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Coconut Ghee, the Perfect Cooking Fat

January 21, 2010

Two kinds of ghee

Mark’s Daily Apple, my favorite Paleo/Primal blog, ran a terrific post on edible oils yesterday, here. Mark Sisson, the author, asked for comments on readers’ favorite edible oils and I passed on my coconut ghee recipe, a synergistic blend of two fabulous fats: coconut oil and clarified butter or ghee. Mark said he’d never heard of it. So I’m passing on the details here. [UPDATE: Mark did a post on coconut ghee and kindly cited me, here.]

I first learned about making ghee and clarified butter from either the Weston A. Price Foundation or from Sally Fallon Morell’s cookbook Nourishing Traditions. (Of course it’s much more than a cookbook, it’s a paradigm-shifting nutrition course and political manifesto, disguised as a cookbook.) Eventually I tried making clarified butter myself. Nothing could be simpler: Melt butter, skim off the skin that forms on top, pour it through a cheesecloth to strain, and leave behind the solids at the bottom of the pan. Clarified butter lasts longer and has a higher smoke point than regular butter.

As usual, when I get really interested in a topic, I read everything I can get my hands on about it, and then I make it complicated. I did that with ghee, except that it never got all that complicated, and along the way I got the idea to combine it with coconut oil and found I had come up with the perfect cooking fat. It’s neutral but not tasteless. In fact it’s so yummy you’ll want to eat it straight. (Go ahead!)

Strained ghee, still liquid

Some background: ghee is the Indian variation on clarified butter and considered a sacred food in that ancient culture. Clarifying butter is the simple process of removing the water and protein from butterfat. The resulting pure butterfat is less likely to burn and keeps longer without refrigeration as you’ve removed the proteins (whey and casein) and water. What makes it ghee instead of simply clarified butter is cooking it longer and at higher temperature. Why would you do that? According to Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, once the water is evaporated from melted butter, you raise the temperature to brown the milk solids (proteins), which adds flavor and “generates antioxidant compounds that delay the onset of rancidity.” Wow!

The first time I grasped the possibilities of ghee was last summer when I was making it for the first time in awhile. I was trying to do too many different things at once, as usual, and the melting butter got too hot and started to burn. I turned off the store, let the butter cool while I did something else, forgot about it, then it got hard so I couldn’t filter out the solids. So I reheated it. Got too hot again, so I cooled it again. I may have even gone a third round. Now I’m not sure exactly which part of this process was the key step, but the resulting ghee had the most irresistible caramel fragrance and taste. It was out of this world.

I can’t even remember whether I added coconut oil to that particular batch but I have done so ever since. I haven’t been able to exactly recreate the taste of that almost-burned batch of ghee, but I believe Harold McGee when he says the additional cooking of the melted butter flavors the ghee and creates antioxidants.

Straining the ghee with a coffee filter and sieve

The basic procedure:
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt a pound or two of top-quality unsalted butter, from pastured cows if at all possible. McGee says it should be heated to 190 degrees Fahrenheit (90C) but I never measure the temperature; just don’t do this on high heat—low to medium-low should suffice. Leave the lid off your saucepan because you want the water to evaporate. If you’re new to this, don’t heat it too high and keep your eye on things so it doesn’t burn. The whey protein will rise to the top and the butter will bubble and froth for awhile. A thin skin will form on the top as the whey dries out.

When the bubbling stops, you’ll notice that the remaining milk solids (mainly casein protein) will have dropped to the bottom of the pan. You can now skim the top and pour the pure butter oil off the solids. Strain through a cheesecloth laid over a metal strainer if you like into clean jars. You’ve now clarified butter! To make it ghee, once the water is evaporated, raise the temperature to 250 degrees F. To brown the milk solids a bit. You’ll still strain them off as above, but not before they’ve left a tantalizing taste and scent and those valuable antioxidants.

According to McGee, the solids from the bottom of your pan are saved to make sweets in India. They taste great on popcorn, vegetables, or simply eaten with a spoon! Or if you’re sensitive to casein, feed it to your dogs; they’ll think they’re in heaven. (My solution to all food disposal problems is compost it or dogify it.)

To turn your clarified butter or ghee into coconut ghee, fill each jar only about half to two-thirds full. Spoon coconut oil (room temperature is fine, whether liquid or solid) into the warm ghee to nearly fill your jar (be careful not to overfill or you’ll waste precious oil). Stir from time to time as the coconut oil melts and blends with the ghee. When the coconut oil is liquified, screw the lid on tight and shake the jar vigorously to blend the oils. Let cool on the counter or in the refrigerator. Shake occasionally during the cooling to make sure the mixture stays blended until it solidifies.

You can refrigerate your coconut ghee or store at room temperature. It should stay good for months unless your kitchen is extremely hot, and then it will still be good for a long time but it may melt. I have not tested the limits of how long it will last, because I eat it up so fast. I use coconut ghee as my basic cooking fat. You can combine with other oils such as olive oil, you can spread it on crackers, you can lick it off your fingers. It works for both savory and sweet dishes, much like butter, and is a good way to incorporate more coconut oil into your diet if you don’t like a coconutty taste on everything. It won’t taste like coconut. It’s not exactly like butter or regular ghee either. It’s perfect.

For further reading (and to check my facts):
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee, pp 36-37. He writes a New York Times column and a blog called The Curious Cook.
Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes, by Jennifer McLagan, pp 23-25. She also wrote Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore, which I’m dying to read.

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16 Comments
  1. Sorry I meant to write coconut oil/ghee, not coconut oil/coconut oil. I wish you could edit comments!

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      No worries, I understood you. I’m so glad you tried coconut ghee! It really is so delicious. I first started by just blending butter and coconut oil as a spread on toast, a few years ago. I started to get fat on it so stopped (I’m a person who really shouldn’t eat bread, but I can eat a lot of fat!) But after I started making ghee last year, I just fell into combining it with coconut oil. Even when I think I’ve messed up this time for sure, it always turns out to be incredibly delicious.
      Coconut oil/ghee as a moisturizer would probably work quite well, but my dogs would be licking me nonstop! Perhaps shea butter and coconut oil. I just love trying new mixes.
      I’m thrilled that you found the time to visit my little fledgling blog, given how busy you are! Bravo on the great job on the US Wellness Meats issue. I’ve been spending too much time reading and not enough finishing a couple of blogposts that I have in the works. You’re an inspiration! Cheers!

      • LOL! I know — I’ve been way too busy dealing with those comments instead of doing what I need to get done. My menu mailer is a whole week late going out!!!!

        I also want to use the moisturizer on my little one. My mom told me one time she gave some coconut oil to her nephew who was 5 or 6 at the time. He put it on and went out like a light — and slept soundly ALL night. She said she’d never seen him sleep so well. I think a little lavender essential oil would help, too.

        Congrats on your new blog. This was the same WP theme I used to use. I like it.

      • Jeanmarie permalink

        I appreciate your encouragement! I need to get a book on WordPress I guess. There are a lot of things I’d like to do with the layout that I can’t figure out.

        I have made moisturizers blending coconut oil, castor oil (which I bought for oil washing method), almond or grapeseed oil, and dribs and drabs of various leftover things. Plus essential oils. I have given or thrown away most personal care and cleaning products except for simple basics and make my own mixtures of things. It’s so much more satisfying, and with all the toxins being churned out into our environment nowadays, why add to it?

      • Oops I meant her grandson. MY nephew.

  2. Jeanmarie –

    My friend Janis (who just taught me how to make delicious sourdough bread) has a jar of coconut ghee on her counter. She is doing GAPS and she uses it for all her cooking. I tasted it and it was DELISH!

    I had an idea the other day… what about using coconut ghee for a moisturizer? Sandeep from Pure Indian Foods was telling me that in India, they use ghee as a moisturizer for their skin and hair.

    And since I heard Dave Wetzel say that we really do absorb nutrients (and everything else) via our pores, I was thinking it would be neat to make some coconut oil/coconut oil moisturizer. I could add a little essential oil for fragrance. And maybe add a little palm oil or olive oil so it wouldn’t be as solid at room temperature.

    Anyway, I’m going to try it!

  3. Howdy. So I tried this last night. I’d been meaning to make butter from cream and last night I did. It was fantastic. Then I remembered this and decided I’d just keep going. It was really interesting to see the whole process: cream to butter to ghee to coconutty blend. Now I need to find a recipe to try it with. Here’s a question: is there anything you can do with the milk solids? Or do you just chuck them?

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      Hi Caveman Sam, and welcome! Wow, you’re ahead of me as I haven’t made my own butter yet, but I have plans to do it this week. I use coconut ghee as my standard cooking fat: for eggs, meats, vegetables, whatever. You could melt it to use in anything that calls for oil. As to the milk solids left after making ghee, you can use them to top steamed vegetables or popcorn if you eat it, or anything, really. In India they’re used to make sweets. You can also let your dogs lick out the pan, if you have dogs and they don’t have a known milk allergy. It’d be a shame to toss it out but I’d do that if casein intolerance or allergy were an issue.
      And btw, that was totally an unconscious pun on my part, “thanks for the clarification.” I didn’t catch it until you pointed it out!

  4. commutergrrl permalink

    I am SO trying this! How does this compare to Mary Enig’s oil blend when it comes to a a safe cooking temperature range?

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      I haven’t performed any kind of lab analysis, but it seems to me it should be at least as good as Mary’s Oil Blend, which, if I remember correctly, contains olive oil and sesame seed oil, both of which contain much higher levels of PUFAs, which are easily damaged by heat. It’s better than butter, as the burnable bits that can go rancid have been removed, and tastes better than straight coconut oil. I could eat it straight from the jar! I’d love to hear how it goes for you, so keep in touch! Thanks for stopping by.

      • commutergrrl permalink

        Since I had some ghee and some coconut oil on hand, I melted a teaspoon of each and spooned it onto some disappointingly dry chicken breasts. Man, oh manischewitz, that is some tasty fat!

        BTW, I’m so glad you have a butter blog. Butter is my favorite fat, bar none. Although I haven’t tried lard yet. That’s next on my list!

      • Jeanmarie permalink

        Lard is good for some uses, especially making pie crusts or cooking potatoes (chicken fat, or schmaltz, is great for potatoes too), but coconut ghee is my favorite hands-down and is so versatile. When a recipe calls for oil, I just melt some coconut ghee and use that. (I stick with olive oil and maybe a bit of flax oil for salads though!)

      • commutergrrl permalink

        Hmm…I don’t do a heck of a lot of baking. And coconut ghee IS delicious and totally on hand just now. Golly, it’s good. I’m actually over the moon about it. Sold! If I need to make pie crust (unlikely), I’ll use the tallow I already have.

  5. Oh myyyyyy, this sounds heavenly! What if we just melted butter and coconut oil together, would that work just as well in recipes?

    • Jeanmarie permalink

      It is heavenly! You can always just toss a hunk of butter and a hunk of coconut oil into a pot before you start cooking something if you don’t have any coconut ghee already made, but it’s no more trouble than making ghee (just spoon still-solid coconut oil into your jars of warm ghee and stir!) and that is no trouble at all, and the whole is definitely yummier than the sum of the parts in this case. Clarifying the butter also extends its shelf-life without refrigeration, and if someone is sensitive to casein, they can now use butter.

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