Eat Local! Butter
May 1, 2017
Butter has long been a staple in cultures around the world, revered amongst the upper echelon for its creamy flavor and perceived healing properties for skin, burns, and lustrous hair. In recent decades, this favorite toast-topper has been shunned for its high saturated fat content, and it is now at the center of a debate among healthcare professionals as to whether it belongs back on the table. Before delving into the nutritional profile of butter, let’s first examine the history of butter production.
Butter has been referenced in history dating back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans made butter for use with food and as a skin cream. The butter of those days was actually more like ghee, which has been heated until milk solids and water evaporate, leaving behind clarified butter. This translucent golden cousin of butter is higher in fat than butter, rich in antioxidants and has a higher smoke point. Ghee doesn’t spoil as quickly as raw butter (it can keep for months), and was widely used in Indian cuisine and culture for thousands of years as a digestive and immune-system booster.
Butter, on the other hand, was traditionally made from the fermented cream of goats or sheep that had gone sour (today, this is known as “cultured” butter and is made by adding bacteria to pasteurized cream). It was churned or shaken by hand until the milk fat separated from the buttermilk. In Europe, Scandinavians were trading butter as early as the 12th century. The first butter factories appeared in the U.S. in the 1800s. Today, butter is made by automatic cream separators in factories, though it still remains less processed than many other fats and oils on the market. Sweet cream butter is made from pasteurized cream while raw cream butter is made from unpasteurized cream, and will only keep for about 10 days. The latter is more common in Europe. Butter can also be frozen to extend shelf life.
Pastured butter, or butter made from cows on a predominantly grass-fed diet, is higher in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a beneficial type of omega-6 fatty acid found in the meat and milk of ruminants. In general, a serving of pastured butter has about the same amount of Vitamin A as conventional butter, but it is also a good source of Vitamins D and E. In addition, grass-fed milk, butter and meat products have a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than their conventional grain-fed counterparts. Although both fats are essential to get in the diet, it is important to balance their intake, and we now consume far more omega-6 fats than omega-3s, which can cause inflammation.
In addition, grass-fed dairy farms are more environmentally friendly than large feedlot dairies. Grass-fed dairy farms promote plant biodiversity and healthy soils through forage crop rotation. Certified organic dairy pastures help reduce the prevalence of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and sewage sludge in the environment. In turn, grazing animals that are allowed to be left to their natural habits produce more nutritious crops. Although the label “grass fed” or “pasture raised” does not guarantee unlimited access to idyllic green pastures for all livestock since there is no standard definition for this, a USDA Certified Organic product can be labeled grass-fed if at least 30% of the animal’s diet comes from pasture, and the livestock have access to pasture a minimum of 120 grazing days/year (the grazing season will vary with the region). Keep in mind that in the winter months, “grass-fed” animals are often fed a mixture of hay and grains and not grass products alone.
The key takeaway is to remember that it’s the whole diet that counts – a typical western diet high in saturated fats from processed meats, fried foods, cheese, packaged snacks and sweets is also high in sugar and trans fat, which we know is even worse for heart health. However, a varied diet rich in olive oil, fish, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables that also includes moderate amounts of natural saturated fats, such as pastured butter, would be much more ideal for heart health.
You can easily make homemade ghee at home to use just like you would butter. Check out the recipe below:
Homemade Ghee Recipe from the Ayurvedic Institute (For more healing recipes, visit www.ayurveda.com)
1 pound unsalted pastured butter
Put the butter in a heavy, medium-sized pan. Turn the heat on to medium until the butter melts.
Turn down the heat until the butter just boils and continue to cook at this heat. Do not cover the pot. The butter will foam and sputter while it cooks. Whitish curds will begin to form on the bottom of the pot. The butter will begin to smell like popcorn after a while and turn a lovely golden color. Keep a close watch on the ghee, as it can easily burn. After a while it will become a clear, golden color. You will have to take a clean, dry spoon to move away some of the foam on top in order to see if the ghee is clear all the way through to the bottom. When it is clear and has stopped sputtering and making noise, then it needs to be taken off the heat. Let it cool until just warm. Pour it through a fine sieve or layers of cheesecloth into a clean, dry glass container with a tight lid. Discard the curds at the bottom of the saucepan. The ghee is burned if it has a nutty smell and is slightly brown.
1 pound of butter takes about 15 minutes of cooking time. The more butter you are using, the more time it will take.
Ghee can be kept on the kitchen shelf, covered. It does not need refrigeration. The medicinal properties are said to improve with age. Don’t ladle out the ghee with a wet spoon or allow any water to get into the container, as this will create conditions for bacteria to grow and spoil the ghee.
Article by Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Certified Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian specializing in diabetes care and integrative and functional nutrition.