It Turns Out We’ve Been Using Ghee Wrong All Along

While ghee’s elevated smoke point suggests resilience to high temperatures, the appearance of smoke signals that a crucial safety threshold has been surpassed (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock).

Ghee, or clarified butter, is a staple in many Indian dishes, revered for its rich flavor and high smoke point, making it ideal for cooking at high temperatures. However, a potential health hazard is often overlooked: the sight of smoke emanating from ghee-filled pans.

Dietitian and digital creator Shreya Katyal discusses this issue in her Instagram post. “Using ghee like this where you can see the smoke coming out, is dangerous for health,” she captions. While ghee’s elevated smoke point suggests it can handle high temperatures, the appearance of smoke indicates that a crucial safety threshold has been surpassed.

Consultant dietician and diabetes educator Kanikka Malhotra confirms this concern to “Heating ghee or oil above its smoke point converts good fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, into damaging free radicals like aldehydes, hydrocarbons, and hydroperoxides.”

These free radicals can harm cells, increasing inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers. “Furthermore, smoking oil produces acrolein, an irritant that can cause respiratory issues,” Malhotra adds.

Nisha, a consultant dietician and nutritionist at Motherhood Hospitals in Gurgaon, advises pregnant women to be particularly cautious when choosing cooking oils with high smoke points due to potential health impacts on both themselves and their developing babies. She notes that exposure to harmful compounds released when oil reaches its smoke point can pose additional risks during pregnancy, including respiratory issues and oxidative stress.

Specific Cooking Techniques to Minimize Ghee Reaching Its Smoke Point

Malhotra suggests the following techniques to keep your ghee and oils safe:

Choose the Right Oil:

  • Ghee (smoke point ~482°F): Good for high-heat cooking like searing.
  • For lower heat methods like sautéing, opt for refined options such as:
    • Mustard oil (smoke point ~400°F): Adds a pungent flavor, perfect for tadka.
    • Rice bran oil (smoke point ~400°F): Neutral-flavored and versatile.
    • Groundnut oil (smoke point ~430°F): A good all-purpose choice.

Gradual Heating: Slowly bring your oil or ghee to cooking temperature to avoid reaching the smoke point too quickly.

Use the Right Amount: Don’t overcrowd the pan. Fry food in batches to maintain better temperature control.

Adapting Cooking Practices for Safe Use of Ghee and Oils

Malhotra advises leveraging the unique smoke points of different fats. Sauté aromatics in a low-smoke point oil (e.g., mustard oil) to extract flavor. Then, for high-heat steps like searing, introduce ghee to take advantage of its high smoke point without compromising the delicate flavor compounds from the initial oil.

“Maillard reaction, responsible for the desirable browning and caramelization in food, can occur at lower temperatures. Reduce heat slightly and cook for a longer duration to achieve the same flavor profile while minimizing oil breakdown,” she suggests.

She also recommends using cookware with good thermal conductivity (e.g., cast iron) to ensure even heat distribution and prevent localized hot spots that can prematurely reach the smoke point. A preheated pan also promotes faster cooking, minimizing oil exposure to high temperatures.

Depending on the dish, explore healthier fats with higher smoke points. For example, swap some ghee in baking with avocado oil (smoke point ~520°F) for its similar monounsaturated fatty acid profile while maintaining a high smoke point for even heat distribution.

Add herbs and spices rich in antioxidants (e.g., turmeric, rosemary) during cooking. These antioxidants can help scavenge free radicals formed during the heating process, potentially mitigating some of the negative health effects.

Related Articles

Back to top button