It all begins, and ends, with food. What you’re ingesting affects how you are in the world, how you feel, and how you’re responding to the life that’s unfolding around you. If I find myself in the throes of a midday slump, or wiped and irritable, it is inevitably and inextricably linked to what I’ve been eating.
Over the last three years my body and I have developed a more harmonious connection. I’ve had a variable (sometimes tempestuous) relationship with this same body previously; I’ve written previously about the years of eating food that didn’t suit me, and there were also many years in the middle where I dabbled in too much of everything, too much gin, too much vodka, too much sugar, too much social smoking (particularly in the years where I was extremely, constantly social), too much butter-chicken-with-butter-pepper-garlic-crab-with-butter-chicken at Swagath, too much of Waitrose’s spinach and ricotta pizza … just too much. There was a patch in the middle where it just felt like there was too much of me, and y’know, at the time, there probably was. That wasn’t the size that my body was meant to be, and that wasn’t the way I was meant to feel in it. The funny thing is, I probably weigh now around what I weighed then, but this is a completely different body, and a completely different relationship. Through yoga, and movement, daily sweat and meditation, and better food that is vibrant and alive, my body and I are in a really sweet place, where my energy levels are soaring, and my brain feels really rad and switched-on, and I’m actually choosing to keep a little juice on my bones. This feels more natural, more feminine, and more aligned with the strongest version of me, the one that isn’t falling sick every other month, or waking up with a tender stomach and fucked-up skin. That extra bit of juice is actually the thing that’s helped my body and me get to this good place, where I have boatloads of energy, my days are bigger and filled with more, more thoughts, more stamina, more curiosity about life. That extra bit is a second slice of cake, and a second glass of wine, and the freedom to shape a life and a wardrobe that isn’t determined by a warped feminine ideal that, for so long, I held up as my own. That extra bit is avocados in my morning smoothie, and it is ghee.
I never thought that ghee would make its way into my essential toolbox, but there you have it. I am in love with tinctures and tonics, and daily rituals that help pepper my whole day with magic, and I am fascinated by all the ancient wisdom, forgotten and now being remembered, that is starting to weave its own web of magic around mealtimes in our home.
“This is the secret name of Butter:
‘Tongue of the gods,’ ’navel of immortality.’
We will proclaim the name of Butter;
We will sustain it in this sacrifice by bowing low.
These waves of Butter flow like gazelles before the hunter
Streams of Butter caress the burning wood.
Agni, the fire, loves them and is satisfied.”
- Hymn of the Rg Veda (circa 1500 BC)
In the Vedic analogy ghee is hidden in milk like the divine is hidden in all creation. Spiritual work and its rewards are symbolized by the churning that causes rich butter to appear, and when this butter is tested by sacred fire, agni, golden ghee reveals itself.
Okay, but what is it really? And, more to the point, why is it better than butter?
Traditional ghee is made from whole cow’s milk that has been mixed with yoghurt and allowed to ferment into yoghurt while sitting at room temperature for four or five hours. During this culturing process, lactose sugars are converted into lactic acid, the cultured milk is then churned into butter before being heated for many hours over a flame to completely remove all moisture, and while all this happens the milk solids caramelize on the bottom of the pot before the whole thing is strained one final time.
The browning of the milk solids at the bottom of the pan also give ghee a nuttier taste than sweet clarified butter and gives it a longer shelf life as well as a higher smoke point (making it better for high heat cooking), as well as much less saturated fat than butter. Oh, and little to no lactose or casein.
Ayurveda calls ghee the first and most essential of all the foods. Cow’s milk is believed to possess the life force and essence of all plants, and when one consumes ghee, one channels this divine pranic energy into the body (it is said). We do know, indisputably, that ghee is made up of medium chain fatty acids, and is therefore burned by the liver to use for energy and not translated into adipose tissue. Our brains are made up for fat, which means that your body needs, craves fat to stay inspired and creative. The butyric acid in ghee reduces inflammation and heals the GI tract, and it also offers some of the highest doses of antioxidants and vitamin A around.
It is lovely when indulgence and good-for-you intersect. Ghee has a home in any intentional kitchen, one where your stove turns altar, bringing a sense of reverence to food preparation. I am now a ghee fanatic. I slather it on my sourdough, cook my scrambled eggs in it, and have cooked chicken and leeks with it. I roasted sweet potato with one big dollop, and stirred a spoonful into a carrot soup. I’ve massaged a whole chicken in it before sticking it in the oven to roast… It’s butter, but even better. It is lactose-free (more on that later), healing, nutty and unctuous, and here in India it has long been touted as essential soul food, with the ability to transport you into other realms. While I cannot (yet) vouch for the veracity of those realm-transporting claims, I’m down to believe it. I can, however, vouch for its ability to slip and slide through your body, gently cushioning you in its gentle gold gleam.