Before we get into the details on which Ghee to buy, I wanted to address the science behind the color of milk, butter and ghee.
The color of milk is white, but butter and ghee are yellow. The ghee from buffalo’s milk is white. And sometimes butter from cow is whiteish. What’s really happening?? Let’s look at the science behind them…
Why is milk white in color?
The fat portion of cow’s milk which we separate out as butter, and later evaporate into ghee is yellow in color. But that’s only 1 part of milk. Other than fat; milk is made of water, protein, minerals and carbohydrates. The protein portion of the milk contains casein at 80%, the other 20% protein being whey.
Casein forms clusters with calcium and phosphate to form micelles. When light hits these tiny micelles in the milk, it scatters them making milk look white.
Why is butter from cow yellow in color (more so when grass-fed)?
When cows eat carotenoid-rich foods like green grass, these fat-soluble caretenoids pass through the cow’s system and onto the butter. Traditionally, the more yellow the butter is, the higher the proportion of grass in the cow’s diet. This results in higher vitamins and Omega-3 in the diet of the cows.
Unfortunately, cows that are fed 100% grains-only diet, which is the case for majority of commercial dairy feedlots, end up with butter or ghee that is less yellow.
But sometimes even butter from small, local farms can be almost white. Why is that? There are times in winter when cows can’t graze outside for pasture and farmers don’t have access to fresh grass. In this case, they are fed grain until winter is over. The resulting butter will be white until they are fed grass again.
Now, in a slight twist, companies know that consumers prefer yellow butter from grass fed cows. So, they could potentially add coloring like Annatto to get the yellow tint. While I have seen Annatto being added to butter (like example of Amul butter below); I haven’t see any coloring agent yet added for Ghee. But do read labels to be sure.
Some farmers also try to add carotenoids supplements in the grain feed to get the yellow color; however the bioavailability of carotenoids from fresh pasture far exceeds the ones coming through their compound feed.
Now that we learnt about what’s causing all the color, let’s move on to the tips!!
Tip #1: Grass Fed Ghee is more yellow and superior to Regular Ghee
Choose Grass Fed Ghee when you can. It has a rich, deep yellow-orange color and just an overall superior product. I have not used any filter while taking the pictures.
The picture above has grass-fed Ghee on the right, while the one below has the grass fed ghee on the left.
You can clearly see the Grass fed ghee is more yellow with a rich orange tinge than the non-grass fed ghee products.
One of the questions I got on my Twitter account was: “What if the company is already feeding their cow grass, but not mentioning it on their label?” I think if a company goes to the extent of feeding their cow 100% grass thus requiring less antibiotics, fewer hormones and healthier cows, they better be putting it on their labels, because customers are willing to pay premium prices for it.
Tip #2: Buffalo Ghee is going to be white in color, irrespective of the feed
The passing of the yellow color from the grass does not happen in the case of buffalo, goat, and sheep milk. Unlike cow, these animals can metabolize carotenoids into vitamin A, which is colorless. All their butter and ghee products will be white only.
This is the cow’s milk ghee offered by the same company.
Tip #3: Does texture of ghee matter? Not Really!
While grainy texture of ghee is preferred, all states – grainy, creamy, liquid are fine.
Ghee behaves similar to Cocoa Butter. What I mean is that – it has many fatty acids which has many melting points. It sets, based on the way it is heated and cooled. Which is why the same cocoa butter can be made to shine and snap under a great cocoa master; or mediocre if cooled without proper care.
Ghee that is melted and set to cool rapidly in the refrigerator develops a creamy texture (like the pic above on the left).
Ghee that cools slowly over time forms fat granules that clump together and appear grainy (like the pic above on the right).
Either way you can reset it by re-heating the ghee and cooling it to whichever state you prefer. I have attached a link below that has a video clip showing you how to do it.
Tip #4: Packaging matters, but contents matter more
In case of Ghee packaging: Glass>Metal Can>Plastic
Glass is inert and thick walled that prevents air from leaking into the bottle. Plus, you can see the quality of contents.
Metal Can keeps the light out. It seals really well, keeping air out. Both of these are great for long term storage. But you can’t see the color of the ghee from the outside. Plus if there is rusting happening in poor quality cans, that’s not recommended.
Plastic may leach microparticles into the ghee over time.
But, if you are getting a good quality ghee only in plastic bottle, then just buy it and transfer to a glass bottle. The quality of Ghee is far more important than the quality of the container.
It would be great to get grass-fed Ghee in Glass bottles. That would be the best option.
Here’s the summary of my 4 tips:
- Grass Fed Ghee is more yellow and superior to Regular Ghee
- Buffalo Ghee is going to be white in color, irrespective of the feed
- Does texture of ghee matter? Creamy, grainy or liquid…Not Really!
- Packaging matters (Glass>Metal>Plastic), but contents matter more
I hope you found these tips useful. Which is your favorite ghee? Please post your thoughts and comments below. I look forward to reading them…
Chemical Structure of Milk: https://www.compoundchem.com/2018/06/02/milk/
Why the best tasting butter is Yellow: https://www.businessinsider.com/why-is-butter-yellow-2016-3
Curious about the texture of your Ghee (Ghee Texture Video here): https://blog.pureindianfoods.com/ghee-texture/
Very interesting, as always! I never buy ghee, but it’s interesting to find out what makes the texture different. I knew about the annatto, used in most butter here, to color the butter. Not at all dangerous, and I use annatto in Mexican food! But grass fed is more nutritious, as you noted.
I make ghee by simply heating up a pound of butter in a saucepan over medium heat – it foams up, at first, but settles, and the milk solids eventually brown, giving it that delicious flavor. I have found that the best temperature to bring it to is 280°, stirring toward the end, to even out the temperature – much more, and it will get a burned flavor. I quickly strain it into a metal bowl, to stop cooking, and eventually pour it into a wide mouthed pint mason jar, which goes in the fridge. Always have this on hand, and not just for Indian food! Makes great baked goods, too, due to the flavor.
Thanks for sharing your tips, Dave! Very useful!! 👍
Such an interesting piece! I buy ghee from Ziyad Foods, a Chicago manufacturer who also distributes all over the US Arabic foods. I will be checking the glass bottle now to see what they used.
What do you recommend we buy in India?
I usually do not recommend any specific brands. Try to look for grass fed ghee from a reputable company or local source.
Great. Will do. Thanks.