Ghee : Its Properties, Importance and Health Benefits
LIPID UNIVERSE 6
Ghee is a type of clarified butter fat that has been
produced and utilized in India from antiquity. It is used in
Ayurveda as a therapeutic agent and also for religious
rituals. It is popular in India because of its nutritional
attributes and characteristic flavor and aroma and is
considered as sacred food. It is made from milk, cream,
or butter of several animal species. Ghee processing
may be achieved by drawing fat from milk, cream or
butter using direct heat with or without fermentation.
Ghee is unique type of fat by its characteristic flavor
which is basic criterion for its acceptance and is greatly
influenced by the processing methods i.e. fermentation
of cream, butter or milk and even heating processes. It is
fairly shelf stable because of low moisture content as
well as possible natural antioxidants contents. As a
human food, ghee has been accepted universally as
superior fat to other fats, mainly because of its
characteristic short chain fatty acids content, which are
responsible for its better digestibility and anti-cancer
properties. Ghee is also an important carrier of fat-
soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and essential fatty-acids
(linolenic acid and arachidonic acid), apart from having
rich and pleasant sensory properties. Ghee is believed to
be a coolant, capable of increasing mental power,
physical appearance, curative of ulcers and eye-
Key Words: Ghee, Physico-chemical properties,
composition, importance, health benefits
Dairy activities and business have traditionally been
rooted to India's rural economy. India is the leading
producer and consumer of dairy products. As per the
report of India Dairy Products Market Forecast &
Opportunities, 2017, the market for dairy products has
opened a wide window in food processing sector,
simultaneously if provided with proper stable and
sanitized conditions to achieve the international
standards. The market in our country has grown rapidly
over the last few decades and predicted to be growing at
a faster rate as compared to the global dairy market.
Amongst all dairy products, ghee is most valuable item
as per its cost, nutrition and flavor attribute.
In ancient India, ghee (Ghrita) was produced far back as
1500 BC (Achaya, 1997). Some reports have also
mentioned similar type of product in Middle East,
available probably since same ancient times (Abdalla,
1994). It is one of the costlier and most acceptable type
of fat on the Indian subcontinent, because of its
economic, nutritional and sensory characteristics. In
ghee manufacturing, the fermentation of milk to curd
may or may not be performed to render fat from the
medium. It can also be achieved directly by separating
the cream form the milk followed by heat treatment. The
term “Desi ghee” is generally used for milk fat obtained
from fermented milks whether from cow or buffalo in
which curd has to be churned to form butter followed by
heat clarification to separate out fat from non-fat
medium. Similarly, manufacturing of ghee can be
achieved by numerous methods (figure 1) with respect to
raw material utilized (milk, cream or butter), treatments
given at different stages and the handling towards the
final products (semi-finished or fully formed ghee).
Ghee is one of important cooking medium, because the
taste it adds to food is absolutely pleasant and also
promotes good health. It remains a top choice among
households in India in comparison of other fats/oils, with
some trusted brands (Gowardhan, Anik, Milkfood,
Madhusudhan,Verka, Amul, Healthhaid, Gopaljee,
Nestle Everyday, Patanjali and Britannia) having their
stronghold in the market. However, it is essential for
good health up to some extent, consuming it beyond the
individual limit may show detrimental health effects,
because of having cholesterol content and is also highly
saturated in nature.
Figure 1. Flow diagram illustrating four methods of ghee
manufacture: milk butter (MB) (desi); cream butter (CB);
direct cream (DC); pre-stratification (PS).
Anil Kumar, Shreya Tripathi, Nidhi Hans, Falguni Pattnaik, Satya Narayan Naik
Centre for Rural Development & Technology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi-110016
January - December 2018, Volume-6
Indian dairy sector contributes large share in agricultural
gross domestic products. Presently there are around
70,000 village dairy cooperatives across the country.
Milk production gives employment to more than 72
millions dairy farmers. By, India’s current year (CY) 2018,
fluid milk production was forecasted at 167 million metric
tons (MMT) assumed a normal monsoon, increased by
3.7 percent from previous year. The Government of India
(GOI) estimates demand for milk to increase to 200 MMT
by the year 2021-22, requiring a 20 percent increase in
milk production. In order to augment the milk production
to fulfill rising domestic demand, GOI has implemented
the National Dairy Plan (NDP) through the National Dairy
Development Board (NDDB).
India ranked first in milk production with per capita
availability of milk is from 225 grams per day in 2001-
2002 to 355 grams per day by 2016-17 (NDDB, 2018).
The market size of ghee in India is more than 10,000
crores as of 2017. India is the world’s largest producer of
ghee and also largest consumer. In CY 2018, combined
butter and ghee (clarified butter) production is estimated
at 5.6 MMT, increased by 3.7 percent from previous year
on rising domestic demand due to population growth and
demographic shifts (GAIN, 2018). The demand for ghee
(clarified butter) and butter continues to remain robust.
Reportedly, ghee is the most consumed value added
dairy product and is primarily used for cooking and frying
and as dressing or toppings for various foods. It is also
used in the manufacture of snacks and sweets often
mixed with vegetables, cereals, fruits, and nuts. In some
parts of the world, ghee is considered as a sacred
product and is used in religious rites (Mortensen, 2011).
Physico-chemical properties of ghee
Milk fat is one of the complex forms of lipids existing in
nature. Ghee is processed milk fat and basically known
as clarified butter fat or anhydrous milk fat. It is mainly
composed of glycerides (usually mixed), and other minor
constituents found, are free fatty acids, phospholipids,
sterols, sterol esters, fat-soluble vitamins, carbonyls,
hydrocarbons, carotenoids (only in milk fat derived from
cow). It also contains small amounts of charred casein
and traces of calcium, phosphorus, iron and so on. The
moisture content in ghee is very negligible (0.3%) and
the major part composed of glycerides (~98 % of the total
matter). Of the remaining constituents about 2 %, sterol
(mostly cholesterol) occurs to the extent of about 0.5%.
Ghee may also contain good amount of conjugated
linoleic acids, a reported anti- cancer agent (Clement et
Ghee is unique fat; because of flavor it imparts to the
food articles and therefore, enhances overall
acceptability of the product. Hence, flavor is primary
criterion of its acceptability, which is greatly influenced by
different factors like fermentation of the cream or butter
and the heat treatments used. The key ghee flavoring
compounds reported are carbonyls, lactones and free
fatty acids (Wadhwa and Jain, 1990). It is fairly shelf-
stable fat, because of its low moisture content, which is
regulated by time and extent of heat treatment used in
processing. It also has possible antioxidative properties,
responsible for its stability by preventing oxidation.
Therefore, it is more convenient product than butter and
cream in the tropics regions, because it remains stable
under warm conditions. Basically, the low moisture and
milk solid non-fat contents in ghee are responsible for the
restricted bacterial growth in it (O'Mahony, 1988). The
other factors in ghee may be because of its
phospholipids contents (ca. 400 mg/Kg), low acidity and
the presence of natural antioxidants, which are also
believed to contribute to the extension of its shelf life
(Sserunjogi, et al, 1998).
Ghee can be served to the people of all age groups for
their nourishment. It is a good carrier of fat-soluble
vitamins (A, D, E and K) along with essential fatty acids
(linolenic and arachidonic acid) which are responsible for
wellbeing. The only concern of ghee is of its cholesterol
level (0.2–0.4%) which makes appreciable contribution
to cholesterol intake when consumed at high level. In
recent years, the consumers becomes extra aware
about the cholesterol-containing foods, hence is
affecting the uses and the market growth of such
products (Kumar, et al., 2010).
Being a valuable product, the standards and quality
parameters of ghee has been prescribed by Government
of India to ensure genuine product to the consumer,
under FSSAI rules, 2011 (Table 1) and Agmark rules,
1981 (Table 2). However these standards are not
comprehensive for detecting adulteration in ghee, and
can hardly establish the type and the level of added
adulterants. This may be because of wide variations in
the physico-chemical makeup of milk fat owing to
different factors like animal species, feeding practices
and nutritional management etc.
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LIPID UNIVERSE 8
Table 1. Standards of Ghee under FSSAI Rules (2011)
a. Baudouin test shall be negative
b. By cotton tract is meant the areas in the state where cotton seed is extensively fed to the cattle and so notified
by the State Govt. concerned.
c. Usually such cotton tract areas ghee has low RM value and high BR reading compared to other areas.
January - December 2018, Volume-6
Table 2. Standards of ghee under AGMARK Rules (1987)
a. * Areas other than cotton tracts of Saurashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
b. @ Recognized cotton tracts (of Saurashtra and Madhya Pradesh).
c. By cotton tract is meant that area where cotton seed is extensively fed to the cattle.
d. **Ghee with Reichert Meissl value between 19 and 21 shall be graded only after a phytosterol acetate test has been
performed and the result thereof found to be negative.
e. Percentage of Free Fatty Acids (as Oleic acid) shall not exceed 3.0 for Standard Grade Ghee.
LIPID UNIVERSE 9
Gross composition of ghee
Bulk of ghee is mainly made up of triglycerides (~98 %),
derived whether from cow or buffalo milks (table 3). The
other classes of lipids which are present in minor
quantities in ghee are: diglycerides (1-2%),
monoglycerides (0.1-0.2%), free fatty acids (1-10
mg/100 g), phospholipids (0 to 80 mg/l00, sterols (mainly
cholesterol), fat soluble vitamins, carbonyl (4-6 ug/g),
glyceryl ethers (O.8uM /g) and alcohols (1.8-2.3uM/g).
The levels of diglycerides, monoglycerides and free fatty
acids vary due to breakdown of triglycerides by
hydrolysis during storage of ghee. The concentration of
phospholipids in ghee also increases with time and
temperature used during clarification of butter or cream
to ghee. Furthermore, the levels of vitamin A, carotene
and tocopherols (within certain limits), depend directly
on the levels of these components in the ration of the
animal (Ramamurthy, 1980).
January - December 2018, Volume-6
Table 3. Gross composition of ghee.
Table adopted from the works reviewed by Achaya, 1997
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LIPID UNIVERSE 11
Fatty acid Composition
Ghee is a common term, mainly used for heat clarified
milk fat derived whether form cow or buffalo or mixture
thereof. The major fatty acids found in ghee are myristic,
palmitic, stearic and oleic acids. There is slight
differences in fatty acid composition of ghee from the two
species (buffalo and cow) as reported by Kumar et al,
2015. The average percentage of unsaturated fatty acids
of buffalo and cow ghee are 28.73 and 32.21,
respectively. This indicates that cow ghee is slightly more
unsaturated than buffalo ghee. In addition, buffalo ghee
possessed slightly higher proportion of C4:0, C6:0,
C16:0 and C18:0 fatty acids than those of cow ghee.
There is a lower level of C18:1, C18:2, C18:3 and C20:0
fatty acids in buffalo ghee than in cow ghee. Similar
differences in fatty acid profile of milk fats from the two
species have also been reported by other workers (Lal &
Narayan, 1984; Jensen et al, 1991). The differences
noticed in the fatty acid composition of milk fats form both
the species may be attributed to the species, breed, feed
composition, physical health of herds and many more.
The studies shown here are carried out under identical
conditions of feeding and other parameters.
*The first figure refers to the number of carbon, and the second figure to the number of double bonds.
**Data represent the mean±SE of six determinations
Similarly, numerous studies showed the compositional variation of ghee in different seasons. Summer season’s (May-
June) samples showed slight increase in the unsaturated fatty acids, whereas in monsoon (July-August) and winter
(January-February) seasons marginal decrease in unsaturated fatty acids was observed (Ramamurthy & Narayan,
1971; Frelich et al, 2009, Kumar et al, 2015, Upadhyay et al, 2018).
Table 4. Fatty acid composition of ghee.
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LIPID UNIVERSE 12
The shelf life of ghee
Ghee deterioration may occur as a result of development
of oxidized and/or rancid flavors (van den Berg, 1988).
Basically, the thermal processing involved in ghee
manufacturing lowers down the moisture content which
plays an important role in destruction of most bacteria
and further restricts them to grow. Buffalo ghee has been
reported to be more resistant to lipolysis than cow ghee
(van den Berg, 1988), mainly because of low
unsaturated fats. The keeping quality of ghee is
governed by several factors i.e. ripening of cream,
method of manufacture, clarification temperature and
the permeability of the packaging material to air and
moisture (Singh and Ram, 1978). The shelf life of ghee
may be of 06-08 months, even at ambient temperatures.
Although, some studies reported it up to two years
(Bekele and Kassaye, 1987). However, such variations
in shelf life could be due to regional preferences in taste
and many other factors.
Furthermore, the storage stability of ghee is attributed to
the low moisture content (ca. 0.2%) and high content of
phospholipids (ca. 400 mg kg~1) and perhaps the free
amino acids, which are liberated from the phospholipid-
protein complex into the fat phase (Achaya, 1997). The
low acidity of the ghee and the presence of natural
antioxidants are also believed to contribute to extend its
shelf life (van den Berg, 1988). Cow ghee is apparently
more shelf stable than buffalo ghee due to the higher
content of natural antioxidants in the former (van den
Berg, 1988). Generally, ghee derived from fresh
cream/butter has a longer shelf life than ripened
cream/butter ghee (Ganguli and Jain, 1972; Singh et al,
Similarly, the antioxidant properties of different
constituents in ghee were also been studied. Pagote and
Bhandari (1988) reported that phospholipids particularly
cephalin, possess antioxidant properties, therefore the
antioxidant property of ghee does not depend on one
constituent alone. Other constituents such as amino
acids, sulphydryl compounds, free sugars and products
of their interaction with proteins during heating are also
considered to contribute, mainly because of their
reducing capacity. Phospholipids may exhibit
antioxidant activity by binding metals, regenerating other
antioxidants, and providing synergism with phenolic
antioxidants. Sripad et al (1996) has associated the
antioxidant properties of the ghee residue with the
presence of tocopherols, phospholipids and products of
browning reactions. Similarly, Harendra and Vijayender
(1987) investigated the role of polar carbonyls, produced
during heating in the preparation of ghee, on its oxidative
Textural changes may also occur in ghee during storage.
The fat in ghee crystallizes with the formation of solid,
semisolid and liquid layers. Ghee stored at 20°C or
below has been reported to solidify uniformly with fine
crystals. However, the ghee stored above 20°C and
below 30°C solidifies with a loose structure. It has been
suggested that ghee should be stored at temperatures
below 20°C to avoid layer formation (Ganguli and Jain,
Importance of ghee
Modern science now verified, what Ayurvedic health
science has said since thousands years ago: Ghee is a
health booster, offers cooking benefits and is good for
the mind and spirit. Here are a few benefits:
Ghee is considered as ideal medium for deep frying
because it possess high smoke point (250 °C) which is
well above the normal cooking temperatures (180-200
°C) and also higher than most of the vegetable oils
(Bader, 2010; Deosarkar et al, 2016). Ghee does not
require refrigeration conditions to store, therefore not
spoil easily. It is not likely to affect people with a dairy or
casein intolerance. Ghee is made from butter but the milk
solids and impurities have been removed, so most
people who are lactose or casein intolerant have no
issue with ghee. It is rich in the oil soluble vitamins A and
E (Achaya, 1997) and also rich in vitamin K2 and CLA
(Conjugated Linoleic Acid); an antioxidant with anti-viral
and anti-cancer properties, if sourced from grass fed
cows (Dhiman et al, 1999, 2000).
Ghee is nutritionally superior to other oils/fats because of
its medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) content, which are
absorbed directly by the liver and burned to provide
energy. Therefore, for athletes it can be of consistent
energy source. Also, the energy from medium chain fatty
acids can be used to burn other fats in the system and to
lose weight (St-Onge & Jones, 2008: Nokasa et al,
2009), therefore the anti-obesity properties of these
MCFAs are well recognized. Ghee (unlike other oils)
exclusively contain butyric acid; a short chain fatty acid
(Kumar et al, 2015), which contributes to its distinct flavor
and easy digestion. Beneficial intestinal bacteria convert
fiber into butyric acid and then use that for energy and
intestinal wall support (Maurice Bugaut, 1987). A healthy
body therefore makes its own form of ‘ghee’ but we are
aiding that greatly by consuming of it. It is proved that
people with unhealthy digestive tracts do not produce
January - December 2018, Volume-6
LIPID UNIVERSE 13
butyric acid. Research shows that adequate production
of butyric acid supports the production of killer T cells in
the gut and thus a strong immune system (Chang et al,
In addition, ghee based formulations are well scripted in
Ayurvedic system of medicines used for wound healing
purposes (Vure & Dorle, 2006). It was also observed that
when rats fed with diets containing greater than 2.5 wt%
of ghee showed lower levels of serum cholesterol
compared with rats fed diets containing groundnut oil
(Matam et al, 2000). Other study revealed that the
consumption of ghee up to a 10% level in the diet altered
blood lipid profiles in such a manner as not to elevate the
risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (Matam et al,
1999). Ayurvedic physicians have been using ghee
enemas for centuries to decrease inflammation.
Ghee stimulates the secretion of gastric acid, thus aiding
in the digestive process.
In Ayurveda, ghee is placed under most satvic foods,
and is considered to promote positivity, growth and
expansion of consciousness. The positive subtle effects
of ghee is said to come from the fact that it comes freely
from cows. Cows are domestic animal in most parts of
the world, but these are considered special and holy in
Hindu cultures of India. Therefore, the milk from cows
contains the essence of all those energies, and ghee is
the essence of the milk. Ghee is used as a suitable
carrier for many herbs and spices with different
medicinal properties, which are to be absorbed and
transported to targeted areas of the body. This is why,
Ayurveda uses ghee in thousands of different herbal
preparations for curing various ailments.
Ghee has been considered immensely superior to other
fats mainly because of the presence of characteristic
short chain fatty acids, carrier of four fat soluble vitamins
viz., A, D, E, K and essential fatty acids such as linolenic
acid and arachidonic acid. The market penetration of
ghee is about 37% in urban areas and about 21% in rural
areas. Daily consumption of ghee in an adequate
amount, imparts various health benefits such as binds
toxins, enhances complexion and glow of the face and
body, a great rejuvenator for the eyes, increases
physical and mental stamina etc. in addition to providing
Since, ghee is a fat-rich product; therefore natural
antioxidants and other constituents like phospholipids
and protein residues etc plays major role in preventing
rancidity. Generally, synthetic antioxidants are also used
in ghee to increase shelf life by preventing it from
oxidative deterioration. Now, as per the mentioned
benefits of ghee, more research is to be needed to
validate the health promoting properties of ghee. It is one
of the costlier products; hence ghee manufacturing could
be a profitable business for rural India. At present, GOI,
come up with different schemes for setting own business
in dairy sector to improve the livelihood of the Indian
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