Ghee or clarified butter has been an integral part of Indian diet from time immemorial. Before vegetable oils came into existence, ghee was the primary medium of cooking food. However, with time, ghee lost its primacy in the Indian kitchen and was replaced by various other kinds of oils in everyday cooking. Even then, ghee remained the preferred medium for special dishes on special occasions.
Not just in cooking, ghee has also been an important ingredient in many Ayurvedic medicines. According to Ayurveda, ghee promotes intellect, is good for bone health and digestion of food.
The composition of ghee is 99.5% fat of which 62% is saturated fat and the rest consists of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Ghee had fallen into disfavour as a cooking medium during the last few decades as it was not considered to be a good quality fat. In recent years, however, research seems to indicate that ghee is better than many of the seed and vegetable oils that were used in its stead. Today, the ideal diet is considered to be a combination of ghee and other oils so that the body can have the benefits of both.
Although some people disagree, most nutritionists, doctors and health professionals believe that ghee in reasonable amounts is good for health. Ghee has an abundance of saturated fatty acids which are easy to digest. It contains a good amount of beta-carotene and vitamin E which are antioxidants. It also contains other fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D and K2, which are usually lacking in the diet otherwise, and many of the minerals that are needed by our bodies.
Of course, it is important to ensure the purity of the ghee that you consume. As ghee can be easily adulterated, a few tests at home can help you ensure that what you are using is not harming you. Remember, ghee is expensive, especially when compared to vegetable oils and other animal fats. Its supply is lower than demand. Adulteration is, therefore, a real threat. It is said that unrefined vegetable oils, old and rancid ghee, animal fats, coal tar dyes and other substances are mixed with ghee by unscrupulous elements to increase the quantity being sold.
But before we discuss the tests that can be conducted at home, let us look at the other benefits of using ghee.
- Along with being rich in vitamins A, E and K, ghee also contains omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids which are good for the functioning of the heart and brain.
- Unlike other oils, ghee is rich in butyric acid. In the human body, bacteria convert the fibre that we consume to butyric acid and use that for energy and to support the intestinal wall. Ghee can supplement the body’s production of butyric acid and thus help in providing energy and in keeping the digestive track healthy.
- Butyric acid in the gut supports the production of T-cells which are the cells that fight infections and bacteria. Consuming ghee, therefore, helps in building a strong immune system.
- Diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are treated by oral butyrate supplements. The naturally occurring butyric acid in ghee can help in the treatment of these diseases.
- Ghee is considered a pure food in Ayurveda. Thus, it is said to promote positivity, growth and expansion of the consciousness and detoxify the body.
Tests that can be done at home
There are several tests that can be done at home to test the purity of ghee. These tests need chemicals which may not be readily available at home but can be bought at a chemist’s. There are other tests that need to be conducted in a laboratory environment. Though the laboratory tests are more accurate in determining adulteration, for finding out the suitability of consumption the home tests will suffice.
1. Test for adulteration with vegetable oil or margarine
Items required: A test tube with a stopper or a small clear bottle with cap (preferably sterilised), concentrated hydrochloric acid, a small quantity of sugar.
Method: Take about one teaspoonful of melted ghee in the test tube or bottle.
Add a pinch of sugar.
Close test tube or bottle and shake to mix.
Let it stand for five minutes.
After five minutes, if a red colour appears in the bottom of the ghee then the sample contains vegetable oil.
2. Test for adulteration with sweet potato, mashed potato and other starches
Item required: Iodine solution
Method: Melt a small quantity of ghee in a vessel. Add a few drops of the iodine solution to the melted ghee.
If the iodine solution, which is brown in colour, turns purple, then the ghee is adulterated with a starch like mashed potato or sweet potato.
3. Test for adulteration with coconut oil
Items required: A glass jar which can be stored in the fridge.
Method: Melt a small quantity of the ghee and pour into the glass jar.
Place inside fridge until the sample is hard.
If the sample is adulterated, the ghee and the coconut oil will solidify in separate layers.
4. Test for adulteration with old and rancid ghee
This test requires chemicals that are not usually found at home. These can be purchased from a shop from where college chemistry supplies are available.
Items required: Stoppered test tube
0.1% ether solution of phloroglucinol
Method: Melt one teaspoonful of the ghee sample in the test tube.
Add 5ml of hydrochloric acid (HCl) to the test tube.
Add 5ml of 0.1% ether solution of phloroglucinol.
Stopper the test tube and shake to mix all the substances.
If, after some time, the bottom layer shows pink or red colour, the sample is adulterated with rancid ghee.
In rare cases, ghee may be adulterated with animal fat like tallow. There are no reliable tests that can be conducted at home for this type of adulteration.
One way to ensure that you are taking in the pure thing, it may be best to make ghee at home. Homemade ghee will not have any undesirable additives.
To make ghee at home, we need to get the milk from a reliable source so that the milk itself is not adulterated. The milk should be whole and not skimmed. To make ghee, the fat or cream from the milk can be skimmed off after the milk is boiled and cooled. After collecting the cream for a few days, churn it in a mixer, which separates the butter. Heat the butter until the fat separates from the solids. Continued heating until the solids are toasted (not burnt) and turns a light brown colour. When it starts releasing a nutty aroma, you know that the ghee is ready. Now you have pure ghee ready. Use it for cooking or even simply drizzle it over dishes for a healthy and delicious taste.