January 12, 2014

The Making of Ghee. ~ Helena Zera

A monthly ceremony and tradition in the Vedic culture of ancient India…

Ghee was made on the full or waxing phase of the moon known as the shukla paksha, or the white part of the moon.

The auspicious moon is considered to rule or control soma, the juice (rasa) or essence of plants and of life itself. In the Vedas, milk is said to be the essence of grass and ghee the by-product of milk. In the Ayurvedic tradition, cows nurture humans by giving milk resonating with motherly love.

Ghee is said to nourish the body and intellect—on a cellular level—to the very core of our being. Therefore, the waxing and full moon represent the increase of this essential quality of loving nourishment.

Ghee is a type of clarified butter (mai oui!): somewhat similar, yet unique in the entire process, intention and outcome. It has a nutty taste since the production of ghee includes simmering the butter until it caramelizes into an aromatic, dark golden liquid. The white milk solids separate, sink to the bottom, turn a delightful brown, then are discarded at the end to lend a pure oil that is dairy/milk-free. Those of us who can “eat the cheese” can keep clean-up easy and savor the delicious tart remnants with bread as a savory treat.

Ghee is widely used in India and Ayurveda. It is ideal for deep-frying due to its high smoke point (250 degrees C). It is a pure oil like coconut oil.

Pure ghee is called desi  (country-made) or asti  (genuine.) If you are unable to make ghee, have someone make it for you: store bought ghee generally does not have the same properties. Making ghee with intention provides love, nutrition and is considered a delicious delicacy.

According to Ayurveda, ghee is satvic when used as food and topically. Cow’s ghee is considered medhva, or intellect-promoting as well as a rasayana, having vitalizing properties: a delightful spread, an Ayurvedic ointment, a medical oral facilitator for ingestion of herbs and panchakarma treatment. It is the main ingredient in many Ayurvedic medicines as a facilitator and used preferentially for diseases caused by the pitta dosha (pacifies pitta).

Ghee has a long shelf life needing no refrigeration when kept in an airtight glass jar and covered to prevent oxidation. Like the Seinfeld episode—No Double Dipping!—ghee is susceptible to contamination. Use a spoon once and enjoy!

How to:

Use unsalted, organic butter from a certified farm where the cows are allowed to roam free, grass-fed and given tender loving care.

The true art of ghee-making is to never leave the pot unattended (unlike waiting for water to boil!). The entire process takes 30 minutes. The cooled liquid will sit uncovered and solidify overnight within its glass jar. In the morning simply cover and store in a cool dry place indefinitely (but most unlikely—it is difficult to resist ghee!).

Place a pound in a heavy pan, preferably with a pouring spout (I use a heavy ceramic French pot).

Turn the heat on medium until it is liquid with emerging bubbles getting bigger and louder.

Turn the heat down to medium-low if needed and enjoy the time spent listening and observing as a form of meditation.

I like to use an unspoken mantra allowing my mind to absolve as the ghee takes on the mantra without words. So Hum works beautifully.

The transformation from solid, cold slab to large crackling craters, into teeny champagne bubbles and then quiet is a metaphor of our yoga, our monthly moon and the vinyasa of our lives. The light yellow liquid transforms into a deep golden amber. There is a split mOMent when the crackling abates and within that brief pause is an expansion of time and breath similar to pranayama. This signals that the ghee is done. By sight, sound and smell we can tell when the ghee is ready.

Turn the gas off, wait five minutes and slowly pour the elixir over cheesecloth into its vessel. The intoxicating aroma, visual stimuli, audible mantra and sadhana (ritual) are alchemical in nature and a sacred gift.

Our observation skills are developed each month when we make ghee; to hone in on this process is a metaphor of our vital transformation over time.

From the gross to the subtle we are energized like a slab of butter (tamas), to cook over agni-heat (rajas) and transform on a larger scale (big volcano bubbles /macrocosm), then slowly simmer with attention, intention and observation.

In due time we eventually reach the tipping point (champagne bubbles/microcosm)—the moment of sattva—the making of ghee and a product of compassion.

One memorable ghee-making experience was with a dear yogi friend, a split of champagne and the auspicious fall harvest full moon. The crackling of the butter along with the progressive change in the ghee bubbles resonated with the glass of champagne we shared during this auspicious ceremony.

We were giddy from the moon and my cohort’s bubbly soul, the effervescent champagne and our mutual love of yoga. It was a wonderful adventure together as we toasted the moon, our lives and were a wee bit toasted. Needless to say we both had an enjoyable evening devouring our burnished toasty cheese remnants, sippin’ the bubbly and anticipating our full moon escapades!

Another toast to be made in the name of life and love from the full moon’s nectar…and ghee for toast”ing” the morning after!


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Assistant Editor: Tifany Lee/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Flickr

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