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Butter v Olive Oil v Ghee

Arthur Huxley - 13-02-2019

Like all comparisons, Butter, Ghee and Olive Oil have their strengths and weaknesses. Simple enough. But for you the Home Chef, applying those pluses and minuses to your cooking requires a little more planning and understanding of your recipe.

To start with Butter. Butter is essentially made up of three parts: Fat, Water and Milk solids. And this immediately brings us to the first negative.

You will have noticed that when butter melts and starts to foam, the water element evaporates leaving the solids to naturally burn and if not watched carefully, can easily spoil your dish.

The reasons for this are clear. Butter has a smoke/burn point of 160C degrees while Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a smoke/burn point of around 200C degrees. Now compare this to Ghee with a smoke/burn point of 252C degrees. You can see where this is heading.

For Ghee, the reason for the high smoke/burn is easily explained. Ghee is simply pure butter fat with all the moisture removed and the milk solids caramelized and then filtered out.

Translating this to Home Chef cooking, Ghee is perfect when sautéing, especially when pan frying, say, meatballs or chips and for steaks or chops when using a hot griddle plate on the stove. The increased smoke/burn point makes the chefs job much more controlled and the lack of “spitting” is immediately obvious.

Working in our test kitchen we noticed Ghee has a lovely, warm nutty aroma and flavour when cooking, much like butter of course but nuttier and cleaner.

So all good. Ghee is terrific and clearly no Home Chef should be without a tub in the fridge. But try spreading it on a slice of fresh bread and without the liquids, solid Ghee is hopeless. A plus for Butter.

A further push for Butter is a bit subjective but from our testing, pan frying your spring onions or best mushrooms in Butter – provided this is kept to below 350 degrees – gives a lovely caramelised, sweeter flavour note. So the higher cooking temperature of Ghee is not needed for more delicate foods.

And a plus for Olive Oil. Ghee and Butter are not in the hunt for one of the culinary world’s great treasures, dunking a lovely Ciabatta or Focaccia bread in a high quality extra virgin Australian Olive Oil. Taste heaven.

Stating the obvious,Olive Oil is also a winner with great Salads especially as part of a Salad Dressing ( ref. our blog "Walnut Oil") - and Roast Vegetables and Stir Fry's where the temperature should remain below 200C degrees.

Going further, Olive Oil is terrific when drizzled over Steaks and Pork Chops - but always after high heat grilling where Ghee would be best to kick things off.

As we have mentioned a lot of this is subjective but what is not negotiable is keeping the cooking temperatures below the relevant smoke/burn points. Beyond that you are inviting shades of bitterness as the Oil, Butter or even Ghee break down.

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