Special Feature Specialty Cheese Editor

 

Ghee Whiz! Health-Conscious Consumers Finding Clarified Butter As Superfood

Moira Crowley
Specialty Cheese Editor
Cheese Reporter Publishing Co., Inc.
mcrowley@cheesereporter.com • 608-316-3793

October 6, 2017

 

Demand for a formerly obscure dairy product is slowly growing across the US as Millennials, Baby Boomers and health-conscious shoppers continue their quest for new functional superfoods.

Ghee, a type of clarified butter that originated from the Indian subcontinent and is commonly used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, is on tap to be “the next kombucha” here in the US.

Ghee is basically derived from butter. Whereas butter contains butterfat, milk solids and water, ghee is pure butterfat cooked longer until all moisture is removed and the milk solids are caramelized and then filtered out.

Some studies have found that regular consumption of ghee lowers levels of unhealthy cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease.

Organic Valley of La Farge, WI, began selling ghee in 2013 and is now the leading brand in a $16 million category that is growing by 50 percent annually, according to Alexandra Forster, associate brand manager, Organic Valley.

Available nationwide, OV sources its 100 percent organic milk from pasture-raised cows on over 2,000 organic family farms across the country.

“Our organic ghee is made in the US from Organic Valley butter from pasture-raised cows on family farms,” Forster said. “Organic Valley ghee – clarified butter with hints of nutty, caramel flavors – is lactose- and casein-free, and certified kosher and halal. We never use antibiotics, synthetic hormones, toxic pesticides or GMOs.”

“Ghee has gained awareness in the last few years among foodies, dieters and consumers who enjoy the taste of butter but need to avoid casein and lactose,” Forster continued.

“It’s also an amazing addition to any gourmand’s pantry – not just for traditional Indian and Aruyvedic dishes, but for a growing spectrum of nouveau cuisine,” she said.

Ancient Organics originated in 2003 with the first pot of ghee made on a home kitchen range in Bolinas, CA. What began as a 20-pound batch has now grown exponentially to yearly production of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Indian medical science Ayurveda views ghee as the best fat a human can consume. It has been heralded for its health benefits, cooking versatility and flavor for thousands of years. However, high-quality artisan ghee from pastured and grass-fed cows hasn’t been available for that long.

“Introducing ghee to the West through the lens of quality and integrity were the founding pillars of Ancient Organics,” said “chief gheewallah” Matteo Girard Maxon.

Ancient Organics, now based in Berkeley, CA, sells its ghee through West Coast distribution to major retail chains like Whole Foods Market down to local, independent natural foods grocers.

Online retailers like Amazon provide nationwide coverage, and the company also has local retail presence at area farmers’ market. Ancient Organics sells bulk ghee to foodservice channels as well.

The company sources its milk from local Northern California creameries.
Fourth & Heart, headquartered in Los Angeles, CA and named as an ode to the heart chakra, was founded in 2015 by Brazilian-born Raquel Tavares Gunsagar. She is also the principal creator of Tava Organics, LTD, parent company of Fourth & Heart.

Gunsagar’s inspiration for the product came from her upbringing. Her mother is a registered dietician and studied at the California College of Ayurveda for three years. Therefore, she found herself ahead of the food trend curve, often predicting several of the products customers see on shelves today.

When she was in the decision-making process of what product to move forward with, she studied what had been successful in food and modeled the proliferation and upgrade of the ghee category.

“Essentially, I wanted to do what Justin’s did for peanut butter to ghee and what GT’s did for Kombucha,” she said.

Fourth & Heart grass-fed ghee uses grass-fed butter sourced from a cooperative of farms in New Zealand.

“Supply isn’t adequate in California for the grass-fed butter. In New Zealand it’s roughly 95 to 99 percent grass-fed, whereas here you’ll get about 70 percent,” Tavares Gunsagar said. “We would love to source from the US if it was sustainable to do so.”

Fourth & Heart Ghee Butter is packaged in 9-ounce glass jars and 0.8-ounce “Ghee on the Go” travel containers with flavors including Original Recipe, White Truffle Salt, Madagascar Vanilla Bean, Himalayan Pink Salt and California Garlic.

The product line also includes both sprayable and pourable Ghee Oil, and a collection of chocolate ghee spreads called “Chocti” in Original Recipe, Passion fruit and Coffee Gurana. Primary ingredients include date syrup, chocolate and vanilla bean ghee.

Products are sold in Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts, Ralph’s, Kroger, Erewhon, Central Market, Dean & Deluca, Gelson’s and about 2,000 independent stores nationwide.

“We offer foodservice as well and sell to other brands as an ingredient,” Tavares Gunsagar said. “Soon, you’ll find us in some nationwide meal kit delivery boxes and hopefully on airlines and hotels.”

Appeals To Baby Boomers, Millennials, Natural Shoppers
The dynamic qualities of ghee attract a broad range of customers, including health-conscious folks who love to cook with it because the high smoke point and nutty, caramelized flavor cannot be found elsewhere, Ancient Organics’ Maxon said.

With the inflammatory elements of milk sugars and proteins removed, ghee also appeals to lactose intolerant consumers, Maxon continued.
“Ghee can be cooked with, eaten straight, applied topically, used in ceremony and used in medicine-making,” he said.

The recent popularity of “butter coffee” has also brought significant interest in ghee as an optimized butter for devotees of this beverage, Maxon said.

Typical customers of Fourth & Heart Ghee are Millennials or Baby Boomers, according to Tavares Gunsagar. They prefer ghee over butter for a number of reasons, including being lactose- and virtually dairy-free; good for the Whole 30 diet; Paleo Certified; has a high smoke point whereas butter burns; is shelf stable; and tastes like butter.

“Consumers might choose ghee for health reasons due to ghee being both lactose and casein-free,” Organic Valley’s Forster agreed. “Ghee also has a higher smoke point than butter, which makes it great for high-heat cooking and sautéing, and can also be used for baking occasions.”

Processing Requires Higher Price
With a complicated manufacturing process, ghee typically requires a premium price, companies agreed. Forster said Organic Valley’s ghee is priced comparably to premium butters with a higher fat content.

According to Ancient Organics’ Maxon, top quality butter is roughly two-thirds the price of top quality ghee.

A pound of grass-fed butter is running about $8.00 per pound and Fourth & Heart Ghee sells at $11.00 for a 9-ounce container – not bad, but more expensive than butter, particularly if it’s grass fed, Tavares Gunsagar said.
“In the ghee-making process, you lose about 20- to 25 percent of the butter – which is the water and the dairy you find – so that in and of itself makes it more expensive,” she said.

“The good news is because the water and dairy are removed, a little goes a long way – especially when cooking with it. You won’t waste it by accidentally burning it, so in the end you may actually break even and get healthy results in the process,” Tavares Gunsagar continued.

Could Be The Next Kombucha
Ghee is slowly becoming a mainstream product and competition is increasing among manufacturers, but Maxon said there’s plenty of space for everyone.

“Ghee will undoubtably become a household name,” Maxon said. “As the world flattens and multiculturalism flourishes, ghee will find the same foothold in the United States as it has in India.”

“Ghee has gained awareness in the last few years among foodies, dieters and consumers who enjoy the taste of butter but need to avoid casein and lactose.”
—Alexandra Forster, Organic Valley.

Organic Valley’s Forster predicted that the ghee category will likely continue to see growth over the next five to 10 years as consumers become more aware of what ghee is, how to use it and its benefits.

Ghee is definitely becoming more mainstream and we see private label in large chains, Tavares Gunsagar agreed. Still, we’re already the second-largest ghee brand in the country in just under three years.

I see demand going up and to the right, she continued. We know the awareness has grown, but there is much more growth to be had.

“I’m happy to be the brand who will bring forward that awareness and give this ingredient the merit it deserves,” she said. “The more complicated our lives become with work, family, travel and stress – when people go home and cook I feel like they’ll keep going back to the basics and to food that fuels us emotionally and physically.”

“That is what ghee does and that’s what we intend to do too,” Tavares Gunsagar continued.



Cheese Reporter and Moira Crowley welcomes letters and comments regarding the above story. Comments should be sent to: Moira Crowley by e-mail to mcrowley@cheesereporter.com

 

 

 

 

Moira Crowley has been Specialty Cheese Editor of Cheese Reporter since 2015. She has over 15 years experience covering the dairy industry through her work at Cheese Reporter. Her contributions to Cheese Reporter are read and referenced throughout the world.
For more information, call 608-316-3793 mcrowley@cheesereporter.com.


 

Other Special Features Written by Moira include:

Investment in Salary, Education Required To Find & Keep Qualified Cheese Mongers
July 20, 2018

Growing Market Demand for US Parmesan Due To Better Quality, More Usage Options
April 6, 2018

Staying Relevant To Tech-Savvy, Goal Driven Gen Z Means Dairy Must Nourish Body, Mind
April 6, 2018

 

More soon to be added.