How to Make Ghee From Store-Bought Butter

First published on The Whole Foods Blog, Jan 9 2013

Ghee, solid at room temperature

In India, ghee is an essential part of our lives. It is used in cooking, to fuel oil lamps, and to pour into the fire during all manner of ceremonies. It is often treated as a symbol of purity.

Making homemade ghee was as much a part of our daily lives as was making homemade cultured butter. We had raw milk delivered to us every morning. Almost immediately, it was heated gently until it boiled. As it cooled, there was this magical layer of thick cream that floated to the top of the milk. It thickened as the milk cooled. Refrigeration made this layer almost solid and easier to scoop out into a special ceramic pot. Once that ceramic pot was full, a yogurt culture was stirred into it, and it was allowed to sit overnight on the counter.

The next morning, cold water was added to this thick cream yogurt, and it was churned using a ravi, or a wooden churner. As my mother grew older, she perfected the art of making butter in her sturdy Braun blender. It was truly magical to see the mixture slosh around, thicken, and then suddenly have the butter separate and float invitingly on top of buttermilk. (The best treat at this time would be boiled eggs mashed with fresh homemade butter and a touch of salt.) The buttermilk would either be cooked or spiced lightly to make a refreshing drink.

This homemade butter would be collected in yet another ceramic pot and stored in the refrigerator until there was enough to be cooked down into ghee. Store-bought butter and ghee came into our lives much later, when we switched to low-fat milk, which was also delivered daily, but by the state's co-operative dairy, not by the milkman.

Making ghee from homemade butter was a long process as the butter had more water content than commercially-produced butter. It was almost unheard of to make ghee at home from store-bought butter primarily because it was expensive. Now, however, it is the closest way to approximate the pure taste of ghee. I add a few cloves or a couple of green cardamom pods to the ghee about halfway through the cooking process, just like my mother did. She did it to balance any sour flavors that the homemade butter may have developed as it sat in the refrigerator, waiting to be made into ghee. I do it for nostalgia and because the flavor complements my cooking.

good quality butter

A heavy-bottomed pan, a piece of soft, thin cotton (or even a muslin cloth), a fine-mesh strainer, and low heat are all that is needed to make ghee from commercially produced butter. Select high-quality unsalted butter and cut it into small pieces to ensure that it melts evenly and to prevent scorching.

melted butter

bubbling and jumping

Making ghee is a process that cannot be rushed. Melted butter should first be brought to a boil over medium heat, and then simmered at the lowest possible temperature to ensure that almost all of the water evaporates from the emulsion, and all the milk solids in the butter separate and caramelize. This caramelization is essential for the resultant nutty flavor of ghee. As the butter simmers, it will have a tendency to bubble and leap out of the pan as the water evaporates. For this reason, do not use a shallow pan.

milk solids

straining milk solids

Store ghee in an airtight glass jar in the refrigerator or in a cool dark place. Always use a clean, dry spoon to avoid introducing contaminants and bacteria that can cause ghee to turn rancid.

liquid gold

Ghee is known for its high smoking point, making it an ideal candidate for frying and for use in tadkas. It also brings its nutty flavor to dishes. Make a dal that has a tadka in regular cooking oil, and then make the same dal, but use ghee in the tadka instead of oil, keeping all other ingredients the same. It is quite amazing how ghee can elevate a simple dal to new heights. Keep in mind that ghee is an animal fat and, therefore, is high in saturated fat. Use it in moderation, as you would any other fat, to season your dals and spiced vegetable dishes.


Makes 1.5 cups

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves OR 2 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised (optional)

  1. Slice the slab of butter into smaller chunks. This increases the surface area of the butter in the pan and helps the butter from over-cooking while the rest of the slab melts.
  2. Add to a medium pan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  3. Once the butter has melted, bring it to a boil and then reduce heat to as low as possible to allow the melted butter to simmer. The butter will foam and soon you will see milk solids begin to separate out. Stir and scrape down the sides every 15 minutes.
  4. After about half hour, add the cloves or cardamom, if using.
  5. Depending on how low your heat setting is, your ghee could be ready in as short as 45 minutes or as long as 1.5 hours. The trick is knowing when it is ready. Watch the milk solids and allow them to caramelize, without burning. Once the milk solids are caramelized and stirring the ghee with a wooden spoon does not make it bubble, your ghee is ready.
  6. Take the pan off the heat immediately or the milk solids will continue to cook and start burning.
  7. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a heat-resistant jar or pot. Cover the strainer with a thin cotton cloth or a fine muslin cloth folded a couple of times, and strain the hot ghee carefully into the jar.
  8. Prepare glass jars — canning jars are ideal — and pour the pale amber-colored molten ghee into these jars. Allow the ghee to cool completely before putting the lids on. Ghee solidifies at room temperature.
  9. Store tightly covered in a cool dark place at room temperature.


Hamaree Rasoi said...

Thanks for this informative post about Ghee preparation.

anna in spain said...

Thank you!! All the ghee "tutorials" I've found on YouTube etc are contradictory and leave a lot to the imagination. I'm gonna try this!! We can get tinned ghee from the UK at the Asian market but at 5.50 Euros for half a pound--I don't think so.

Poornima Krishnan said...

I always try to make ghee at home but find that nutty taste missing. It's important to cook it to the right point I suppose and that's where I go wrong. Maybe I am switching off the heat too early. Hopefully after reading your helpful post I will succeed!