Ghee, a lesson in Slowing Down
Living in the modern-day city is all about convenience. We can buy ready-made meals and fresh produce at the supermarket, order any kind of cuisine we want. Rarely do we slow down to think about how our butter, cheese, flours, etc. are made, let alone consider that we could make some of these foods ourselves. The first time someone told me I could make ghee from scratch at home, I wasn't willing to go beyond buying some regular organic butter from the store and simmering it over my stovetop at what was probably in retrospect way too high a temperature. The result was passable, but when rushing through it, it is hard to tell if you're getting a pure product, or if you've overcooked it. At any rate, when you're just going through the motions, what you're creating isn't likely to be anything special.
The real magic happens when love and attention is put towards the entire process, and when it comes to making ghee, there is a lot of love and attention to be given. After learning how to make cultured ghee all the way from raw cream in my Ayurvedic culinary training course, I decided I would go all the way and start as far back in the process as practically possible.
Living in an industrialized city means that going out to a dairy farm isn't all that practical. Luckily, a few grocers in the Long Beach area such as Mother's and Sprouts carry non-homogenized whole milk and organic, grass-fed heavy cream. The best milk to use is from grass-fed happy cows whose milk hasn't been ultra-pasteurized and homogenized before it hits the shelves. These processes are to ensure that the milk is sterile and that the cream doesn't separate from the milk, but in doing so, makes it much harder for the human system to digest. I grew up believing that milk gives me terrible indigestion, so it wasn't until I learned about this in my training that I recently gave milk consumption another chance, and I'm glad to say that buying purer, higher quality milk has made a world of difference.
I started the process by making a whole-milk yogurt. This was done by heating whole milk to a higher temperature, then mixing in a yogurt starter, followed by approximately 8 hours of incubation. The following day, I then took 4 pints of organic heavy cream and used the same method of making yogurt to culture the cream. Essentially the outcome was a yogurt made of heavy cream. The benefits of cultured ghee vs. regular ghee are outlined in What to Eat for How You Feel by Divya Alter, along with detailed instructions on how to make the ghee. From there, I poured the cultured cream yogurt into a mixer and proceeded to churn it into cultured butter.
It's actually very easy to make homemade butter. The only ingredient required is heavy whipping cream, and what happens is that you whip the cream until it becomes whipped cream, then continue to whip it until it separates into butter and butter milk. Squeezing the buttermilk out of the butter and shaping it into balls was so satisfying, and made my hands feel super smooth and soft!
The final step was to cook down the butter slowly and turn it into ghee. This was where the true test of patience was for me.
Making a pure, nourishing quality ghee requires low and slow cooking. In order to ensure that the ghee doesn't burn and that the solids separate out from the oil, it is barely simmered over the lowest flame over a long period of time. If you end up burning the ghee, it becomes unuseable and you have to toss it. After having gone this far to make the butter, I wasn't about to screw this up.
Let me tell you, the wait is worth it. Under the low heat, you can see the milk solids separate, exposing a perfectly translucent layer of golden butter oil. Once the water has evaporated, you know that the process is complete when the milk solids have turned golden brown. I had never made a batch of ghee this perfectly golden before.
Ta-da! This is the finished product. Ghee should be a uniform yellow color when it is properly made. It has a shelf-life of a couple of months without refrigeration, and is great for cooking because of its high smoke point (approximately 485 F). While it was a lot of work and time, it felt really amazing to be able to have a direct hand in creating the product from raw product to finished, knowing that it was all done with great care.
The Benefits of Ghee
You may be wondering why I'm making such a big deal out of ghee. Afterall, isn't ghee full of cholesterol and saturated fats? Isn't it bad for your heart? Isn't it fattening?
The answer is not as clear-cut as you might believe. Ghee has been praised in Ayurveda as a wonderful medicinal substance, and there is evidence to suggest that it does have some very strong healing properties. But don't just take my word for it. One of my favorite experts on the topic is Dr. John Douillard, who outlines some of the research and writing done on the benefits of ghee in this article, and who has also done reviews on the research of other types of oils and how they are used.
In Ayurveda, a substance can be a medicine for some while being a poison for others. Ghee is still a heavy, sweet substance that in excess can aggravate Kapha especially. With that in mind, it's always best to be mindful of how much ghee and other fats you consume, and when in doubt, check with a trusted health professional to see what is best for you.
We don't always have to make all of our food grown from our own garden and milked from our own cows. Indeed, it does take a lot of time. However, when we allow ourselves to have the experience, it really helps us focus our attention on the present and to appreciate all that goes into getting good food onto our plates. In today's grab-and-go society, so much of our food is both made and eaten without much thought, leading to problems such as indigestion and overeating.
Ghee is a traditional Ayurvedic food, but I would argue that anything prepared with love and intention is going to be of higher quality than a mass-produced product. There is a reason why people are starting to buy locally roasted coffee beans and craft beer. There is a reason why the apples at your local farmstand are juicier and sweeter than the ones at the supermarket.
The next time you have a chance, pick a food you normally have that you buy at the grocery store and challenge yourself to take some time to make that food at home from scratch. Make it an exercise in mindfulness and intention. You'll end up with a product made from your very own hands, one that is worth savoring to the last bite!