Hot, mashed rice and dal with a dollop of ghee: the formula for weaning toddlers off milk had the mommies sneaking a mouthful or two. I know I did that.
The smell of ghee slowly melting on steaming khichdi: so tempting that you burnt your mouth because you couldn’t wait for it to cool down!
Freshly made chutneys and pickles tempered with a spoonful of ghee: sorry, I won’t trade it for a king’s ransom.
Culinary dreams are made of these and the reigning star is always GHEE.
Ghee: India’s gift to the world
Ghee(Sanskrit: Go Ghrita) was originally made from the milk of cows and was considered as cows are sacred. It was used in Vedic rites and is essential in any Hindu rite even today.
There are some South Asian, Iranian and Arabic cuisines which use ghee.
The rest of the world is only now waking up to the benefits of this much maligned ‘fat’.
Ghee is NOT clarified butter, though that is what it is called in all recipes meant for an international audience. Traditionally, cow’s milk is boiled, cooled and cultured by adding a little curd to it. Once this is set, it is churned till the butter globules rise to the top. (Fresh, soft, butter is so tempting – not even Lord Krishna could resist it!). The butter is heated in a thick vessel (preferably something non-reactive like stainless steel) over a fire till the water evaporates and the fat is separated from the milk solids (clarified). Then it is further simmered and acquires a rich brown colour a nutty taste and a tantalising aroma. My parsimonious Granny collected the ‘slurry’ that sank to the bottom, the singed casein from the milk, mixed it with sugar and fed it to us as an exotic sweet. She called it Godavari – I can’t think why, other than maybe that is what HER Grandma might have done!
The hysteria about fat
The Size Zero fad has not only taken the meat out of beauty, but has led to innumerable misconceptions and misdirection about diet. Anorexia and bulimia are one side of this misguided generation while the other equally scary side is the increasingly overweight and downright obese population that the fast food culture has wrought.
Fats are essential for a balanced diet: let there be no mistake about that. They are the most efficient form of energy with each gram of fat supplying 9 calories: more than twice the energy supplied by carbohydrates or proteins. Fats facilitate the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E, and K and help to keep us warm. They are necessary for the formation of spongy tissue which cushions our joints.
Like everything else, EXCESS fat is a no-no.
Ghee in the ancient science of Ayurveda
This fount of dietary wisdom believes that since cows feed on plants and as ghee is made from cow milk, it incorporates the best of the nutrition that, both, the plant and animal kingdoms have to offer. Here’s the ayurvedic opinion:
Ghee aids in secretions which dissolve the wastes of body tissues and carry away toxins.
It is a soothing unguent and works wonders when applied on burns, bruises, skin rashes and bed sores in the elderly or the mobility impaired.
The anti inflammatory and soothing natures have a healing effect on the digestive tract too. Ghee in your diet is recommended to mitigate peptic ulcers or gastritis.
Warm milk with 2 teaspoons of ghee before bedtime soothes the nerves and gets you ready for your early morning routine. In the elderly, a teaspoon of ghee followed by a swallow of hot water is a better purgative than any of the chemical bottled brands.
It increases memory.
It soothes tired eyes. Apply some around them.
Ghee and the new age fitness gurus
Do we really need a fitness guru to tell us what generations of Indian Grandmas have always known? Seems like it.
Nutritionists and dieticians have had something like an Organic Bilona Ghee renaissance in their thinking: let’s just call it their OBG moment of enlightenment. They now recommend ghee as the fat buster kind of fat: it contains linoleic acid which fights fat deposits in those stubborn areas like the belly.
Ghee consumption is necessary for the absorption of fat soluble Vitamins A,D ,E and K.
There are scientific studies which rubbish the link between saturated fats like ghee and heart ailments. In fact, there is a school of thought that pharmaceutical lobbies have been responsible for this ‘rumour’ in order to peddle their drugs.
Have a long hard think
Obesity in India is a recent phenomenon- especially in children. Lay the blame at the correct door: fast food, a curriculum which leaves no time for exercise, shrinking space where schools mean an apartment complex surrounded by a concrete jungle and the tech driven couch-potato culture. Go through old sepia photographs of India: how many fat people do you actually see?
Ghee has always been an integral part of the Indian meal and the Indian way of life; obesity has hit us NOW!
We haven’t just borrowed fast food and dietary misconceptions from the West. Those winds have also blown their chemical concepts our way. All farming in India until the Green Revolution was organic, whether animal husbandry or crop and vegetable cultivation. Our rush for food self sufficiency has dumped us into a chemical cesspool of fertilisers, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. These harm human health and the environment. Milch cattle like cows are fed hormones to increase milk production. Their feed consists of fodder with the residues of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The organic way of life shuns all chemical interference and use and aims for a healthier tomorrow. Go organic now!
Busy lifestyles leave you with barely enough time to cook a meal – forget the long process needed for making ghee. There are many brands of ghee in the market. You can pick one up but just remember that adulteration of ghee is rampant: partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like vanaspati are added as they are cheaper and indiscernible at first glance. So take care!
Choose a trustworthy brand that is
- Guarantees the product
- Is churned or “bilona”
- Made from organic cow’s milk .Buffalo milk contains more fat than is needed. Cow milk is closest to human milk and, therefore, the best.
Do you know that pure or shuddh ghee lasts for more than a 100 years? Ghee, more than a century old, was kept by temples in vats for their use. It is considered medicinal and an invaluable legacy.
When you light that lamp with shuddh ghee this Diwali, know that you are ushering in all the goodness of traditional and ancient Indian wisdom. That is your true Lakshmi, your wealth.