AskDefine | Define ghee

Dictionary Definition

ghee n : clarified butter used in Indian cookery

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative forms


From Hindustani घी (ghī) / < from Sanskrit घृतं (ghṛta.n), sprinkled


  • , /ɡiː/, /gi:/
  • Rhymes: -iː


  1. A type of clarified butter used in South Asian cooking; usli ghee.
  2. (in India) vegetable oil for cooking.



  • 1973 Madhur Jaffrey - An Invitation to Indian Cooking
    There are two kinds of ghee. Usli ghee or clarified butter is used rarely, partly because of its expense and partly because Indians consider it "heavy". The more commonly used ghee is a mixture of various vegetable oils.

Extensive Definition

Ghee (Hindi घी ghī, Urdu گھی ghī, Punjabi ਘਿਉ/گھیو ghiu, Kashmiri ग्याव/گیاو gyāw, - from Sanskrit घृत "sprinkled"), tup (Marathi तूप tūp), or samna (Arabic as سمنة, samnah) is a class of clarified butter that originated in the Indian subcontinent, and is important in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine such as Levantine and Egyptian cuisines and in Ethiopian/Eritrean cuisines.


Ghee is made by simmering unsalted butter in a large pot until all water has boiled off and protein has settled to the bottom. The cooked and clarified butter is then spooned off to avoid disturbing the milk solids on the bottom of the pan. Unlike butter, ghee can be stored for extended periods without refrigeration, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation and remains moisture-free.

Religious uses

Ghee was frequently used for libations in Vedic rituals (see Yajurveda), and there is even a hymn to ghee.[Language and Style of the Vedic Rsis, Tatyana Jakovlevna Elizarenkova (C) 1995, p. 18.] Ghee is also burnt in the Hindu religious ritual of Aarti and is the principal fuel used for the Hindu votive lamp known as the diya or deep. It is used in marriages and funerals, and for bathing idols during worship. In other religious observances, such as the prayers to Shiva on Maha Shivaratri, ghee is sacrificed along with four other sacred substances: sugar, milk, Dahi, and honey which is called the Panchamrut. According to the Mahabharata, ghee is the very root of sacrifice by Bhishma.

Ayurvedic medicine

Ayurvedic texts describe many diverse mind/body benefits. For example,
  • Absorption: Ghee is an integral part of the practice of ayurvedic herbal formulation. Since ghee is an oil, it can bond with lipid-soluble nutrients and herbs to penetrate the lipid-based cell membranes of the body. It is stated to increase the potency of certain herbs by carrying the active components to the interior of the cells where they impart the most benefit.
  • Digestion: The ayurvedic texts say that ghee helps balance excess stomach acid, and helps maintain/repair the mucus lining of the stomach.
  • Mild Burns: Like aloe, ghee is said to prevent blisters and scarring if applied quickly to affected skin. Also, ghee stored over a longer time has more medicinal value.
  • Mind: Ghee is said to promote all three aspects of mental functioning -- learning, memory and recall.
  • Ayurvedic Balance: Ghee balances both Vata (the dosha that controls movement in mind and body) and Pitta (the dosha that controls heat and metabolism).
Eating ghee is also believed to enhance virility and sexual potency. Excessive consumption of ghee is known to cause bromhidrosis.

Outside of India

Several cultures make ghee outside of India. Egyptians make a product called سمنة بلدي (samna baladi, literally meaning "local ghee"; i.e. Egyptian ghee) virtually identical to ghee in terms of process and end result. In Ethiopia, niter kibbeh (Amharic: ንጥር ቅቤ niṭer ḳibē) is made and used in much the same way as ghee, but with spices added during the process that result in a distinctive taste. Moroccans (especially Berbers) take this one step further, aging spiced ghee in the ground for months or even years, resulting in a product called smen. In Northeastern Brazil, a non-refrigerated butter very similar to ghee, called manteiga-de-garrafa (Butter-in-a-bottle) or manteiga-da-terra (Butter of the land), is extremely popular

Nutrition and health concerns

Like any clarified butter, ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fat. Ghee has been shown to reduce serum cholesterol in one rodent study. Studies in Wistar rats have revealed one mechanism by which ghee reduces plasma LDL cholesterol. This action is mediated by an increased secretion of biliary lipids. The nutrition facts label found on bottled cow's ghee produced in the USA indicates 8mg of cholesterol per teaspoon.
Indian restaurants and some households may use hydrogenated vegetable oil (also known as vanaspati, Dalda, or "vegetable ghee") in place of ghee for economic reasons. This "vegetable ghee" is actually polyunsaturated or monounsaturated partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a trans fat. Trans fats are increasingly linked to serious chronic health conditions. Not only is "vegetable ghee" implicated in causing high LDL, it also lacks the health-promoting benefits claimed for "Shuddh" (Hindi for Pure) ghee. The term Shuddh Ghee, however, is not officially enforced in many regions, so partially hydrogenated oils are marketed as Pure Ghee in some areas. Where this is illegal in India, law-enforcement often cracks down on the sale of fake ghee. Ghee is also sometimes called desi (country-made) ghee or asli (genuine) ghee to distinguish it from "vegetable ghee".
When cooking, it can be unhealthy to heat polyunsaturated oils such as vegetable oils to high temperatures. Doing so creates peroxides and other free radicals. These substances lead to a variety of health problems and diseases. On the other hand, ghee has a very high smoke point and doesn't burn or smoke easily during cooking. Because ghee has the more stable saturated bonds (i.e., it lacks double bonds which are easily damaged by heat) it is not as likely to form the dangerous free radicals when cooking. Ghee's short chain fatty acids are also metabolized very readily by the body, which would seem to negate concerns of its health effects. However, there is significant controversy between traditional oils and modern industrially processed oils which tends to heavily cloud the facts and issues surrounding oil consumption.
The American Heart Association recommends choosing dishes prepared without ghee.


External links

ghee in Arabic: سمن
ghee in Danish: Ghee
ghee in German: Butterschmalz
ghee in Spanish: Ghi
ghee in French: Ghî
ghee in Hindi: घी
ghee in Hebrew: גהי
ghee in Italian: Ghee
ghee in Malay (macrolanguage): Minyak sapi
ghee in Dutch: Ghee
ghee in Japanese: ギー
ghee in Norwegian Nynorsk: Ghee
ghee in Polish: Ghi
ghee in Portuguese: Ghee
ghee in Russian: Топлёное масло
ghee in Swedish: Ghee
ghee in Chinese: 酥油 (印度)
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