Every time I visit the grocery store or specialty organic market, there always seems to be some new food or diet trend. From diet avocados to activated charcoal, consumers are never at a loss for new products touting health benefits that spark colourful conversations across social media. Another topic that continues propagate debate amongst dietitians is butter. Whether you're #TeamButter or #TeamMargarine, you've likely heard of butter's cousins: clarified butter and ghee. If you've ever wondered: "clarified butter vs ghee...they're the same thing, right?" You're kind of right, but also technically wrong. 

What is Butter?

butter, cheese, dairy, dairy product, milk
Caroline Ingalls

If we want to talk clarified butter vs ghee, we need to establish what butter is first. Butter consists of three ingredients—at least 80% butterfat (by law!), 16-17% water, and 1-2% milk solids other than fat. Since butter is derived from animal products, it is high in saturated fat, which has been linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease

However, butter is preferred by culinary professionals in baking and cooking. As the milk proteins are heated, they caramelize and develop a nutty flavour. Its melting point is 98.6°F, which is approximately the temperature of our mouths, giving butter a much smoother taste than other fats, like vegetable oil. 

The main drawback with butter is its low smoke point—350°F. Smoke point literally means the temperature when a fat or oil starts to smoke. For context, sautéing or stir-frying often reach temperatures considerably higher than 350°F. Smoke point is a concern because it can generate free radicals which make your food taste scorched and gross. Yuck. 

The solution? Let's raise the smoke point. 

What Is Clarified Butter?

Clarified butter is traditionally associated with French cuisine. Simply, it's unsalted butter that has been slowly heated just so it reaches a boil. At this point, the water is removed via evaporation and the milk solids by straining the liquid through a cheesecloth. This process raises its smoke-point to 450°F. 

You can store the clarified butter, or liquid gold as it's sometimes called, in your refrigerator for up to a year, where it will harden to a butter-like consistency. Alternatively, it can be stored on your counter for up to three months where it will remain a liquid. Making your own clarified butter is relatively simple; this article gives great step-by-step instructions.

If you're following a Paleo or Whole 30 Diet, clarified butter is a common ingredient since the whey and casein have been removed. If a recipe calls for pan-frying, sautéing, or stir-frying, I'd recommend using clarified butter due to the higher temperatures attained by these methods. Since clarified butter has a much richer and intense flavour, it's great in risottos, pasta dishes, or to accompany seafood or chicken. 

#SpoonTip: While it sounds tempting, do not replace butter with clarified butter when making pastries. Clarified butter is missing the water component of butter, which is crucial for pastries.

So, What's Ghee?

grass, herb, vegetable
Maddy McGunagle

Ghee is associated with Indian culture. Since the water has been removed, it's more shelf-stable than butter and lasts longer in the high temperatures. Ghee also plays a role in the ancient practices of Ayurvedic medicine and is used to light lamps. 

Many people use the terms clarified butter and ghee interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. Recall that clarified butter is heated just to the point where the water evaporates and the milk solids separate. Ghee is cooked just a touch longer so the milk solids have a chance to caramelize before being removed, giving ghee a nuttier flavour. The final product is more golden in colour than clarified butter and has a smoke point of 485°F.

Like clarified butter, ghee is Whole 30 and Paleo approved. Ghee is most often found in Indian recipes, like curry or as a spread on naan. Wherever you want to use clarified butter, you could also consider using ghee. It's also great for grilling meat, roasting vegetables, or adding to mashed potatoes. Like coconut oil, you can also use ghee as a skin moisturizer. 

Let's briefly recap the main difference between clarified butter vs ghee: butter becomes clarified butter, which could potentially become ghee. Ghee is going to taste slightly nuttier, but on the whole, both are going to have a more intense flavour and are suitable for people avoiding lactose in their diets. While the differences are minor, ghee and clarified butter aren't the same thing.