7 Good Substitutes for Ghee
When most people think of ghee, they think of clarified butter, but ghee is so much more than clarified butter to people all over the world!
In its most basic form, ghee is just that… butter that has been slowly melted and allowed to rest. Eventually, when the milk solids sink to the bottom, the clear (or “clarified”) butter moves to the top and is strained off.
Ghee is made from boiling raw milk for a long time and allowing it to slowly caramelize and separate
The result is a clear, bright yellow liquid that has a higher melting point as the milk protein has been removed, which is high in sugar and is what will burn if you heat butter at too high a temperature.
When made from scratch, ghee is made from boiling raw milk for a long time and allowing it to slowly caramelize and separate, meaning that ghee is so much more than just clarified butter!
Ghee will keep longer than butter and sometimes has a deep, nutty flavor, depending on how long it is allowed to simmer. Its color and flavor ultimately depend on the quality of the butter and the duration of simmering.
Ghee is popular all over the world, but most popular in India, especially in South India, where it is more than just an ingredient in household kitchens. Ghee-making is often a family affair and a very important part of life and tradition.
In certain Hindu traditions, ghee is used as a ritual item and is produced according to the cycles of the moon! Because ghee is made from cow’s milk, it is considered holy as well.
Ghee is used in Indian cooking to cook rice, lentils, and curry. It is also used on roti and dosa, as well as in sweet recipes. Ghee is also used in many African recipes and often includes the addition of certain spices.
Some folks use ghee because it is lower in lactose than regular butter, but is less manufactured than margarine or non-dairy butter products.
Either way, ghee is an important ingredient for many and has become more readily available. If you’re using ghee at home, you can buy it at specialty stores or easily make it yourself! However, if you don’t have ghee, here are some ghee alternatives that will work similarly!
Butter is the number one choice for substituting ghee because ghee is made from butter, so these ingredients are essentially the same!
Pure butter has a very similar fat content and texture, especially if your recipe calls for chilled butter. Because butter’s fat content is slightly higher than ghee, you may need to use slightly more ghee if you’re using it in a bread or dough application.
Butter is technically vegetarian but it does contain dairy, making recipes cooked with butter unsuitable for vegans or those with a dairy allergy, so butter might not be the best alternative depending on who you are cooking for.
When shopping for butter, check the labels to see if you are buying salted or unsalted as you may want to choose unsalted if you are baking something sweet!
2. Lard or Beef Tallow
Another great substitute for ghee is lard or beef tallow. Tallow is made from rendered beef and marrow, and lard is made from slowly rendered pork fat, meaning both options have a robust, meaty, rich flavor. This may not be what you are looking for, so if you’re looking for a more neutral flavor, butter may be a better option.
If you’re making your own, both lard and tallow should be strained repeatedly and it is a good idea to chill and remove the layer of fat from the top, otherwise, they can be greasy and have a very oily mouth feel.
Tallow is not suitable for vegetarians, vegans, or cultures that do not consume beef, whereas lard is not suitable for those who do not consume pork, so please be mindful before choosing these as an alternative for ghee!
3. Melted Vegetable Shortening or Vegetable Oil
Shortening such as the Crisco brand comes in pure white or pale yellow (unrefined) and is an excellent option for a ghee alternative in all baking applications. You can substitute melted shortening for ghee at a 1:1 ratio and it will not impact your recipe much.
The flavor might be slightly less rich, but overall, these two products act very similar and have almost identical fat content. Shortening is neutral in flavor so it actually isn’t a great substitute for savory cooking, but in baked goods, especially sweets, shortening is a great ghee alternative!
In other cooking applications, you can also use liquid vegetable oil, which is basically the same thing.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil, when cooked at a lower temperature, can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. For this reason, coconut oil can be used in place of ghee to make your recipes more healthy!
Coconut oil is also derived from plants making it suitable for vegans, which ghee is not. The downside of coconut oil is that it can have a strong flavor and will burn if cooked at high temperatures so keep this in mind!
5. Sesame or Gingelly Oil
Sesame oil (especially raw) is also very popular in Indian cooking, making it a good substitute for ghee in many recipes. Gingelly oil is made from raw sesame seeds that are cooked at a very high temperature to release their oils early, resulting in a light, amber color.
This is different from traditional sesame oil, which is cooked longer and sometimes even roasted, resulting in a very dark color and strong flavor. Gingelly oil is much milder and therefore works as a great substitute for ghee in stovetop cooking or grilling.
6. Olive or Avocado Oil
Olive oil is another healthy fat that will work in place of ghee; however, olive oil will burn if cooked at a high temperature, and will also impart its signature olive flavor to whatever you’re cooking. Use olive oil as a 1:1 ratio for ghee, and be mindful of how hot it gets.
You can also use a more neutral-tasting oil such as avocado or canola when cooking foods that you might use ghee for. They will act the same.
Margarine is a cross between butter and shortening in that it is dairy-free/vegan, but it also gets firm when chilled because of its high-fat content.
Margarine is also neutral in flavor and can be used 1:1 in sweet or savory baked goods, which makes it quite versatile. However, margarine is heavily processed so it is not nearly as beneficial or healthy as ghee. It is a good substitute at a pinch, but there are better options such as butter or coconut oil.
Overall, ghee is a special ingredient that is both respected and revered in certain parts of the world, so any substitute is not as good as the real thing. Ghee is known for being good for sexual health, your skin and many of the rituals involving ghee are an important part of Hindu and Buddhist culture. For these reasons, ghee is technically irreplaceable.
If you need ghee, we recommend trying to make your own by clarifying butter… but if you are stretched for time or don’t have access to butter, or cannot eat dairy, then any one of these substitutes will work at a pinch.