Ask, and most serious foodies worth their weight in oak-smoked Maldon sea salt will say that when it comes to meat, milk, butter and eggs, pastured is primo. Pure Indian Foods' organic, grass-fed ghee is the latest ingredient to jump on the hay wagon.
Ghee is an ancient food vital to Indian cooking, Ayurvedic medicine, rights of passage, ceremonies and even personal grooming. In the West, it's better known as clarified butter, made by melting butter, then drawing off the pure, clean fat, leaving behind the milk solids and sugars (lactose). It's versatile – solid when cold and liquid at room temperature – and with a high smoking point of 252 C, ghee behaves like oil in the pan, preventing sticking and crisping food, while still imparting that irreplaceable butter flavour.
Pure Indian Food's ghee delivers even more good karma: it's made from the cream of free-ranging dairy herds in New Jersey. Owner Sandeep Agarwal's family has been making ghee in India since 1889, and he is using the same time-honoured process to produce ghee in the United States, which is now being shipped to Canada.
Cows in India have always been raised on grass, whereas most North American dairy producers – having traded pasture for the industrial model – feed their cows grain. Grain fed cows produce milk that is less flavourful than grass fed and contains fewer nutrients. On his farm in New Jersey, Mr. Agarwal doesn't collect milk during the summer when "the grass tends to become dry and brown, which is not nutritious for the cows." His cows feast on tender, green, spring and fall grasses.
The cream is cultured before being churned into butter, then drawn. It's the vibrant colour of lemon curd or perhaps buttercups, high in Omega-3 fats and delivers a wonderful, rich, concentrated butter flavour – stronger and creamier than other commercial ghees.
"Ghee is considered a very sacred food in India. We make our ghee only on the Shukla Pakchha (waxing of the moon) or Purnima (full moon), days which are favourable in the Vedic system. Ghee is believed to have Soma, or the cooling and nourishing energy related to the moon," says Mr. Agarwal. "A small amount of ghee applied to the belly button nourishes the entire body and it's especially helpful for healing dried lips."
It's also delicious, adding an intense butter flavour for frying, dipping lobster or crab or drizzling over popcorn. The stuff is ideal for baking where a liquid fat is called for – pancakes or carrot cake – and speaking of pancakes, fry flapjacks in melted ghee for golden, crispy, buttery edges.
$11.95/220g in traditional plain and six spice infusions: Digestive Ghee, Garlic Ghee, Herbes de Provence Ghee, Indian Dessert Ghee, Italian Ghee and Niter Kebbeh (Ethiopian style) from www.pureindianfoods.com.