Hey you. Yeah, you.
You’re still cooking with olive oil, aren’t you? Yup. Thought so.
I am sure you’ve heard the news that this is a bad idea, but you’re not sure why so you just keep doing it. Sounds familiar. Sounds like me. For years I thought I was doing myself a huge favour by switching from butter to olive oil, as my diet moved from a standard diet to an organic, plant-based, whole foods diet, but it turns out I was a little mislead.
First off, let me explain why cooking with olive oil, and eating other heated oils can be to our detriment.
There are many, many different kinds of fats, some of which are more delicate, or less “stable” than others, meaning that they will go off more easily. The three factors that cause fats to spoil are:
No matter how stable a fat is, it will always in the end, succumb to one or more of these factors and putrefy. Unless we’re talking about margarine, but who would ever eat that anyway? Tee hee.
Now we can talk about extra virgin olive oil, which is a fairly delicate fat. It has a low “smoke point”, which means that it will begin to burn at a relatively low temperature. As soon as any fat reaches its smoke point, it begins to break down and create free radicals – those horrendous, carcinogenic, unstable molecules that damage cells and cell membranes, and are associated with the development of conditions like atherosclerosis and cancer. You thought I was kidding around?!
Extra virgin olive oil’s low smoke point (320ºF) means that is not suitable for stir-frying, sautéing, or any other high-heat cooking. Pour it all over your salads for sure, but stop using it to cook today. Seriously. There are other grades of olive oil (virgin, pure, pomace, light, refined) that are of lesser nutritional value that can be used for higher heat cooking because they have a lower concentration of fragile nutritive components. However, most people have one type of olive oil in their pantry, and it’s of the extra virgin pursuassion because that is the one we are “supposed” to buy. Am I right?
Okay, enough with the doom and gloom! I have a great solution! It’s called ghee, or clarified butter, and it’s been around for, oh, 5000 years.
Ghee has been used in Indian Ayurvedic cooking for centuries, not only as a totally delicious food, but as an aid for digestion, ulcers, constipation, and the promotion of healthy eyes and skin. It is used in Indian beauty creams to help soften skin, and as a topical for the treatment of burns and blisters, which really works! I burned myself on the oven at work and put some ghee on it a few hours later. It healed miraculously quickly.
Lovin’ me some fat
Ghee is essentially clarified butter, made by heating regular butter until the proteins (casein) and sugars (lactose) separate from the pure butterfat. Simple.
Depending on the source of the butter used, ghee can be very high in antioxidants, in additions to helping the body absorb vitamins and minerals from other foods, namely vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The reason ghee is considered one of the best oils for baking, sautéing and deep-frying is due to its high smoke point (up to 480ºF). Butter burns at a lower temperature because of the presence of casein and lactose. Once removed, butterfat’s smoke point increases substantially. The other benefit of this is that people who are allergic to dairy products, or have casein or lactose intolerance can often tolerate ghee. Groovy.
Ghee has a very long shelf life because of its low moisture content. You do not need to refrigerate it for 2-3 months if you keep it in an airtight container. This makes it ideal for traveling or camping (awesome). When kept in refrigerator, ghee can last up to a year.
Delicious, Liquid Gold
I guess I could go on forever about all the health benefits, long formidable, history, or how easy it is to make ghee, but the part I like best? IT TASTES INCREDIBLE. Think of that warm, nutty taste in a shortbread cookie, or a flaky croissant. Ghee is similar to butter, but you will be pleasantly surprised that it is even richer-tasting, and dare I say…cheesy? Oh you heard me. It’s crazy delicious. Spread a little on toast (guh) or drizzle it on steamed veggies, or cook with it! It’s totally safe for those of you who like a very hot pan when stir-frying, or for those that forget that you turned the element on full blast and left the kitchen to go write an email. Oops.
You can find ghee at most health food stores, but making it yourself at home is about as easy as boiling water. Plus, when you make it yourself, you can choose the quality of the butter; remember that organic, grass-fed cows are the healthiest and make the tastiest ghee.
Organic, unsalted butter (this is important!) – I use 500g at a time (approx. 4 sticks).
1. Heat the unsalted butter in a heavy-duty saucepan over low-medium heat without a lid until it’s melted. Let simmer gently until the foam rises to the top of the melted butter. The butter will make lots of spluttering sounds and perhaps splatter a bit, so be careful.
2. Over the next 20-30 minutes (depending on the water content of your butter), watch the butter carefully as 3 layers develop: a foamy top layer, a liquid butterfat layer, a milk solids bottom layer. You can remove the foamy top layer with a spoon if you like, which helps to see trough to the bottom, but this is optional – it will be strained out in the end anyway.
3. Once the butter stops spluttering, and no more foam seems to be rising to the surface, check to see if the bottom layer has turned a golden brown colour and there is an incredible aroma of freshly baked croissants in your kitchen. If so, the ghee is ready and must be removed from the heat immediately or it will burn.
4. Set a few layers of cheesecloth or gauze over a heatproof container, such a canning jar. Carefully pour the warm liquid butter through the cheesecloth into the container, leaving behind any solids from the bottom of the pan. Let sit at room temperature to cool and solidify before placing an air-tight lid on the container. Store in the fridge for 1 year or, out of the fridge for 2-3 months.
Now, you’re probably wondering why the heck I have written many of my recipes for stir-frying or roasting with olive oil. Yup, good question. I guess part of me just wanted to encourage everyone to stop using Pam cooking spray, lard, and vegetable oil, and I wasn’t sure how to tackle the enormous subject of cooking fat. Now, I will firmly stand by my ghee for future recipes and you will know what I am talking about because you’ll have a jar of its golden goodness on your counter top too. Do we have a deal? Ghee whiz, I hope so.
OKAY! Question and answer time it is! I had a feeling that this would happen 🙂
#1 – I PROMISE to write a full article on vegetable-source cooking fats at some point in the very near future. This article was not meant to be about that. It was about ghee.
In the meantime if you would like to cook with a vegetable-source fat, I would recommend coconut oil. I will elaborate on that in another post.
#2 – Yes, ghee is better than cooking with butter because butter burns at a lower temperature than ghee. Please refer to paragraph #2 in the section called “Lovin’ me some fat”.