Today, we are happy to add another fantastic food to our official Whole30 Approved list. Pure Indian Foods is a family-run company currently based in Princeton, NJ, with heritage going back five generations to northern India. Since its founding in 1889, the company is still growing, learning, and expanding their product line to better serve its health-conscious customers. We sat down with Sandeep Agarwal, owner of Pure Indian Foods, to find out more about the history of ghee, and why it is considered a sacred food in Indian culture. But first, a little background.
What Is Ghee?
Golden colored ghee is prepared by melting and simmering unsalted butter until all the water evaporates and the milk solids settle at the bottom. The milk solids (those problematic milk proteins that make plain old butter a less healthy choice) are then filtered out, leaving only the remaining pure butter fat. This form of fat (approximately 2/3 saturated) is very stable with a high smoke point, making it an excellent choice to use for frying and sautéing. In addition, it can be stored without refrigeration for several months. (Note, ghee and clarified butter are not the same. Ghee is cooked longer, then browned, giving the butterfat a rich, nutty flavor.)
Pure Indian Foods ghee comes from 100% grass-fed, pastured cows raised in a certified organic manner. Their ghee is truly a seasonal food product, made with milk obtained only during spring and fall, when the cows are out to pasture eating rapidly growing fresh green grass. Their product is non-homogenized, and made fresh in small batches in stainless steel equipment. Finally, they use glass bottles (instead of cheap plastic) to avoid dangerous toxic materials leeching from plastic containers.
But ghee isn’t just a healthy food choice – ghee has a long and rich history in Indian culture. In fact, according to an article published in the journal Nature, traces of ghee have been found in pottery from 6,500 BC. We explored this history in our interview with Sandeep Agarwal, owner of Pure Indian Foods.
Our Interview With Pure Indian Foods
Tell us about your company and its philosophy around food.
My family has been in ghee business for the past 5 generations in northern India. After I learned about health giving properties of ghee and why it is so sacred in Ayurveda, I was inspired to continue the family tradition. I launched our ghee business in the USA in 2008. We focus on the quality and not the quantity. Our ghee is made with milk obtained only during spring and fall, when the cows are out to pasture eating rapidly growing fresh green grass.
What is ghee’s role as a “sacred food” in India?
Ghee touches a person’s life from birth until death. It is really amazing how one food is used in so many different ways. Here are a few examples:
- At birth, before the umbilical cord is cut, the father would touch the baby’s lips with a gold spoon or ring dipped in ghee or honey.
- Ghee is used in a fire ceremony ritual called Homam. In this ritual, ghee is offered to the fire along with wood, rice, herbs and other food ingredients.
- Burning a lamp made with cotton wick and ghee is considered very purifying.
- When a Hindu dies, his or her body is cremated. To prepare for cremation, ghee is poured over the dead body lying on a pile of wood.
How was ghee used traditionally for health and wellness? And what is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old system of traditional medicine native to India. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, and it is made up of 2 words – āyus and veda. In Sanskrit, words āyus means longevity, and veda means science.
In the ancient system of Ayurveda, among the diverse number of foods and medicines described in great detail, there is perhaps no other equal to ghee. Pure ghee is a supremely well-tolerated substance that not only serves as a concentrated source of nutrition but has special healing properties as well. Taken on its own and with food, Ayurveda considers ghee to be a kind of rasayana, or rejuvenative, prescribed in both the young and elderly to optimize health and enhance vitality, as well as to enhance fertility, mental function, voice and complexion.
Ghee is stated to have a cooling energy and has special application to reduce heat, inflammation and aggravations of pitta. In the ancient text called the Charaka Samhita, ghee is called yogavahi, meaning that it has the power to augment the properties of any herb it is taken with. Ghee is thus found as an ingredient in many different Ayurvedic preparations, including herbal jams (avaleha) and medicated ghee extracts (ghrita), and is commonly used as a kind of adjunct called an anupana when taking almost any type of medicine.
Ghee is traditionally used not only for cooking and flavoring foods, but as a carrier of herbal supplements in form of medicated ghrita (ghee infused with medicinal herbs and spices). It is topically applied to heal small cuts and burns. It is very common to heat some turmeric in ghee and apply topically on wounds and sore muscles as pain reliever. Ghee used in Nasya, which is a process of putting oil or ghee (plain or infused with herbs) to help clear and lubricate the sinus passageways, and for other therapeutics purposes as described in Ayurveda. Finally, a small amount of ghee applied to belly button nourishes the entire body and is especially helpful is healing dried lips.
How does your practice of making ghee today respect Indian traditions and culture?
Ghee is considered a very sacred food in India. We make our ghee only on the waxing (“Shukla Pakchha”) or full moon (“Purnima”) days which are favorable times in the Vedic system. Ghee is believed to have “Soma”, the cooling and nourishing energy related to moon.
Do the different variations of ghee you produce have specific uses in health and healing?
I have an interest in Ayurveda where I learned about the concept of making medicated ghee (called Ghrita). In preparing these ghritas, a combination of herbs are infused into ghee through a process that is very elaborately described in ancient Ayurvedic texts. This process allows the fat and water soluble active ingredients of these herbs & spices to bind with ghee. When you consume such a ghee, you get the maximum benefits of the added spices and herbs. We decided to give this concept a culinary twist by producing a line of herb/spice infused ghee products sold as food and not just as dietary supplement. These products were recently featured in The New York Times.
There are benefits to using such a ghee product instead of using plain ghee, and adding your own spices and herbs. The infusing process makes the benefits of herbs and spices more bio-available to your body. It also saves you cooking time since the herbs and spices are already infused in the ghee.
How can people read more about the flavors of ghee you make?
For more information about the flavors of ghee we make, please visit our web site product page. You can also download our free PDF guide to spiced ghee. (Note, obviously, not all of these options are available to those on a Whole30 program, although we were drooling over a few of them.)
Pure Indian Foods Ghee – Whole30 Approved
We are happy to feature Pure Indian Foods ghee (all flavors!) as official Whole30 Approved foods.
For more information, store locations or to order your ghee, visit their web site at www.pureindianfoods.com, and be sure to “like” their Facebook page for product updates, recipe ideas and more! And finally, a special offer for Whole9 readers: