Ghee is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine and has made its way into mainstream cooking in the US with its unique flavor.
If you are wondering is ghee vegan, then we are here to help you decide.
What Exactly Is Ghee?
Ghee is a type of clarified butter that has been used in South Asian and Indian cooking for generations. It has recently become more mainstream in the US.
It is used as a cooking fat and has a very high smoking point making it ideal for high temperature cooking.
In addition to its ability to cook at high temperatures without burning, ghee also imparts its own unique flavor into any dish it is part of.
It has a nutty quality and the taste of butter without the mouthfeel that regular butter gives.
As well as being an integral part of Indian cuisine, ghee is also used as a traditional medicine and in some religious rituals.
However, the ghee for religious purposes has to be exceptionally pure.
For use in cooking ghee is derived from cow or buffalo milk.
Is Ghee Vegan?
As ghee is derived from milk, either buffalo or cow then it would seem to be obvious that it is not a vegan product.
However, there is more to the production of ghee than just where it begins its journey.
To make ghee, butter is rendered by heating it to the point where the milk solids and water separate from the fat.
When the water then evaporates all that is left are the milk solids and the butter fat.
Next the milk solids or whey protein are removed which leaves just the clear, pure butter fat, this is ghee.
Some argue that because there are no milk proteins or solids left in the ghee that it is now a vegan product.
However, the process of making ghee cannot take place without the starting point of using milk to make butter and that milk comes from cows and buffalo.
According to the Vegan Society the definition of veganism is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals”.
As milking cows and buffalo is seen as exploitation this excludes the classification of ghee as a vegan product.
While by the time the ghee is produced there are no milk solids left and negligible levels of milk protein, the starting point is still milk.
Clarified Butter VS Ghee
The process of making ghee is very similar to that which produces clarified butter. So is ghee just another clarified butter?
While it is in a sense clarified butter, ghee has a different taste which is quite unique.
Although they are both processed in much the same way, ghee is simmered for a longer time than clarified butter and this creates its own special nutty taste.
This unique taste is achieved through the milk solids caramelizing during the long simmering process.
When these solids are then filtered out they leave behind their nutty flavor.
Both clarified butter and ghee are pure butterfat which gives it a much longer shelf life than regular butter.
Does Ghee Contain Dairy?
The process of making ghee involves melting butter to high temperatures which separates the butterfat, water and milk solids.
The water evaporates and after the simmering process all of the milk solids are removed.
Therefore ghee has negligible quantities of lactose and casein and can be said to be free of dairy. This is good news for those who are lactose intolerant.
However, it doesn’t make ghee vegan.
Vegan Ghee Alternatives
There are however, vegan ghee alternatives including:
- Non-dairy butter
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Mustard oil
- Safflower oil
To achieve a similar smoking point as ghee, one of its prime benefits, avocado oil is potentially the best substitute.
It works really well with high temperature cooking, although it won’t have ghee’s unique flavor.
Non-dairy butters such as Earth Balance, Faba Butter, or Miyokos will give you a buttery richness but again, the flavor will be slightly different.
For those who follow a strict vegan diet then ghee is definitely not an option.
Although there is an argument that ghee is devoid of any dairy by the time it is produced, its origins are indisputable.
There are however, plenty of vegan alternatives to ghee and with some experimentation you can achieve a close approximation of the flavor of this tasty ingredient.