Meet Ghee: The Butter Chefs Love That’s Also Good For You

By Diane Stopyra, Photograph by Adam Voorhes
Details, May 6, 2014

The eponymous New York City eatery aside, butter has long been a turnoff to health-conscious foodies. For decades, they’ve read the reports, sniggered at the BMI of Paula Deen fans, and resigned themselves to vegan substitutes. Now the medical community is doing an about-face: Turns out, butter has saturated fats found to be health-promoting.

Which is why you should try ghee. A staple of Ayurvedic medicine and Indian cuisine, ghee is made by heating butter until the milk solids are separated and then removed, meaning it’s not dairy, just fat—mostly saturated—which is essential to brain health, muscle recovery, and immunity. That fact has paleo and elimination dieters buzzing about ghee (it was recently added to both plans’ approved-edibles lists). “All commercial kitchens use it,” says chef Carrie Nahabedian of Michelin-starred Naha in Chicago. It’s ideal for cooking at high heat (less prone than olive oil to go rancid when crisping or frying). And, with a rich, nutty flavor, it’s delicious on everything from lobster to Brussels sprouts.

Yet some experts suggest moderation until there’s more science. “I’ve not found any clear indication that ghee has health or medicinal benefits,” says David Katz, M.D., founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. “There’s a lot of folklore.” While Western research is limited, studies including one in the journal ARYA Atherosclerosis have shown ghee has positive effects on cholesterol and fatty lipids in the blood.

“Ghee offers the benefits of a high-fat dairy product without the downsides,” says Melissa Hartwig, a certified sports nutritionist and best-selling author of It Starts With Food. Among the pros: aided digestion, detoxification, and weight loss. “It’s not a hippie, far-out-there thing,” Hartwig adds. “It’s taking a healthy food and making it better.”

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