Both traditional cooking oils of India and Southeast Asia, ghee and coconut oil have immensely increased in mainstream popularity in the United States recently. They are found in most grocery stores, when previously they were seen as more of a speciality item. Ghee and coconut oil both are touted as healthier alternatives to butter, margarine and other vegetable and seed oils. But what sets ghee vs coconut oil apart? Is one cooking fat better than the other?
What is Ghee?
Ghee is clarified butter, which is just butter that has been simmered and then strained of water and milk solids. Clarified butter is usually ran through a cheese cloth to separate the milk solids from the fat. It is the fat content of normal butter, but isolated. But ghee is continued to let simmer longer than clarified butter so that it develops a nutty, more caramelized flavor. This is the traditional South Asian method. Usually stored in a jar, ghee has an attractive bright yellow hue, and a spreadable soft texture. Ghee is a very traditional cooking oil of Indian cuisine, where the word originates from Sanskrit, and has been used for centuries. It is harder to find plain clarified butter for sale in the United States, as most of what’s sold is considered ghee.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is an oil that is pressed from the flesh of coconuts. Coconut oil is sold as either refined, or unrefined (virgin). Virgin coconut oil is pressed from fresh coconut meat, while refined coconut oil is pressed from dried coconut meat, which is also called copra. This pressing is either done at a cold temperature (sold as cold-pressed) or pressed with heat and/or steam to aid the extraction process, which is then marked as expeller-pressed. Cold pressed oil is thought to retain more nutrients as they don’t get destroyed by the heat, though it is unsure if this difference is substantial enough to matter. If you see coconut oil labeled “extra virgin,” that’s just marketing lingo. There is actually no difference “virgin” and “extra virgin” coconut oil. Coconut oil is usually solid at room temperature, though it can melt in hot temperatures, and has a white, opaque color. It can look somewhat waxy and grainy, or can be smooth and buttery, depending on source and quality.
Ghee vs Coconut Oil Comparison
Smoke point is the temperature when the fat will start to smoke and burn when heated. This is when you literally see smoke coming off of the pan on the stove. It is not recommended to use fats past their smoke points, as the oil becomes degraded and will give your food a possibly burnt taste. When fats surpass their smoke point, they generally will not be as healthy or tasty.
Ghee has a smoke point of 375 to 485°F, but this depends on purity . Even if you have only a little experience in the kitchen, you’ll probably recognize that butter burns fairly easily, as it only has a smoke point of 200 to 250°F . Ghee’s high smoke point makes it very versatile in the kitchen, and is great for frying, broiling and searing. It really takes a lot for ghee to burn, and even when it does start to burn, it gets more nutty and browns before it starts to actually become bad-tasting.
Coconut oil’s smoke point depends on whether it is refined or not. Refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 450°F, while virgin coconut oil has a smoke point of 350°F . Coconut oil is a great all purpose oil. You can cook eggs at low heat, but also deep fry chicken and onion rings in refined coconut oil. The possibilities are truly endless with coconut oil. It also takes a very long time for refined coconut oil to reach that 450°F smoke point, so you can fry in many, many batches. You can even reuse the oil, as long as it is strained from impurities and doesn’t look or smell off.
Both ghee and coconut oil, including virgin coconut oil, have a fairly high smoke point. This makes them both perfect for all purpose cooking, and even deep frying. They both can also be used in baking, thanks to having a neutral taste.
Ghee usually has a slightly nutty flavor, especially if it comes from grass-fed butter. It doesn’t really have much of a smell. The source and quality of the butter greatly affects the taste of the ghee. Some ghee doesn’t have much taste at all, while others have an intense buttery savory flavor. Ghee could be used in a variety of sweet and savory recipes. Though I wouldn’t use it in certain East Asian recipes, as the fat may be too rich. I would still consider ghee a fairly neutral cooking fat, and it can be used seamlessly in baking, to frying to grilling. Ghee even comes in flavors, such as garlic, vanilla bean and chocolate. There are many interesting uses of these flavored ghee’s, as I’m sure they would add depth of flavor in any recipe.
Coconut oil’s taste depends on whether it was refined or not. Unrefined or virgin coconut oil will have a slight coconut flavor, while refined oil has no coconut taste and is a neutral tasting oil. Refined coconut oil has many uses in this regard, as you can you use it for sweet and savory recipes in a variety of different ethnic cuisines. Although I’m not sure how traditional it would be to make French or Italian recipes using coconut oil. Coconut oil can be used just like any neutral cooking oil, like vegetable/canola oil, but it is a healthier option.
Ghee is great for any high-heat frying and sauteing as well as roasting. I’ve even used ghee in recipes where olive oil is more conventional and had great results. For example, I’ve browned ground beef in ghee before making chili and I’ve found it adds a great richness to the chili without altering the flavor and tasting “buttery.” I also love ghee for making pancakes, because although pancakes are low heat, the ghee ensures there is never a burnt flavor (which sometimes develops with butter even on low heat) which can really ruin a pancake. Ghee makes exceptionally crispy and rich hash browns, and is perfect for roasting, broiling, sauces, and soups.
Coconut oil is perfectly suited for baking, deep frying, stir-frying, and any general cooking use. Refined coconut oil is more versatile than unrefined virgin oil, as the coconut flavor is removed. Refined coconut oil is a great oil to deep fry with, as it behaves just as well as any vegetable oil, and is fairly cost effective, especially when purchased in large quantities. Coconut oil is very shelf stable and has a long shelf-life. Coconut oil can be used to make homemade mayo and sauces, marinades, and even dairy-free frosting and other desserts.
In general, one teaspoon of ghee will contain 8% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, 2% of vitamin E, and 1% of vitamin K . Vitamin K is hard to get from food sources in the modern diet, and all of these vitamins are fat-soluble, which is important as the fat increases absorption.
Coconut oil has some vitamin E, but not much else in terms of vitamins . This is why when people argue about virgin coconut oil being better than refined because it has more nutrients, it doesn’t make much sense.
Per one tablespoon of ghee, it contains 9 grams of saturated fat, 5 grams of monounsaturated fat, and less than one gram of polyunsaturated fat . Ghee has more saturated and monounsaturated fat than polyunsaturated fat. This fat profile is the same as butter, as ghee is just the fat content of butter, but isolated.
Per one tablespoon of coconut oil, the oil contains 13.5 g of fat, 11.2 g of that fat is saturated . Coconut oil is known for being one of the only non-animal fats that is mostly composed of saturated fat. Usually plant oils are mainly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Ghee vs Coconut Oil: The Importance of Sourcing
When looking for ghee it is important to use high-quality, grass-fed butter to ensure maximum health benefits and superior flavor. Some brands that I find to be reliable are Organic Valley, 4th & Heart, Carrington Farms, and Ancient Organics. Alternatively, you could very easily make your own ghee with high-quality store-bought or homemade butter, a mason jar and a cheesecloth. This is a very cost effective solution, as ghee can be pricey.
When looking for coconut oil, it’s best to seek out pure, organic coconut oil whether it is refined or not. Some of my go-to brands are Nutiva, Carrrington Farms, Wildly Organic, Garden of Life and Spectrum.You should avoid any brands that hydrogenate their coconut oil in order to extend shelf life, as this process creates trans fats.
Ghee vs Coconut Oil Verdict
Ghee and coconut oil prove to be quite similar cooking oils in terms of smoke point and uses. The main difference is that refined coconut oil is more neutral tasting than ghee. Another point worth mentioning is that coconut oil, especially purchased in bulk, is more cost effective than ghee, which tends to be somewhat pricey and sold in smaller amounts. The other main difference is that coconut oil is almost entirely composed of saturated fat, while ghee is mainly made up of monounsaturated fat with some saturated fat. Both ghee and coconut oil are stellar, versatile cooking oils that are great additions to any diet and are fun to use.