The Health Benefits of Cooking with Ghee
Known in the West as “clarified butter”, ghee has a long history as a staple of Indian cooking and medicine. According to the Bhavaprakasha 6.18.1, an ancient 16th Century Ayurvedic text, “Ghee is sweet in taste and cooling in energy, rejuvenating, good for the eyes and vision, kindles digestion, bestows luster and beauty, enhances memory and stamina, increases intellect, promotes longevity, is an aphrodisiac and protects the body from various diseases.”
With its delicious buttery flavor ghee can be used in place of butter or other oils in cooking. Traditionally, ghee is made by slowly melting butter over a low heat. This creates three separate layers, a watery layer that is the first to be skimmed off, than the milk solids are removed leaving a deep golden colored saturated butterfat. This golden liquid contains conjugated linolenic acid, which is known to aid the body in weight loss and helps to lubricate the body’s connective tissues. Because it is so rich in antioxidants and lacking in milk solids, ghee does not have to be refrigerated, which makes it great for travel and for use in herbal medicines.
Ayurveda uses ghee both internally and externally as a massage oil in treatment for dryness, arthritis, and to loosen toxins from the fatty tissues. The Ayurvedic detoxification program, Panchakarma, recommends eating ghee with meals, along with daily massage treatments to help bring the toxins out of the tissues and out to the surface. Since the body excretes mostly water soluble chemicals the ghee works to dissolve the lipid soluble toxins for elimination through the digestive tract.
Easy to digest, ghee is alkaline forming in the body helping to calm inflammation that is fed by an acidic Standard American (SAD) Diet. Since the milk solids are removed in the cooking process ghee is lactose free; good news for individuals who cannot digest dairy products.
Medicinally ghee is highly touted for its benefits to the nerve tissue and the brain. Improving memory function is only one benefit as it is also prescribed in cases of depression, anxiety, dementia, and epilepsy. The ancient Indian masters attributed the rich fat in ghee with the properties to regenerate brain cells and should be eaten by pregnant women to insure the development of the fetus’s brain.
According to Ayurveda practitioner, Dr. Vasant Lad, burning eye issues, eye stress or eye disorders such as glaucoma, can benefit from incorporating ghee into the diet. A popular eye treatment he recommends is to place one drop of lukewarm liquid ghee in each eye at bedtime to soothe and strengthen weak eyes.
Ghee is easy to use in cooking, has a high smoking point, meaning it won’t burn at high temperatures; contains no artificial ingredients or trans fats. It is, however, a saturated fat weighing in at 14 grams of fat per tablespoon. A “little dab will do ya”, so less is more when using the rich flavor of ghee in cooking.
Spicy Greens and Chick Peas
Yield: 4 – 6 servings
2 large bunches mixed greens or spinach (frozen spinach works also)
Water as needed
2 Tablespoons ghee
1 14 ounce can chickpeas, drained
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and crushed
6 garlic cloves
4 green Thai or Serrano chilies
2 teaspoons garam masala (Indian spice mixture)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup non-dairy or coconut milk
Large handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt to taste
1. Cook the greens with a small quantity of water, just enough to keep them from sticking, until wilted. Remove from the heat.
2. Melt the ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the ginger, garlic, and chilies.
3. Sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the garam masala and nutmeg and cook another minute.
4. Add the cooked greens, any of its liquid, and the chickpeas.
5. Stir and simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Add the milk, cilantro, and salt and gently simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest a few minutes before serving.