What Makes a Ghee, “The Best?”

Some may wonder about the types of ghee out there and how to choose the brands with the highest amount of quality. There are a lot of options in the American grocery store of ghee companies that are competing to be “the best.” With anything, “the best,” is often a designation given on a personal level and not solely on facts. Fortunately for ghee, there are some simple ways of determining which brands are worthy of this distinction. For this article, I have used information available from the Journal of Dairy Science that is the official journal for the American Dairy Science Association. This article can be found here.

            In India, where ghee originated and comprises a lot of the cooking oil market, there are several ways of making ghee and each one has its merits, but some are touted more than others. As we know ghee is, simply put, the fat or oil that comes from a milk or cream source. The varied methods of producing ghee originate from which component you start from: milk or cream. These methods, in turn, will also affect quality on three main levels: shelf stability, flavor and texture, and vitamin content. Certain methods are more economical for making ghee at home, or in larger commercial settings.

One of the most revered forms is called desi ghee, and is typically used in homes throughout India, as it requires nothing more than a few pots, pans, and a heat source. This is ghee made from a slightly longer process of fermenting freshly heated milk into a yogurt-like product and then heating that cultured yogurt to effectively remove the water and milk solids. Part of the reason this method is so widely honored is that it is easy to do in the home, as a majority of India is rural and access to larger methods of production is sparse. Many believe this is the highest quality of ghee available as the flavor is the most pleasing. I believe this is to do with the freshness of the milk and subsequently the finished product as it is consumed rather quickly and used frequently in a lot of cooking. The downside to this method is the poor shelf stability and lower vitamin content.

Another method of making ghee is called a direct cream method, as the name suggests, is ghee made by directly heating cream to separate and remove the milk solids and water. This is one of the methods primarily used by larger commercial operations that have a great source of cream directly from cows and requires the use of a lot of commercial equipment in its production. Ghee from this method has a higher shelf-stability and vitamin content. However, the flavor of the ghee isn’t as great as the homemade ghee. I believe this is to do with the cream not being put through a culturing process as it lacks the depth and desirable flavor as the desi ghee.

The last method, and most popular in the US, is called a creamery butter method. This method involves processing cream into butter and then taking the whole butter and heating it to remove the milk solids and the water. The ghee made from this method is about the same as the direct cream method in that it has more longevity for storage, higher vitamin content, and needs more equipment for production. The flavor of this ghee is directly related to the culturing of the cream before making the butter. In essence, using a cultured cream or butter will allow you to achieve the best flavor as well as capturing a high shelf stability and vitamin content.

            Here at Full Circle Ghee, we use a lactic cultured butter as the starting point for our ghee. The butter we start from is the highest quality Cultured European butter around that has the richest and most depth of flavor. When we turn that butter into the ghee we are extracting all the best qualities from it: vitamin content, flavor, and maximum shelf stability in our finished product. We believe that those three factors contribute to what is considered; “the best” and we hope you do to!

Lady Jerseys and Pastoral Sonoma County

The farm we purchase our butter from is situated in the amazing Springhill Valley in Sonoma County. The picturesque valley these ladies live is just one of many in this part of the county. Sonoma County boasts one of the most beautiful and productive milksheds in the state with plenty of natural Red clover, Selina clover, Rye grass, and the Natural Coastal grasses of this area contribute to the lush look as well as the food our gals eat regularly walking around the property. Sonoma is not all wine country! A lot of northwest Sonoma County looks like this and is an excellent place for cows to graze and live their best lives 🙂

Grass-fed and Pastured: What’s the difference?

To talk about the healthfulness of ghee, there are two major points of focus that need to be addressed: how the animals are raised and the intrinsic properties of the ghee. For ghee to have the most nutrients and highest possibility of vitamins, the cows absolutely need to be PASTURED, and not simply “Grass-Fed.” The difference between these two terms you may have seen is the difference between how they are actually fed. Grass-fed is one of those terms that simply mean that the cows have access to grass in their diet. It does NOT state that the cows are actually walking around on open land, and consuming their food as they travel. There can still be “Grass-fed” cows in feedlots that have no access to any activity outside of their pen and are fed a diet consisting of grains, corn, soy and others.

Pastured is a term used to describe cows that have access to open pasture and can exercise their cow-ness. They are permitted to walk around certain portions of the farmer’s land and eat the natural foliage and wild grasses that grow naturally on the land. A cow that is pastured will have milk that changes through the year as the food source is directly tied to the seasons on which the food grows and the cow is raised. As the food source changes throughout the year, the milk from the cow will also change. Cows are ruminant animals, meaning they consume grasses and other plant based sources and also have stomachs that aide in the fermentation of those grasses as their major source of energy. As the ration of grass and other foliage on the farm declines from spring to summer and again from fall into winter the amount of those fresh grasses available for food also declines for the cows. This generally translates to milk that has less of the valuable fat used to make cheese, cream, butter, and ghee. For this reason, the ghee we make will change throughout the year from a bright yellow, almost orange, to a more pale yellow when the access to the fresh grass diminishes; this is the true sign of a Pastured product raised on grass!

The healthy nature of the fat in the milk from a cow is not purely limited to the type of food consumed; as with any animal based product the food they eat must be free from contaminants, pesticides, and pollutants. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You are what your food eats.” Preferably, the land that grows the food for animals should be free from pesticides, other contaminants, and Certified as Organic. Ensuring the organic nature of the food the animal eats will provide the cleanest and most pure food.

Why Ghee?

“Why ghee?”

I get this question almost every time I talk about the product, and most times I always want to say, “Because it’s the BEST!” That answer is not the best to describe it’s properties, or to educate people on the benefits of the product. In short, yes, ghee is amazing, but there are a few properties that make it a truly amazing oil to cook with and incorporate in your diet.

Ghee is a form of clarified butter. meaning that butter has undergone a process to breakdown and eliminate it’s unwanted properties. When making ghee, the butter is heated and cooked for a prolonged time in order to breakdown sugars and proteins to a point where there are inactive and can be filtered out of the remaining oil. This cooking process also eliminates the water, resulting in a product that is 100% of the oil or fat that comes from butter.

With the elimination of the sugars, proteins, and moisture the resulting oil is highly shelf stable, burns at a higher temperature, and is safe for anyone with a sensitivity to dairy or milk. This oil can be used by anyone that wants a healthy fat to incorporate into their diet because it lacks the milk and other harmful allergens present in dairy, doesn’t contain any nuts or peanuts, and naturally has no gluten!

If that wasn’t enough, ghee has some other added benefits that make it more appealing to the average user. When cooking at higher temperatures, most oils start to break down and oxidize. This oxidation actually starts to decrease and dwindle the nutrients in an oil. With ghee, the smoking point, or point at which the oil starts to burn and oxidize, is much higher than a normal oil- 485 degrees! For a comparison, anyone who has cooked with butter knows that at a high heat it will start to burn, brown, and become very bitter and unpalatable. The burning point of butter is 250 degrees and that is why doing high heat applications with butter result in dismal results. With the smoking point of ghee at 485 degrees you can actually use this oil at high temperatures without burning the product. You can even DEEP-FRY with ghee! No joke!

In addition to using ghee instead of any oils, one of the best things ghee has going for it is the flavor. This oil literally tastes like caramel and has a slight toasty flavor that adds much depth and richness to any type of cooking. Once you open a jar of Full Circle Ghee you will not want to use anything else as the flavor is incomparable to anything else you might use.