Ghee has been an integral part of the Indian culture for millennia. We have all grown up eating it as a staple food in our diet but, do we really know where it comes from? How was it first invented? Who popularized it and why? Most of us don’t!
Butter – Where it all started
Early humans ate what they could, where they could find it. Most of our ancestors started out as hunter-gatherers and passed through a pastoralist phase before finally settling down and practicing agriculture. The pastoralist phase was more important than you might realize. It diversified our dairy consumption to a great extent – foods like yogurt, cheese, and butter came out of this period.
Butter production most likely began by accident. A shepherd, with a skin bag of goat, sheep, yak, cow, camel, or other milk, spent a little too much time letting that bag bang around in the heat before opening it for a drink. When the time came for a drink, the contents of the bag weren’t milk anymore… they were butter.
This gave rise to a long-standing love affair between the Asian Subcontinent and Butter. In some parts of the region, the average life expectancy stretches well above 100 years of age, and the people are quick to credit the butter they use. For example – The Hunza tribe, who live in the remote Himalayan range between Pakistan, India, and China, are famed for their lifespans of 115 or more. Their vitality has been attributed to a culture-rich diet of butter, kefir and yogurt, along with plenty of whole grains.
Thus, butter enjoyed its reign and popularity for quite some time before it was further clarified into the staple we still use today – Ghee.
Enter the Ghee
As butter’s popularity grew and its demand started to rise, the need to carry butter for long-distance led to the creation of shelf-stable butter – Ghee.
Ghee was first made in the northeast corner of the Indian subcontinent, sometime near 1800-2000 BCE. Though ghee’s creation took place in the northeast corner of India, its popularity bloomed somewhere else. The impact of this healthy and shelf-stable fat was so important that it soon found its way to a place you probably wouldn’t expect. Somewhere that milk would go rancid too quickly to use, and regular butter would be a useless puddle by midday – Southern India.
As Southerners incorporated this elixir like liquid into their diet, they were surprised by its benefits and heralded it as God’s food soon enough, all of India started using Ghee.
Ghee soon became the most precious substance provided by the most sacred beast on earth, the cow. In Hindu culture, the cow is sacred, and ghee is the only animal fat that Hindus will eat. The cow represents the soul, with its obstinate intellect, and unruly emotions, but it is also gentle and generous. And in Hindu mythology, Prajápati, Lord of Creatures, created ghee by rubbing or “churning” his hands together and then poured it into fire to engender his progeny; whenever the Vedic ritual was performed of pouring ghee into fire, it was a re-enactment of creation. (Butter in mythologies the world over is a symbol of semen: churning represents the sexual act, and also the formation of a child in its mother’s womb.)
Thus, this saturated fat gained a religious following.
One of the hymns of the Rg Veda (circa 1500 BC) is in praise of ghee, and is intended to be accompanied by ritual libations of the golden substance into fire. These are some of the words:
This is the secret name of Ghee:
“Tongue of the gods,” “navel of immortality.”
We will proclaim the name of Ghee;
We will sustain it in this sacrifice by bowing low.
These waves of Ghee flow like gazelles before the hunter…
Streams of Ghee caress the burning wood.
Agni, the fire, loves them and is satisfied.
Here Ghee is fertilizing seed, a regenerator of riches: its sputtering and crackling reawaken Agni himself. It also represents the pure energy of communal prayer and the inspiration to mysticism and poetry.
Statues of Vishnu and Krishna are ritually anointed with two intensely sacred mixtures of five substances, one called pançamrita: milk, curds, ghee , honey, and sugar, and the other “the five products of the cow”: milk, curds, ghee, urine, and dung. Both of these can be used to purify people who have committed temporarily polluting offenses, or as antidotes to poison and disease. The lamps that light the holiest places in Hindu temples are wicks burning in ghee — as are the lamps swung in circular motions before the images of various deities, or lit at the great Festival of Lights in honour of Lakshmi and Rama.
The religious impact of ghee in India stretches beyond the spiritual and mythological references and into practice. The caste system of India is strict and Hindu foods are divided by class. No one can eat food that someone of a lower caste prepares unless it is a “superior” food. One way to make even the most “inferior” foods into superior ones is to cook them in ghee. As a result, cooking in ghee is a great way for Hindu restaurant owners to ensure that clientele of all castes eat at their establishments.
Ghee has had its fair bit of controversy because of partial research by the Westerners, but it has conquered the half-hearted attempt to besmirch our national treasure and rose above it and has become a Global Superfood! People have come to realize its benefits, especially the Westerners and have started experimenting with it. Though it has gained popularity worldwide, there is a major concern in Indian markets about the purity of Ghee being sold and that’s why we have taken up the mantle of making pure Organic Ghee. Our primary objective is to reconnect the people to the original taste and nutrition of Ghee by procuring only organic and natural raw materials, so that we can maintain the integrity and nutrition of our products.