Ghee vs. Butter: Which Is Better? (And What Is Ghee, Exactly?)

Maybe you’re whipping up an Indian-inspired dinner, or you’re taking the Paleo diet for a spin. You’ve seen it on ingredient lists, or as a substitute for butter. Wondering what’s the deal with ghee? We’ve got the details on the tasty cooking fat (and why it’s better than butter).

What is ghee? 

Ghee is a highly clarified form of butter that originated in ancient India. It’s commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cuisine, and it can replace butter or vegetable oil in many sweet and savory recipes. You can kind of think of it as a more shelf-stable, more flavorful butter alternative. 

How is it made?

Ghee is made by melting a large amount of butter and slowly (like, super slowly) simmering it over very low heat while skimming impurities from the top. Eventually, the milk solids in the butter sink to the bottom and begin to brown. At the same time, the water content in the butter is evaporating, and what’s left is pure butterfat. The milk solids get strained out, and what’s left behind is ghee. Sometimes, spices or other flavorings are added, but it’s most commonly unflavored.

Isn’t that the same as clarified butter? 

Ghee is actually a type of clarified butter. They’re made following a similar process, but ghee is actually cooked longer than traditional clarified butter, until the milk solids start to brown and all moisture has evaporated. The resulting flavor is nuttier and toastier compared to that of clarified butter, sort of like a caramelized version of your favorite dairy spread. This also means ghee contains no water, so it’s practically spoil-proof—it lasts about a year in the fridge and three months out.

OK…so why should I cook with ghee? 

Aside from being delicious and shelf-stable, you mean? Well, ghee has a super-high smoke point, so it’s great for sautéing and high-heat cooking. Because it has no milk proteins or lactose, it’s easier for sensitive stomachs to digest, as well as Paleo- and Whole30-approved. When made from grass-fed butter, it retains all of those good-for-you vitamins and minerals, plus fatty acids that can aid inflammation and digestion. Ghee is also an important ingredient in Ayurvedic recipes, where it's used for its therapeutic properties. And it tastes like butter…but way more concentrated.

Ghee vs. Butter: What are the differences?

Butter and ghee are both derived from cow's milk, so their nutritional content is almost identical. And even though ghee is often used in a liquid state, it’s actually fairly solid at room temperature—just like butter. But since the milk solids are removed from ghee, it contains less dairy protein content than butter, and might be easier to digest if you’re sensitive to lactose. If you’re wondering whether ghee is healthier than butter, the differences are negligible. Ghee has a slightly higher concentration of fat and more calories per tablespoon (about 120 calories versus 102 in butter).

The biggest difference is that the smoke point of ghee is approximately 482°F, almost 100 degrees higher than butter’s 392°F. That means you can cook with it at higher temperatures before it breaks down and burns.

Sold. How do I cook with ghee?

You can use ghee the same way you would use any other cooking fat (especially for high-heat cooking since it's harder to burn) but we like it in spicy curries or this harissa chickpea stew with eggplant and millet. You could also add a tablespoon to golden milk or moon milk for an ultra-soothing (and delicious) drink. 

Is Olive Oil Paleo? (Plus Other Paleo-Friendly Oils You Can Cook With)


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...