November 5, 2016

Ghee, The Shelf Stable Way to Store Butter

When building an emergency pantry stock there are a few important considerations to make. Nutrition is paramount, choosing nutritionally dense foods that are easy to assimilate should be the first order of business. Next is a shelf stable source of protein. Then foods that have roughage, staying power and good calories, (as opposed to empty calories). Sweeteners are pretty easy, sugar, honey, maple syrup, (must be refrigerated after opening, but is stable while unopened), and molasses, are shelf stable and provide quick energy. Oil is important to the body for the taking up of fat soluble vitamins. Without some source of fat in the diet, the body can not assimilate, vitamins A, D, E, or K, which are essential substances needed for normal function, growth and maintenance of body tissuesBut it is hard to find a really healthy shelf stable source of oil.

Shelf stable oils are few and far between. Vegetable shortening is stable and it has a use in seasoning cast iron, but should have no place in the human diet. It is a dangerous, processed transfat made from GMO soybeans... Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Olive Oil is a good choice for health and nutrition, but has a short shelf life. You can extend the shelf life by freezing it but it still won't last years. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, is a really good choice. It has a shelf life of 2-5 years, but in the right storage environment can last indefinitely. It is my oil of choice since I am vegan and use no animal products. It also has health and medicinal properties, so I am going to put a gold star by Organic Extra Virgin coconut oil and say it is the best choice for health and stability, has a high flash point so it is good for stir frying, but also works great in baking. And then there is Butter... butter freezes well, but has a relatively short storage life even frozen. If you want to store butter, you can buy it canned at outrageously expensive prices, or you can buy butter buds, which have been highly processed, (I am suspicious of the health risks of any foods I don't process myself). Butter buds never really taste or work like real butter, (kind of like powdered eggs...), but it is an option. But if you are looking for a way to keep butter for long term storage, while holding on to the spreadability and taste of butter, then making ghee, (clairfied butter), is your answer.

Ghee is butter that has had all the milk solids removed from it. It has a high flash point, so it can be used in the skillet, in baking or can be spread on a piece of toast. It actually tastes more buttery than butter, so it is possible to use less and still get loads of flavor. In India, ghee is used in place of regular butter because it stands up to the tropical heat better without spoiling, it also imparts a lovely rich buttery taste to the foods it is used in. *A little side note... if you want spreadable ghee in warm weather keep it in the fridge, since it becomes a liquid in hot conditions and a solid when cold.

Making ghee is quite simple. You only need butter, (unsalted for baking and cooking, salted if you want to spread it on toast), and a few simple kitchen tools.

Equipment Needed for Making Ghee:

A heavy bottomed sauce pan, (size will depend on how much butter you are making into Ghee. You don't want the butter spattering or boiling over, so butter should only fill about half the cooking vessel.)
Wire mesh strainer
Good quality cheese cloth cheese cloth that is more like fabric and less like gauze)
A heat resistant bowl
Water bath canner
4 oz. straight sided jelly jars for small family, pint sized wide mouth jars for larger family, matching lids and bands

Since this is a process I only want to do occasionally, I usually try to do enough butter to make it worth my time. I will do 6 or 8 pounds of butter at a time. You can do more or less as you see fit.

The Process 

Over low heat, put butter in pan of choice, melt the butter until it is simmering.

Do not at any point stir... in order to distribute heat, gently rock the pan. It will be cloudy at first, then the milk solids will begin to separate from the fat. At first the milk solids will float to the top and look kind of lacy. 

Then some of it will sink to the bottom and the rest will remain as foam on the surface. At this point you need to watch it very carefully. You want to watch for a color change in the milk solids on the bottom from white to light yellow. If you get it right, the ghee will have an intense buttery flavor and smell and actually tastes more buttery than regular butter so you don't need to use as much to get the butter flavor. If the milk solids go from light gold to dark gold or brown, you will lose the intense buttery flavor and just have oil. It is still a shelf stable oil that has a high flash point and is good for many kinds of cooking, everything from baking to stir frying, but it will lack the wonderful buttery flavor if you let it go too far. When you see it turn from white to light yellow, remove from heat. Use a spoon to remove the milk solids that are floating, and then pour into a cheese cloth lined strainer that is sitting in a heat resistant bowl. Discard the milk solids. 

This video gives you an idea of the different stages you will see in the butter and will give you a good idea when it is ready to pour off. It doesn't however show me pouring the butter in the strainer... I couldn't video the process and pour at the same time!

Pour the ghee into jars leaving 1/2 inch heads space. Clean the rim of the jar well with a cloth with a little soap on it to eliminate any oil on the rim that might keep the lids from sealing. then use your two part lids and water bath process for 10 minutes. I have a control group of canned goods that I use for testing shelf life, I open one of each kind of canned goods every 2 years to check to see if it is still good. I have some ghee that is 10 years old, it is still as fresh and buttery tasting as it was the day I canned it. Ghee does not need to be refrigerated if used within a week or so of opening, which is why I put it in small containers, so it will get used up before it goes south. (You will know it has gone bad if you see mold starting to grow on the surface).

This is an easy project that doesn't take a lot of prep time and will provide you with a great shelf stable fat for your emergency pantry. Why don't you give it a try and let me know how it goes?

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