Desi Ghee – An analysis of its properties, benefits and usage

Desi Ghee is central to our culture and the new age research also backs the traditional wisdom and its inherent health benefits and why it should be part of everyone’s daily diet intake. The only flip side of dies ghee coming back to its full glory is the unethical ways some of the dairy farms are run.Thankfully, the concerned authorities and other organisations are setting up SOP’s to address this issue.

In this article, while we will be referring to desi ghee made from both buffalo and cow milk, the focus will essentially be on the ghee made from cow’s milk. 


History of Indian Desi Ghee

Ancient Sanskrit texts include desi ghee as one of the ‘Panchamrit’ (or five elixirs). Desi ghee is clarified butter which is kept simmering at low temperatures till the time it develops into a yellowish or clear liquid. It has been prepared in Indian households since the Vedic Age. Desi Ghee finds detailed mention in Vedas as well where it is mentioned as a ‘golden liquid’ and is considered as the perhaps the most essential component of all foods.

Cow Ghee has been mentioned as a ‘medhaya rasayana’ due to its beneficial effects on mind – mental alertness and memory. In Ayurveda, it said to nourish all ‘ saptdhatus’ (the seven fundamental tissues and elements namely ‘plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone , bone marrow and reproductive fluid’ that support the body structure), ‘ojas’ (reproductive, hormonal, and cerebrospinal vital energy) and breast milk, normalising blood and nymph and promoting strength. It is believed that sweet taste of the desi ghee stimulates anabolic activity as the earth element is predominant.

Desi finds a place of importance in diet of people of Indian sub-continent due to it granular texture, rich and pleasant smell and flavour. The unique sensory property of ghee makes it a prime candidate for frying and cooking medium. 

In present times, desi ghee is prepared in households and by the organised and unorganised sector engaged in dairy business. It is made from both cow’s and buffalo’s milk. When made in the homes, no preservatives are added to the ghee which makes these totally pure.

…Ayurveda and Desi Ghee

In Ayurveda, cow ghee is a key part of its treatments, therapies and medicinal formulations. Ayurveda formulations recommend use of Cow desi ghee as a solvent. The benefit of administering Ayurveda medicines in this way is that it reaches the targeted areas much more efficiently. This way the medicines are absorbed and digested more easily. It shall also be noted that many times water-based drugs are not able to diffuse completely in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or other body parts, but this is not a limitation in case of desi ghee. 


Constituents of Desi Ghee

Let us have a look at some of the major and minor constituents of cow and buffalo ghee, as given in the table below. By knowing these constituents we will be able to understand the benefits of desi ghee.

(source: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2f5f/cc89b15985f6609a7e116e981b01f27676c8.pdf )

Chemically, ghee is 99.5% fat of milk. It is a complex lipid formed by free fatty acids, phospholipids, diglycerides and triglycerides, fat soluble vitamins, carbonyls, tocopherol, hydrocarbons, sterols, sterol esters, carotenoids and charred casein. It also contains minerals, such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron and others. Moisture is another component of ghee and it is not possible to remove it completely by boiling.

The ghee which is made from cow milk is of yellowish colour but the one made from buffalo milk is white. Generally, the Cow ghee is considered to be better to that made from buffalo milk because the cow ghee is lighter and has lesser phosphorous than buffalo ghee. Having less phosphorous makes absorption of calcium easier in the body.


How to prepare Desi Ghee?

In households, desi ghee is prepared from the milk. After boiling the milk, it is allowed to cool down and a thick layer of fat (called ‘malai’) comes to the top of the milk. This ‘malai’ is skimmed off the milk. If the milk is rich in fat (called full cream milk), then the quantity of ‘malai’ will be more than in the toned or double toned milk. This ‘malai’ shall be collected in sufficient quantity before it is centrifuged to draw butter. 

This butter is then placed on simmering boil at low temperature. Whenever necessary, keep stirring it in between. It is allowed to boil till clear, golden hue desi ghee of granular texture begins to show and stabilises.

It is very important to note that the boiling has to happen at low temperature because ghee contains Vitamin A and other organic compounds which can get destroyed while boiled at high temperatures. 


Regional preferences of Desi Ghee

Desi ghee quality and distinctiveness is adjudged by three of its characteristics- flavour, colour and granularity. It is the preparation of desi ghee which also delivers its various variants in terms of flavour and texture. Being a country of diversity, desi ghee of different variants is preferred regionally. Aneja has classified this regional preference of desi ghee based on its flavor and texture. This is given in the table below…

It should be noted that about 30% of milk produced in India is used for production of ghee. It is done at various levels-organised, unorganised and household. It is consumed across the country in different variations.


How Desi Ghee gets its flavour?

Flavour of desi ghee is due to optimum blend of a number of compounds which are naturally present in milk, cream or butter and are passed on to the ghee phase during fermentation and clarification. The distinctive flavour of the ghee is attributed to presence of 16 free fatty acids, carbonyls (mono- and di-carbonyls) and lactones. There are given here-

…The granular texture of Desi Ghee

The granular texture of desi ghee with very little liquid fat is considered to be sign of good quality. The maximum size of buffalo ghee grains is 0.54mm whereas that of cow ghee is 0.34mm. 

…What does Desi Ghee get its colour from?

The colour of cow ghee is yellow because of the presence of carotenes whereas that of buffalo ghee is white or pale because carotenes are absent. Beta-carotene pigment is the reason for natural colour in milk. 


Benefits of Desi Ghee

Desi Ghee, once believed to be the villain behind increasing cholesterol levels, is now credited with many benefits. It was considered beneficial by ancient Indians. The benefits of desi ghee could be obtained both by ingesting it and also by its application. 

1/18. …increases potency of drugs

The potency of a drug is dependent on ionisation, solubility of body fluids and blood flow changes on administration. The Cow ghee, in particular, can bond with the lipid soluble nutrients and herbs. This helps in penetration of lipid-based cell walls. This directly improves the potency of the herbs by taking the herb components inside the cell. It carries not only drug components inside the cell membrane, but also nutrients.

2/18. … as per Ayurvedic tradition

In Ayurveda, ghee is considered to be very rejuvenating because it has antioxidant properties. It is one of the most easily digestible fats used for cooking. As discussed above, when it is taken along with medicines, these are absorbed and digested better.

In Ayurveda, cow ghee, in particular, is considered to be good for balancing of Vata (air) and Pitta (fire) related doshas (humours). It is considered as a Satvik food, which has a positive influence on mind, body and spirit.

3/18. …for all age group people

The grannies and mothers in Indian household make it a point to give desi ghee to kids on daily basis for increase immunity, bone development and muscular strength because of presence of fat soluble Vitamins A and E.

It is also recommended for adults and aged people, as it prevents inflammation of joint and muscles and keeps the joints well lubricated. 

4/18. …to keep warm from within

100 grams of desi ghee delivers about 850 calories of energy. Do you now know why it is used quite extensively in Indian kitchen preparations of ‘halwas’, ‘pinnis’ and ‘panjiris’ during winters? 

5/18. …as a source of energy

Since desi ghee contains short- and medium-chain fatty acids, these are sources of energy. Besides, fatty acids such as lauric acid have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. That is probably the reason why nursing mothers are given traditional preparations of desi ghee such as ‘ladoos’ and ‘pinjiris’.

6/18. …to open clogged nose

You must have got lukewarm drops of desi ghee put in your nostrils in order to ensure that these do not get clogged, particularly in the winter season. In Ayurveda, this is known as Nyasa treatment. Cow ghee is particularly good for this treatment.

7/18. …in digestion and excretion

Studies have shown that desi ghee in general and cow ghee in particular helps in digestion of food. It is itself digested almost completely, to the extent of 96%, which is far more than any other edible oil. It improves the digestive power of the stomach without irritating the stomach. It balances the stomach acids which does not adversely affect health of stomach. It maintains and repairs the mucus lining of stomach.

Since Cow ghee is free from lactose or salt, it is good for people who are lactose intolerant. 

8/18. …good fats for healthy heart

Desi Ghee is a source of saturated fats, cholesterol, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are important for body. According to the guidelines of National Institute of Nutrition, there is a requirement of 5 tablespoons of visible fat on daily basis by our body. 

It has been established by various studies that desi ghee increases only the good cholesterol (HDL) and not the bad LDL cholesterol. This is because of the fact, as established by research studies on Cow ghee, that the range of vitamins soluble in fat, like Vitamin E, is increased. Due to this solubility, the oxidation of LDL is prevented which helps in keeping the lipid profile same. Since the lipid profile does not change, there are very less chances of heart attack or stroke. 

Desi Ghee is also a rich source of Vitamin K12 which helps in reducing the calcium deposit in arteries. These additional qualities of desi ghee, which are not present in other refined oils, make it superior to refined oils.

9/18. …for loss of excess fat

It might be difficult to believe that desi ghee can actually help in burning of your own fat for fuel. This process is called Oleation wherein oil is ingested over a period of time. Desi ghee has saturated fats in the form of short-chain fatty acids. It helps pull fat soluble toxins out of the cells and kick-starts the process of metabolism which burns this fat. You it helps in actually reducing your fat. 

10/18. …for health of skin

Desi Ghee has all important fatty acids which help the cells of skin to remain hydrated. This keeps the skin well nourished.

11/18. …when taken empty stomach

Ayurvedic tradition holds that consumption of desi ghee as a first thing in the morning develops the nourishing juice Rasa. When you take 5 ml to 10 ml of desi ghee empty stomach in morning, it provides nutrition and nourishment to every cell in the body through this Rasa. Besides, it provides lubrication to every cell and tissue in the body.

Good Rasa is believed to be the reason for glowing, soft and healthy skin. A balanced Rasa leads to clarity of thought, love and faith.

12/18. …for mind and memory health

Desi ghee is considered extremely beneficial for mind and memory. Its antioxidant property prevents or retards progress of degenerative diseases and repairs nervous tissues. Cow ghee, in particular, is helpful in all three faculties of mind- learning, memory and recall.

13/18. …for dry and dull hair

Use of desi ghee with honey provides nourishment and protection for dry and dull hair. Desi ghee is rich in healthy fats and essential vitamins, such as A and D. This helps in treating the dull and rough strands of hair. Honey is a moisturiser and along with ghee it acts as a mask. It revitalises your hair. Honey has anti-bacterial properties which keeps hair clean and healthy. 

After application keep it like that for some time and then wash it off with cold water.

14/18. …on scalp for moisturising it

For massaging the scalp of the head, it is much better to use lukewarm desi ghee than oils. Massage will improve the blood circulation, provide nutrition to hair and reduce the hair fall. You shall use it as an overnight treatment and acts as a deep conditioner for your hair. 

15/18. …for chapped lips

During winters, it is quite common to have chapped lips due to to dry weather conditions. Using desi ghee is a way to moisturise your lips. You are required to just apply it gently on lips with your finger tips and leave it like that overnight. 

16/18. …for dark circles beneath eyes

It has been an age old practice of massaging the eye skin where there are dark circles gently with desi ghee before sleeping for a couple of weeks in order to rid of these dark circles. The antioxidants, fatty acids and vitamins present in ghee provide nourishment and prevent occurrence of wrinkles and fine lines. 

17/18. …for skin and as a cure for pimples

You can use desi ghee for massaging the face and let it remain like that overnight. The ghee can also be mixed with sandalwood powder, turmeric and milk for more benefits. This paste can be applied to face and then washed off after 20 minutes or so. 

Ghee has moisturisers which help is taking care of multiple skin issues. It prevents the peeling of skin and prevents its dehydration. Besides providing a youthful glow it also prevents anti-microbial infections. Its anti-bacterial properties also help in preventing the unwanted pimples on face which is quite common in teenagers moving towards adulthood.

18/18. …intestinal health and for constipation

Butyric acid present in desi ghee, both in cow ghee and buffalo ghee, helps in maintaining good health of intestines and the colon. The cells of colon use butyric acid as a prime source of energy. Butyric acid is antiviral and anti-cancer in nature. Also, it helps in lubricating the intestines, preventing constipation and bowel disorders. Generally, it is advisable for people having constipation issues to take 1 or 2 tablespoons of desi ghee in hot milk at bedtime. 


How is Desi Ghee consumed?

The use of desi ghee was widely prevalent during the ancient times when there were no other oils present. Desi ghee is consumed in different ways. It can be drank raw. In fact, having it empty stomach helps in building immunity. Indian households still use it to for cooking and frying purposes. Dals and vegetables are cooked in it. It is brushed on chapatis and poured over rice. Pakoras are fried in it. You even have sweets made in desi ghee. The ladoos, pinnis, panjiri, halwas, jalebis and many other traditional and modern Indian sweets are made in desi ghee. 

Desi ghee is used in Indian kitchen across all parts of the country. The rationale of using desi ghee stems from the fact that it has a high heat point. This means that it will not burn easily and, therefore, not release free radicals. It makes it healthy for use. 


Using only desi ghee in cooking at home?

Many research studies have documented usefulness of desi ghee for cooking purposes. Despite these, some researchers suggest that sole dependence on desi ghee shall not be resorted to. 

While refined vegetable oils are not favoured by any researcher because of the use of chemicals during the refining process, it is suggested to make use of pure oils for cooking purposes. These pure oils are mustard oil, olive oil and sesame oil, to name a few. 

So, it is a good idea to alternate between desi ghee and these oils for cooking purposes. 


Dairying defines the quality of Desi Ghee?

Quality of ghee depends a lot on how dairying is practiced. At present, dairying in done in organised and unorganised sector. A lot depends on the breed of cows, how these are fed and bred  and on the process of mulching.

There are dairy farms which still adhere to traditional methods which requires a lot of effort. These do not make use of the hybrid or Jersey cows, rather the pure Indian genetic stock is reared for dairying purposes. These farms do not use machinery for extracting milk. Nor do these use hormonal injections for enhancing production of milk. Cows are fed with the traditional best quality diet made from organic fodder, jowar, hai and other ingredients. These make use of the calves to have the mother’s milk flow down naturally. Milk mulched in such a way is full of beneficial components and the ghee made from it is the purest.


Is Honey and Ghee mixture a poison?

In Ayurveda, Acharya Charak has pointed out that when honey and ghee are mixed in equal ratio or when the honey is heated, it produces deleterious effects on body and can even have effect of poison. 

In order to check the veracity and authenticity of this claim in ancient texts, a study on rats was conducted to observe and analyze the physicochemical characteristic of a mixture of heated honey and heated desi ghee. Without going into the details of the study, we would like to present the outcome. 

It was observed that heating honey beyond 140 degree Celsius reduced its specific gravity considerably which deteriorated its quality. Heating of honey reduces the specific gravity with consequent increase in the ash value, pH, hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde (HMF), browning phenolics and antioxidant activity. 

When honey is mixed with ghee there is a significant increase in browning, antioxidants, specific gravity and HMF quantity. It is the HMF which can have deleterious effects and can act as a poison over a period of time. 

In Ayurveda, it is also mentioned that honey is warm in nature and ghee is cool. So, a combination or mix of these two is likely to cause imbalances (doshas) within the body. 


Also read…

[1] Desi Ghee adulteration problem and home tests

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