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All About Ghee + Best Substitutes (Vegan Options)

There are many irresistible things about ghee. Once you’ve tried it, you won’t be able to get enough of its nutty flavor and velvety texture. A staple in Middle Eastern, Indian, and South Asian cuisines, this clarified fat is also becoming popular in modern cooking.

Ghee is as delectable as it is versatile. Should you find yourself wanting to try ghee in your next meal, we’ve listed several ways to use it below. If you’re looking to replace ghee in a recipe, we’ve listed some ingredients to substitute ghee in your recipes. Before we go any further, let’s first take a look at what exactly is ghee.

What is Ghee?

Originating in India, ghee is a type of clarified butter or anhydrous milk fat that has been heated to remove water, and strained to separate the milk from the fat. Butter starts at 16-17% water and 1-2% milk proteins (or solids), and then the water is cooked out when it becomes ghee.

To make ghee, butter is heated to 100°C until the milk solids start to caramelize lightly, thus creating that signature nutty flavor. When the liquid solidifies, the remaining oil is 99-100% pure butterfat, now known as ghee.

Ghee doesn’t burn quickly and can withstand heat up to 485°F (252°C) because clarifying butter by removing water gives it  a higher smoke point. The absence of water makes ghee shelf-stable, meaning it can be stored without any refrigeration for extended periods. The clarifying process also removes casein and lactose, making ghee suitable for the dairy-sensitive or those simply looking to skip dairy. 

This ingredient has been used in Indian and Middle Eastern cultures for thousands of years. It has deep roots in everyday life in India, even appearing in the Vedic creation story. Legend has it that the deity Prajapati (the great creator) created ghee out of nothing, and poured it into the fire.

Over the centuries, ghee has played a significant role in ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine due to its nutritive & therapeutic properties, and the importance of cows in India

Health Benefits of Ghee

Having some ghee every morning on an empty stomach is said to offer nutrition for every cell in the body. According to Ayurveda, ghee offers various advantages for our health, including delivering necessary fatty acids, increasing immunity & memory, and slowing the aging process.

Rich in Omega-3s and containing CLA (Conjugated linoleic acids), ghee may also help fight atherosclerosis and combat obesity. It’s high in butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid thought to be good for the gastrointestinal tract, hence its popularity in bulletproof coffee

The overall flavor of ghee is intensely nutty, and this gives foods cooked in it a distinctive depth and a pleasant scent. Ghee of high quality will be golden brown, and some varieties taste more ‘buttery’ than regular butter.

Strong spices hold up nicely to ghee (or ghi), and it makes a pleasant alternative to butter in brownies. When you cook with ghee and spices together, just like with other fats, the fat-soluble nutrients and flavors are drawn out.

When choosing between ghee and other cooking oils, ghee has many known health benefits and provides an extra layer of flavor to dishes. However it also has a slightly higher concentration of fat than butter, and more calories. One tablespoon of ghee has about 120 calories, whereas one tablespoon of butter has about 102 calories— continue reading to find out how to use this trendy fat. 

homemade ghee

How to Use Ghee?

In Indian recipes, ghee is used in dals, kadhi (for this Punjabi Kadhi Pakora), pulaos, khichdis, rotis, parathas, halwas, and  ladoos. Many mouthwatering Middle Eastern sweets like baklava, hereessa or kunafeh are also made with ghee. Nowadays, it’s commonly used as a butter substitute for people who are lactose-intolerant or avoid dairy.

You can use ghee the same way you would use butter or cooking oi, as it cooks without much splatter or burning. Its generously high smoke point makes it the ideal cooking oil for sautéing or frying at a higher temperature. 

Ghee can also be used in baking. It lends an irresistible aroma and a rich flavor to many baked goods. Just use ghee in place of butter or oil when making your cookie or cake batter, or even something as simple as greasing the pan.Ghee can be used like any other cooking fat, but using it as a finishing oil allows that rich, nutty flavor to come through. 

Savor this distinctly-flavored fat in many more ways in your cooking. Here’re some of our favorites:

9 Best Ghee Substitute Options

If you’re planning to use ghee for a recipe but have just run out, are looking for a more nutritious ingredient, or are keen to use a more cost-efficient ghee substitute, I’ve got you. Below I’ve compiled a list of easy swaps including butter, olive oil, sunflower oil, and making homemade ghee. 

Homemade Ghee

The best ghee substitute, in my opinion, is the homemade version. Ghee is very easy to make at home, and is also cheaper than store-bought ones. You can also choose ingredients based on your preference; I recommend choosing high-quality, grass-fed butter. 

To make ghee:

  1. Simmer butter in a saucepan until the milk solids sink, then cook over very low heat until they turn golden brown.
  2. It will begin to separate into layers, the foam will form on top, and you’ll notice a little sputtering. That sputter is the water evaporating. Skim the water and all rising foam off the top with a spoon.
  3. Turn off the heat and let it cool a little, then strain the remaining liquid (this is your golden-colored ghee) through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth until only the milk solids remain. 
  4. Store the ghee in a cool place in an air-tight glass jar with a lid. It should last for a few months stored at room temperature, or in the fridge for much longer.

Clarified Butter

On the culinary scene, ghee is considered a type of clarified butter. In some parts of the world, especially in France, clarified butter can be found on supermarket shelves along with ghee, grass-fed butter, coconut butter, and many more. Clarified butter is pure butterfat made by removing the water and milk solids in butter, without the same toasting that ghee undergoes. 

In France, clarified butter or drawn butter is a chef’s staple for sauteing, preserving food, and making pate. It’s often sold in supermarkets, and has a very clean, sweet flavor.

Naturally, clarified butter can substitute for ghee in recipes. Ghee and clarified butter have many similarities – high smoke point, shelf-stable and vast health benefits, so you can easily interchange them at a 1:1 ratio.

butter (in the process of making garlic herb compound butter)

Plain Butter

Butter is a dairy product created from skimming the fat from churned cream. At room temperature, i’is an emulsion that’s semi-solid and contains around 80% fat. As an alternative to ghee, butter is a versatile ingredient and can be matched with a variety of ingredients compared to more prominently flavored ghee. 

While ghee and butter share similarities, they differ in several ways. Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter, and is preferred by those looking to avoid dairy products and people on the keto diet. Ghee is moister than butter, so a little adjustment in your liquid ingredients is a must.

However, butter is still the easiest substitute for ghee, because many home pantries will already have it. More often than not, butter can replace ghee in a recipe in a 1:1 ratio. 

Olive Oil

Olive oil is another common pantry item that you may have on hand. This popular oil is one of the healthiest cooking oils around; rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, olive oil is a great replacement for ghee. Due to its low levels of saturated fat, olive oil aids in preventing heart diseases and over time, helps to reduce joint pains. 

Olive oil has a very strong flavor, but lends a similar nuttiness as ghee, making it an ideal sub in most recipes. Olive oil substitutes for ghee in a 1:1 swap, but it will not work in recipes that require thick creams or solid fats. However, since we’re swapping solid for liquid fat, start with a smaller amount of olive oil and add more if you think your recipe still needs it.

Olive Oil + Butter

When cooking a recipe and you find yourself out of ghee, look no further than your pantry (and maybe your fridge!). You’re likely to have these two ingredients, and together they can replicate ghee’s taste and texture: olive oil and butter. 

Combine olive oil’s nutritious and nutty flavor with melted grass-fed butter’s rich velvety texture to form a liquid mixture. Use this as a 1:1 swap, but if you need an oil with a high smoke point, make sure to use refined olive oil.

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower seeds are used primarily to extract sunflower seed oil. Frequently used for sautéing, stir-frying, deep-frying, and baking, this oil has a smoke point of 450°F and a mildly nutty flavor. Additionally, it’s very commonly-used in the creation of spreads and salad dressings, which was heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine.

There are several forms of sunflower seed oil, and some are higher in monounsaturated fats than others. Sunflowers generate oil rich in linoleic acid and vitamin E, though some types have higher levels of oleic and monounsaturated fats. These are the most nutrient-rich types, and when incorporated into a balanced diet, can decrease levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.

Modern antiinflammatory diets tend to recommend consuming sunflower oils in moderation; regardless, it makes a good substitute for ghee due to its pleasant nutty flavor and high smoke point. Therefore when using it as an alternative to ghee, I use a direct 1:1 ratio.

Sesame Oil

A popular cooking oil in Chinese, Japanese, and many other Asian cuisines, sesame oil is made by pressing raw or toasted sesame seeds. Sesame oil has a strong flavor profile, similar to ghee, which makes it a suitable replacement in most savory dishes. You can use sesame oil for frying foods, sautéing, or as a finishing oil, the same as ghee.

Toasted sesame seed oil can replicate ghee’s nutty flavor in a 1:1 ratio. But it will also have a prominent sesame seed taste, so when using it as a swap for ghee, try not to overdo it. Start by using half of what;s called-for in your recipe, then gradually add more if you think the recipe still needs the flavor or richness. Additionally, this oil is in liquid form, so when swapping for a solid ingredient, you may have to reduce the quantity of the other liquids in your recipe. 

Canola Oil (Medium Histamine)

Canola oil is another common pantry ingredient and a flavorless alternative to ghee. It is a vegetable oil made from canola plants, and an almost flavorless substitute for ghee. This way, you can simply add spices, flavorings, and aromatics to your dish without the fat altering the flavor. 

Another benefit of canola oil is that its smoke point is almost identical to ghee. As a result, you can cook dishes using canola oil for the same amount of time as you would with ghee without the fear of burning or browning the oil too much. Most recipes recommend that you replace ghee with canola in a 1:1 conversion, but remember to slightly reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe when swapping. 

mustard seeds

Mustard Seed Oil

Depending on your intended use for it, mustard oil can be a decent substitute for ghee. The seeds of the mustard plant are what are used to make mustard oil. The plant is a member of the rapeseed family— the same species from which canola oil is derived— and has a distinctly potent, fragrant flavor; it’s full of antioxidants, as well as the natural goodness of mustard seeds.

Mustard seed oil is a staple in Indian and South Asian cuisines. In particular in India, the states of West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Kashmir, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh all use mustard oil as their main cooking fat. Other Indian states make use of ghee as well as other types of vegetable and nut oils.

So when deep-frying or sautéing, mustard oil is a good substitute for ghee in savory applications, due to its strong flavor and high smoke point. Use mustard oil in a 1:1 ratio when replacing ghee. To compensate for the addition of liquid oil in place of ghee, measure out the liquid ingredients including the additional liquid from the mustard oil.

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