Ghee is a traditional Indian cooking fat that has been in use for thousands of years. You will need it to make homemade Indian-style dishes taste more authentic. It is also versatile enough to replace both butter and vegetable oil. If you don’t have access to ghee or want a healthier option, you can try one of the ghee substitutes below.
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Your best bet: Make your own ghee
The only ingredient you need to make ghee is butter. The process for converting butter to ghee is relatively simple. The objective is to remove the water content and to wind up with pure butterfat with no milk solids.
To get ghee, you will need to heat some butter on a very low flame until it loses its moisture. The butter will first melt into a layer of butterfat and milk proteins that will be in liquid form at first. Some of the milk proteins will rise to the surface as a foam and can be skimmed off while the rest will sink to the bottom.
As you continue to heat the butter, the layer of milk proteins below the butterfat will solidify and brown. It is at that point that you should turn the heat off. Pour off the butterfat — which is now ghee — and discard the milk proteins. You can use a strainer to separate the two.
The only downside of making ghee over buying the commercial version is that it takes time and attention. If you neglect it or use too high a flame, you could easily burn the milk solids and this would result in an undesirable flavor profile.
A decent second choice: Butter
If you want ghee’s richness but don’t have the time to make it from scratch, regular salted butter is a good option in some dishes. Butter has the benefit of being easier to find than ghee and is usually less expensive. Its added moisture may be better for some baked goods recipes but remember to adjust the proportions of your other ingredients to compensate for it.
Butter has not been caramelized, so it won’t have the Maillard reaction flavors that you would get from ghee. Because it still has its milk solids, you won’t be able to cook with it at high temperatures since that would burn the milk solids.
In a pinch: Olive oil
If you are looking for a healthier alternative to ghee, olive oil is one of the more popular options. It is one of the healthiest cooking fats and can work in many of the dishes that require ghee. It contains much less saturated fat and has a higher omega 3 fatty acid content, which means that it is heart-healthy and can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Olive oil has the benefit of being vegan, which ghee is not.
Olive oil won’t give you the distinctive richness and nutty caramel note that you would get from ghee. Also, the healthiest and most flavorful olive oil — extra virgin olive oil — will have a much lower smoke point than ghee, which means that you won’t be able to use it in the same way.
Coconut oil is another vegan oil that you can use in place of ghee. While its flavor is far more distinctive than ghee’s, its richness and sweetness work well in sweet and savory preparations just like ghee. Even though it is rich in saturated fats, it has some health benefits that may make it a healthier option than ghee.