A John Deere Publication
Top view of jars of ghee

Ghee—clarified butter—is deeply influenced by the cows' diet.

Agriculture, Specialty/Niche   April 01, 2024


Crystal Clear

Ghee takes butter to a new—and very ancient—level.

by Steve Werblow

Past meets future in a little industrial park in Burlington, New Jersey, where Sandeep and Nalini Agarwal gently refine butter into a shelf-stable oil called ghee. Nalini gently heats a vat of butter to steam off the water and separate the solids, leaving clear, golden ghee (pronounced with a hard "g" like "go").

In India, cooking has started with spices simmering in hot ghee for time immemorial, and the fat is key to many traditional Indian and Nepalese medicines. Here in North America, ghee is catching on as people explore global cuisines and tune into the role healthy fats can play in the diet. Because lactose and casein are removed, Sandeep says many butter lovers who struggle with dairy foods can enjoy ghee, too.

For the Agarwals, ghee was part of a shift toward wholesome eating. Their son suffered from asthma and allergies. Food is medicine in Hindu culture, so the couple treated their son by pivoting to fresh, local ingredients and away from processed food.

"We had left our heritage of cooking fresh meals and had started buying things in a box rather than cooking from scratch," says Sandeep. "We needed to go back to our roots of having fresh meals, so we started making those changes in our diet."

One of those changes was buying butter from grass-fed cows. The Agarwals were drawn by the high levels of conjugated linoleic acid, good balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, and high vitamin content.

As it happens, butter plays an unusually large role in the Agarwal family. Sandeep's forebears have sold ghee in India for 5 generations. Sandeep was not going to give up his career as an information technology expert to return to India and run the family shop, but he was warming to the idea of producing ghee.

Above. Straining out milk sugars and proteins. Sandeep and Nalini Agarwal promote healthy cooking. Ghee is shelf-stable because the butter's water and solids have been removed—only the lipids remain. Pure Indian Foods produces ghee in 15 flavors.


Lots to learn. The Agarwals' friends loved their homemade ghee, and it was clear that many people in the U.S. market were ready to try it. In 2008, the Agarwals enrolled in classes at Rutgers University's Food Innovation Center Incubator so they could live their buy-local ethic.

"Instead of importing the product, we decided to make a local product," Sandeep says. "We spent the next 2 to 3 years learning about food manufacturing, and the process of food safety."

From the start, top-quality butter was paramount.

"It's so concentrated—all the other nuances have been removed," says Sandeep. "So for us, it's really critical what the cows are eating, which is why we went for pasture-raised cows."

They are also committed to being part of an ethical supply chain.

"I want to make sure that I'm paying a fair price for the products so the whole supply chain can benefit from it," Sandeep says. "I never want to squeeze our suppliers so that they ultimately squeeze the farmer. We are in the business of conscious products, so we basically want to make sure that we take care of the farmers as well."

At first, the Agarwals rented space at a commercial kitchen, making small batches weekly for Sandeep to sell at the Princeton Junction farmers' market.

Since then, they have evolved into their current facility, where there is room to grow. Nalini fills tiny sampler jars, 8- and 14-ounce containers, gallon tubs, and even 40-pound food service buckets. Pure Indian Foods now offers ghee in 15 flavors, including Indian, Italian, French, and Ethiopian spice infusions.

"Our customer base is all across the board, not just Indians, so we wanted to cater for them," Sandeep points out.

Ideas. "We are introducing ghee to an entirely new public," he adds. "They need to find out how to use it, so we hired a mainstream American nutritionist who knows about American food and gives ideas of how to use it."

Those ideas are as American as apple pie (literally: one suggestion is to replace butter in apple pie with dabs of Digestive Ghee, which is infused with cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger). There's ghee on toast or French bread. Herbes de Provence ghee scrambled in eggs. Garlic ghee melted over a grilled steak.

Pure Indian Foods' website and YouTube page are loaded with recipes that complement its growing offering of ghees, spices, ingredients, and books. It's more than a lineup. It's a mission.

"My own family got healed by eating good food," says Sandeep. "I want this message to reach out to other people.

"The products we are selling, they're not ready to eat," he notes. "We want you to buy these and actually cook a good meal at home. I believe that true health comes when you have a connection with your food." ‡

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