What is Clarified Butter?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Clarified butter, called ghee in Indian cuisine, is a type of butter that is a liquid and clear gold in color. It is butter from which much of the additional moisture and milk solids have been removed through a careful process of heating and straining, sometimes called rendering. Ghee can keep for several months in the refrigerator, tends to be slightly lower in calories, and is used in a variety of sauces, or merely as a dip. Lobster would not be quite the same without being dipped into the clarified butter with which it is normally served.

Clarified butter.
Clarified butter.

Though you can occasionally buy ghee in Asian or Indian markets, it’s also quite easy to make at home. You should start out with unsalted butter, since salt can ruin the clarifying process. You can make clarified butter in small batches or large, with literally one cube at a time or several pounds at a time. Since milk solids are removed, you will end up with less butter than you began with, so you may want to bear this in mind and make a slightly larger amount than you need. Further, you can store any unused clarified butter in the fridge for the next time you need it.

The leftover solids from making clarified butter, with a cup of clarified butter below.
The leftover solids from making clarified butter, with a cup of clarified butter below.

Recipes on making clarified butter differ slightly. All require heating the butter, then some suggest skimming off the foam that begins to form on the top as the butter reaches a near boiling point. A simpler method is to merely turn the heat down on the butter to a simmer when it begins to foam. This will drop the foam, which is actually small milk solids, down to the bottom of the pot. Once the butter turns a golden color, you merely pour the butter through a strainer to catch the milk solids. Paper coffee filters work very well if you don't have a fine strainer. Once the butter is strained it is considered clarified.

Many people like to use clarified butter as cooking oil. This is how it is frequently used in Indian, and in many other cuisines. Unlike unclarified butter, ghee has a much higher smoking point, so it can be used in dishes that require longer cooking or hot temperatures without worrying about things browning too quickly or burning. Some chefs, though, feel that clarified butter is less flavorful than butter that has not been rendered. Others find the lighter taste of ghee highly appealing.

Some national cuisines add herbs to ghee in order to produce an herb infused oil. In Ethiopia, clarified butter often is served with the addition of garlic and ginger. Similarly in French cuisine, dishes like escargot are usually served or topped with garlic and parsley ghee.

Butter before clarifying.
Butter before clarifying.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

chicada

I have noticed that most organic butter and the more expensive butter brands tend to have a yellower color, and have less milk solids and moisture when clarified. I am not sure if this is really the case because I have not measured the difference in the amount of clarified butter taken form a pound of each, but I have noticed some sort of a difference. Has anyone else noticed the same thing, or am I just imagining things?

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