Butter or ghee? Since the ketogenic diet is 80% fat, attention and research shone a spotlight on even obscure sources, like ghee. While it was a staple in India and South Asia, it was fairly unknown in the West until recently. Now it’s a household name among the health-conscious. In Perfect Keto articles and recipes, you’d always see “grass-fed butter or ghee.” Is one better than the other for the ketogenic diet?
They’re very similar, except for small differences in fat, calorie and vitamin content. The biggest differences are the lack of lactose and casein in ghee, and the smoke point: the temperature at which fat or oil starts to burn. Butter burns fast at around 200-250 degrees, but ghee has a smoke point of 400-450 degrees, making ghee better for cooking.
Many keto dieters have learned to make their own ghee, buying high-quality, grass-fed butter and melting it in a pan on the stove. This process removes the water and milk solids from butter, and what’s left is pure butterfat.
Ghee, the Hindi word for “fat,” is clarified butter, but cooked just a bit longer. When you remove the butter from the heat as soon as the separation of butterfat and milk solids occur, you end up with clarified butter. When you wait until the milk solids start to caramelize, that’s ghee. Cooking it longer gives ghee that deep golden color, and the caramelized milk solids is the source of that distinct nutty flavor.
Since they’re pure butterfat without the easily spoiled liquid and milk components, clarified butter and ghee have a longer shelf life, part of what makes them a staple in hot countries.
Which is Better for Keto? Ghee or Butter?
Butter and ghee are almost the same, with only small differences as you’ll see below. Whether you pick one or the other is according to taste or dietary requirements, in case you have sensitivity to dairy. Including both in your ketogenic diet is good for you!
A tablespoon of ghee has 14 grams of fat to butter’s 12 grams, and about a gram more of monounsaturated and saturated fats, the good fats, which brings us to MCTs.
Ghee contains 25% or higher short-chain and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Butter has around 12% to 15% (In comparison, coconut oil has 62% MCTs). Short to medium chain fats are more easily digestible, and the more easily digestible the fat is, the more accessible it is as an energy source: they are easily turned into ketones, which puts you faster into ketosis. [*]
Healthy fats that contain MCTs like coconut oil and ghee– and MCT oil itself– are highly desirable in the ketogenic diet and bulletproof coffee for their benefits in boosting energy and cognitive function.[*]
MCTs also reduce appetite, aid weight loss,[*] and also enhance cells at the mitochondrial level,[*] lowering your risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, atherosclerosis, with proven benefits for epileptic patients.[*]
Ghee has only minute amounts of lactose and casein left after the removal of milk solids. It doesn’t cause inflammation or trigger allergies like other dairy products. If you have lactose-intolerance or dairy allergies, try ghee for your favorite keto recipes that call for butter.
Vitamins, CLA and butyrate
Butter has a respectable showing vitamin-wise, and ghee has slightly more short- and medium-chain fatty acids, more vitamins, A, D, E, K, and more CLA, conjugated linoleic acid,[*] a polyunsaturated fat connected to fat loss.
The ketogenic diet requires consumption of lots of fat, but only the right kind of fats.
Saturated fats, like grass-fed butter or ghee, raise levels of HDLs (high density lipoproteins). Taken in moderation as a regular part of your diet, they help you manage cholesterol by taking it out of your blood and preventing it from building up in your arteries. Saturated fats improve the ratio of HDL and LDL[*] (low density lipoproteins).
The smoke point of ghee being much higher than butter makes it great for high-heat cooking, giving you another flavorful option for your keto cooking alongside bacon fat and coconut oil.
Much less acrylamide
Ghee also produces much less acrylamide compared with other oils with equally high smoking points. Acrylamide is a toxic compound that forms in some starchy foods when prepared in high temperatures (baking, frying, roasting). In a 2016 study, ghee produced 211ng/g of acrylamide, 10 times less than the 2447ng/g produced by soybean oil.[*]
What to do with ghee
Keto dieters report that ghee has a more buttery taste than butter itself, although some who switch discover it takes some getting used to. Experiment with your own favorite dishes. Here are some guaranteed delicious ways to start with ghee:
- Add to drinks: Ghee adds a rich, sweet and caramel flavor when added to coffee and other keto power drinks
- Veggies and stir-fries: Brush ghee onto kale, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower. Or roast your veggies in ghee.
- Spices: Ghee makes garlic even more potent in deliciousness and also holds other spices well to give your keto dishes more kick and flavor.
Use high-quality, grass-fed unsalted butter
Good ghee comes from good butter. Traditionalists even churn the butter themselves from full fat fresh milk. This isn’t an option for most of us. But go for butter as fresh as you could manage, preferably local, organic. A pound of butter makes 1 and a half cups of ghee. (25% reduction).
Block off about 30 minutes of your time to give your ghee proper attention:
- Use a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan. Add the butter and bring to a boil over low heat. The butter will be completely liquefied and will start to sputter: that’s the water starting to evaporate.
- The butter will soon separate into three layers: the water content foaming at the top, the pure butterfat in the middle, and the milk solids rising and then sinking to the bottom of the pan.
- You’ll know you’ve clarified the butter when there’s very little foam left on top and the butterfat has turned into a light, clear, golden liquid. You can see the milk solids through it at the bottom of the pan.
- At this point you can remove the butter from heat if you prefer clarified butter.
- For ghee, continue heating the butter, watching carefully for the milk solids to turn a very light brown and the butterfat liquid turning a deeper gold. The smell is heavenly (like popcorn). Remove the pan from heat immediately.
- Skim off any remaining foam with a spoon, and with another spoon, scoop the ghee into a clean, dry, airtight jar. You can also just pour into the jar using cheesecloth or coffee filters to strain.
- No need to refrigerate. Avoid condensation (which can happen when you take the ghee in and out of the fridge), because this can ruin the ghee. Always use a clean, dry spoon when scooping out ghee. Enjoy and use it for keto recipes.
Butter or Ghee? Butter AND Ghee!
Ghee has 10% more medium-chain fatty acids than butter and just a couple of grams more of fat, vitamins, CLA content. If you’re looking for a distinct flavor, pick ghee. As you experiment with ketogenic recipes and rich, natural flavors, you’ll discover which dishes you prefer with ghee and which ones pop with butter. Unless you have lactose intolerance, it’s not “either or.” Enjoy the benefits of both of these good fats in their healthy contribution to your ketosis.
Ghee’s high smoking point makes it ideal to have on hand for your meat and veggie pan roasts. Make your own, or see what’s in your local market. For instance, some keto dieters eat up Trader Joe’s ghee with a spoon as part of their exogenous ketone source!