Is Ghee Vegan? 

 May 11, 2021

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Ghee is a type of clarified butter that has been used in Indian cuisine for centuries. This article will discuss if ghee can be considered vegan, where ghee might be found, and how you might substitute ghee in your cooking.

What is ghee?

Ghee is butterfat that has been used for cooking for thousands of years on the Indian subcontinent, especially in India and Pakistan. Because ghee comes from bovine milk (and cow's are considered sacred), it is frequently used in Buddhist and Hindu rituals and religious ceremonies. It is also used in ayurvedic medicine.


How is ghee made?

The butter from cows is filtered and heated until the milk parts can be separated. The remainder of this butter, which has a golden color to it, becomes ghee after separating even further and cooking over high heat for an extended period of time. 

What are the characteristics of ghee?

High smoking point: because it is clarified, it has a high smoking point (the point that oil starts to burn or smoke). This makes it popular to use for frying and sautéing at high temperatures.

Taste: It tastes similar to butter but has a roasted flavor.

Consistency: It is similar to butter. It remains solid although soft at room temperature and it becomes hard in the refrigerator.

Color: Ghee is a few shades darker than butter. The color can depend on how long it has been boiled and how much of the solids have been separated. The longer it is boiled the darker it will be

Shelf life: Because of the way ghee has been prepared, it has a long shelf life and can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time.

Is ghee vegetarian?

Because ghee is made from cow's milk, and cow's milk only, it would be considered vegetarian and why so many people in India, a country that has a lot of lacto-ovo vegetarians use this as fat for cooking and frying.

Is ghee vegan?

Since ghee is made from cow's milk, it is not considered vegan. There are ghees available that have been especially formulated to be vegan. These will usually be labelled as vegan.

Is ghee considered dairy-free?

Ghee is made from cow's milk so it would not be considered dairy-free, however, some people who are lactose intolerant might be able to tolerate ghee due to the casein and lactose being mostly absent.

Why would ghee be considered nonvegan?

Vegans choose to avoid anything that comes from an animal. While vegetarians do not eat animal flesh, vegans also avoid secretions from animals including eggs and milk. While it might seem okay to take milk from an animal because it might appear that they are not killed directly for the milk, vegans still avoid it.

There are many reasons for this. Here are some of the main ones.

  1. Cows, sheep, goats, etc need to be pregnant in order to lactate. When the baby is born, if the baby is a boy, then they might be killed at birth or used for meat. The young male cows are often killed for veal.
  2. Vegans believe that the milk is not made for us and this milk is for the baby animals.
  3. Vegans also believe that animals are not here for us, and to keep them captive and exploit them for a product we do not need is unethical.

Which cuisine uses ghee (clarified butter)?

Indian Subcontinent

Ghee is an important ingredient in the cuisines of India's subcontinent. You could find it used as oil for frying, or brushed on top of Indian bread like naan or roti. Indian cuisine varies widely, but ghee is used in most Indian cuisines especially Southern Indian cuisine. While there are some dishes that are probably ghee-free, it is best to ask the server to be sure.

Middle Eastern and African cuisine

Ghee is the Indian word to describe clarified butter, ghee is used in many other cuisines around the world under different names. It might be prepared in a different way, but they are similar.

Egypt:  Egyptians make a product called samna baladi, meaning 'countryside ghee', made from the same process and resulting in the same product as not only regular cow's milk-based ghee but also white, using water buffalo milk rather than cow's.

Eritrea: 'Tesmi' in the language of 'Tigrinya', is a clarified butter prepared in Eritrea. The preparation is similar to that of ghee, but the butter is often combined with garlic and other spices native to the region.

Ethiopia: In Ethiopia, niter kibbeh is used in much the same way as ghee, but with ingredients added during the process that make it taste distinctively different.

North Africa:  North Africans create spiced ghee and age it for months or even years, resulting in a product called smen. Smen is used in Yemini cuisine also.

Other culinary uses

Some diets and lifestyles are now using ghee despite not having a culinary history of it. Because of the claimed health benefits of ghee, it is now highly regarded by proponents of high-fat diets such as Whole 30 and Paleo and because it is low in lactose there are others incorporating it into their diet. Various manufacturers have started to make expensive high-end ghees to cater to these consumers.

Ghee info

Is there a vegan substitute for ghee?

If you are vegan, or looking to make vegan choices then there are many basic fixes for this. For basic replacements, you can simply use an oil or vegan butter and just fry as the recipe suggests, however, if you need a product that has all the characteristics of ghee, then there are a number of products available for you to use.

This recently created and widely available product is an exciting addition to the vegan ghee options.

vegan ghee

Nutiva Ghee is not only completely vegan but it also is:

  • GMO-free
  • Palm oil free - contains avocado and coconut oils
  • Shelf-stable
  • Has a high smoke point
  • No refrigeration required
  • Whole 30 approved and paleo-friendly
  • Certified organic
  • Made from non-hydrogenated fats
  • IT TASTES LIKE GHEE with a buttery flavor

There are other vegan ghees available globally, although it is likely that these are a little harder to find. Be aware that some of the cheap vegan ghees are not much more than hydrogenated vegetable fat and may contain palm oil.

indian food with ghee

How to avoid ghee when dining out and traveling

The use of ghee can be hard to identify when traveling or dining out, so the answer always is to communicate with your server.

Dining out

If you find yourself at an Indian restaurant, first look at the vegetarian section of the menu. These items still might contain ghee. You can ask questions like:

  • "Which ones of these dishes do not contain ghee?"
  • "Can you use oil to fry instead of ghee?"
  • "I'm vegan, so I do not eat ghee? Does this dish contain ghee?"
  • "Can you tell me which products contain ghee?"

Of course, you will have to ask about dairy products, although these items are usually easier to spot than ghee on the menu and on the actual dish.

indian meal

Traveling in India and the middle east and avoiding ghee

Because ghee is hard to spot in a dish, you will want to check with the server at the restaurant you are dining at, the stall you are shopping at and also in ingredients when you are shopping at the store.

Other names for ghee: Ghee is often referred to as either "desi" or "asli" ghee so if you see this on the ingredients you will know to avoid it.

When dining out, it is usual to have some phrases written out to show to the server in the language that is spoken most widely in the area that you are in. The concierge or hotel staff might be able to translate a few of these helpful phrases written above.

Let's Discuss!

We hope this article has helped you to determine if ghee is vegan or not.

Do you have any questions about ghee and how we might make this article better? Let us know in the comments.

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