The History of Ghee
— Janu Yasotharan
Ingredients often have their spot in the limelight and are seen as superfoods worth celebrating. But one such ingredient that has been able to stand the test of time over hundreds of years, is ghee.
Ghee is a variety of clarified butter that differs significantly from the typical clarified butter found in French kitchens. Cooked for much longer, it renders a golden colour and a much deeper flavour.
With roots in India, ghee is used in the cuisines of South and South-East Asia, with modified versions used in parts of the Middle East and both North and East Africa. With the domestication of cattle came a wave of butter consumption. Still, India's sun didn't make for an environment conducive to storing butter. And so began the clarification process, where butter was cooked down until there was a clear separation between liquid fats, and milk solids which were removed. Also known as ney or thuppakam in Tamil and thuppa in Kannada, the word ghee itself comes from the Sanskrit word meaning "to sprinkle." And with as versatile an ingredient as ghee, we can't think of a better root word.
Speaking of roots, ghee has a history of having its praises sung. It's even featured in Hindu mythology from thousands of years ago. The story goes that the lord of creatures, Prajapati, rubbed his hands together to create the first-ever batch of ghee and then poured it into flames to create his children. To this day, practicing Hindus still pour ghee into sacred fires as an act auspicious enough for wedding and funeral ceremonies, amongst others.
Popularly known as a sacred fat or liquid gold amongst South Asians, ghee appears in some of the most ancient Sanskrit literature. From the Dharmasutra law verses to early chapters of the Bhagavad Gita (chapter 9 to be specific and in the hymns of Rig Veda from approximately 1500BCE, ghee is consistently described as an ingredient fit for the gods.
"Ghee is, no doubt, clarified butter," writer R.K. Narayan wrote in a 1955 New York Times article, "but it is also something more, in the same way that wine is more than the juice of a squeezed grape. Ghee is like a genius born to a dull parent."
Even Vedic cooking clearly distinguishes foods cooked in ghee (pucca khana) and foods not cooked in ghee (kacha khana). Author K.T Achaya shares in his book, A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, that ghee is prescribed as a cooling food that lowers the body's temperature and as a digestive aid. Ayurveda goes even further and designates ghee as a salve to soothe burns and as a potent moisturizer to heal dry skin and dry hair. Rich in healthy fatty acids like Omega 3, 6 and 9 and Vitamins A, D, E and K, ghee defies time, nourishing the skin and leaving it supple to the touch.
It is an ingredient at the root of many a self-care ritual in the East. Over the years, mainstream ideas of self-care have extended their way into the kitchen, and there's truly no better time than now to let ghee have its shine. So we've made it easy for you to explore and reap the benefits of this ancient ingredient. Welcome to the Ghlee community.