Although ghee has been used in Indian cooking for thousands of years, it only recently became popular in the US. You've probably seen it on restaurant menus, touted as a healthier form of butter, or know it as a staple of the paleo diet. Although it looks like butter and is made from dairy, ghee is considered paleo because there are no milk solids in the final product. So while followers of the paleo diet can't eat dairy products, they're allowed to have ghee. Understandably, this causes a lot of confusion for anyone who can't have dairy or who follows a vegan diet, which begs the question, is ghee vegan? 

What is Ghee?

Native to India and popular in Indian cooking, ghee has recently become more mainstream and is often praised for its high smoke point and rich flavor. It's a butter-based product typically made from buffalo or cow's milk that has been heated and purified. Once the water in the milk has evaporated, the milk solids are removed and the remaining substance is a clear, pure butterfat known as ghee. 

Many people think ghee is the same thing as clarified butter, but there are slight differences. Clarified butter is pure butterfat, which is a result of heating butter until all of the milk solids and water are removed. Ghee differs slightly from clarified butter in that it's simmered for much longer to create its signature nutty, aromatic flavor. 

Is Ghee Vegan?

Technically, ghee does not contain milk solids, which are removed during production. This is why many consumers think ghee is 'lactose-free' and 'paleo-friendly.' However, ghee still contains butterfat and is derived from animal products (milk), and is therefore not considered vegan. 

Vegan Alternatives to Ghee

If you're trying to veganize a recipe that calls for ghee, you can substitute a non-dairy butter (like Earth Balance, Miyoko's, or Faba Butter) for recipes that require lower cooking temperatures. Coconut or avocado oil can be used in recipes cooked at higher temps. Just keep in mind that the resulting flavors may vary slightly, as some claim ghee has a very distinctive taste. 

#SpoonTip: If you're dining out and see a dish is cooked or topped with ghee, simply ask your server to substitute ghee for your choice of cooking oil. 

The bottom line is that if you're trying to live a plant-based lifestyle, always remember that you don't have to live up to any standard. Every small change you make to reduce your meat and dairy intake adds up. Overall choices are what's more important, so don't stress out about every minute detail of your diet. If you've already purchased a jar of ghee thinking it was vegan, go ahead and use it up and enjoy it while you have it.