handle lactose. That said, you will not be able to remove all of the proteins so clarified butter should still be consumed in moderation if you are lactose intolerant.
  • Obesity: The conjugated linoleic acid in clarified butter is believed to reduce weight gain and may help you to lose weight.

Health concerns

Clarified butter consists almost entirely of fat, making it a concentrated source of calories. In other words, it can promote obesity if you eat too much of it. Clarified butter is mostly saturated fat. While some recent studies suggest that saturated fat is not as bad for you as once believed, many health experts still caution that consuming these fats can significantly increase your risk of heart disease.

Common uses

Clarified butter is great when you want some aspects of butteriness without the milky qualities of whole butter. One of the popular ways to use it is as a dip for seafood. You will often see clarified butter served alongside crab legs and lobster where it adds a luxurious richness to the shellfish.

Alternatively, it is used as a frying oil like ghee. Removing the milk proteins from whole butter greatly increases its smoke point, which means that you can fry with clarified butter at temperatures over 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232.22 °C). Clarified butter is commonly used to make the French staple Hollandaise sauce.