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Ghee: the wonderful formation by Ancient Indians

Ghee is expected to have a keeping quality of about 9 months on storage at 21°C when packaged in rust-free lacquered tin containers. The spoilage, results in the production of off flavours resulting in losing consumer acceptability, adversely affecting its nutritive value, development of toxic compounds due to auto-oxidation and loss of attractive colour.

Prologue

Ghee not only occupies the most prominent status amongst the traditional Indian dairy products but also remains as one of the principal ingredients of traditional Indian sweets. It is heat desiccated butter or cream fat which is further clarified. Evidence shows that it was used in India from almost Vedic times (3000 to 2000 B.C.). The word name is derived from the word ‘ghrit’ which emerges from ‘ghr’ that means bright or to make bright.

Ghee is the most widely used dairy product in the Indian subcontinent. It is mainly used for culinary purposes like cooking and frying sweets. Apart from this, it is extensively used as garnishing material for rice and spread for chapattis. It is not only used to make certain types of ayurvedic medicines but also used for performing certain religious and ceremonial rituals. In legal terms, ghee can be understood as a product of obtained exclusively from milk, cream or butter by removing almost water content and solids not fat. It has rich flavour and mouthfeel which pleases crores of Indians. 

 

Chemical Aspects 

When described in chemical terms is a complex liquid of glycerides 99 to 99.5%, free fatty acids composition is limited to 3% (as % of oleic acid as per FSSR), phospholipid, sterols, sterol esters, fat-soluble vitamins, tocopherols, carbonyls, hydrocarbons, carotenoids, and traces of calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper etc. It should not contains more than 0.5% m/m moisture. The glyceride structure mainly affects the physicochemical properties of ghee. It has been reported that the glyceride composition of cow ghee is different from that of buffalo milk ghee. The proportion of high melting triglycerides is much higher in buffalo ghee average 8.7% than in cow ghee average 4.9% this is because buffalo ghee has larger proportions of long-chain saturated fatty acids palmitic and stearic acids. The levels of trisaturated glycerides are similar in cow and buffalo ghee i.e. 21 to 43%. Ghee has a melting range of 28 to 44°C. Its butyrofractometer reading is from 40 to 45 at 40°C. The saponification number is not less than 220. The iodine number should vary from 26 to 38. The Reichert-Meissel number (RM) varies from 26 to 32 depending on the type of milk used. The Polenske value should not be more than 2. 

 

Nutritional and Therapeutic Aspects

It is believed to promote longevity, boost immunity and moisturize dry skin. Nutritional benefits of ghee are plenty. It contributes to the nourishment of all age groups. It is the richest dietary sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This CLA helps in inhibiting carcinogenesis of the colon, mammary tissues, skin and forestomach. It also has the ability to lower serum cholesterol.  It is a rich source of fat-soluble vitamins-  A, D, E and K along with anti-inflammatory properties. It is a unique blend of saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids both of which plays a pivotal role in a healthy diet. In saturated fatty acids, it contains short-chain fatty acids which are easily digested by the human body. Small amounts of essential fatty acids namely arachidonic acid and linolenic acid are also present in ghee. It is especially beneficial to persons recovering from chronic diseases, bone fractures, growing children, expected as well as nursing mothers. It is extensively used for making Ayurvedic medicines. Cow ghee which is yellow in colour due to carotenoids contains 5% less saturated fats as compared to buffalo ghee that is having greenish tint due to presence of tetrapyraozole pigments- biliverdin and bilirubin. Cow milk ghee is considered very good for eyesight, strength building, intelligence capabilities, appetite, virility and radiance. Buffalo ghee on the other hand is considered heavy indigestion but proves remedial in haemoptysis. 

However, the nutrition derived from ghee is dependent on the method of manufacturing. The one which is prepared from sweet milk i.e. not fermented is considered to produce coolness in the body, prevents diarrhoea, excellent for eye diseases, and purifies the blood.  Fermented milk ghee has a pleasant appetizing taste. It is beneficial for improving as well as developing eyesight. It also provides strength, virility and helps in preventing some kinds of fever. There are more than 50 types of ghee as per Ayurvedic texts like Arjuna ghee (used for the treatment of heart diseases), Anantadhya ghee (used for the treatment of syphilis), Ashwagandha ghee (used for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders), Kalyan ghee (used for the treatment of madness), etc.

 

Manufacturing Process

In India, there are several methods of manufacturing ghee. The principle used in ghee manufacture involves the concentration of milk fat followed by heat clarification of fat-rich portion and then removal of the residue. The concentration of fat in the form of cream or butter and water evaporation is done simultaneously by applying heat. During the moisture removal process, the typical rich nutty flavour develops and solids non-fat (SNF) portion is converted to brown residue called ghee residue is separated later on. The methods of manufacture can vary as per raw material used, intermediate processing and separation of ghee residue. There are generally five main methods of production viz the desi method, the direct cream method, creamy butter method, pre-stratification method and cream de-emulsification method (continuous method).

The batch method is highly suitable for small scale dairies but with an increase in the worldwide demand, the highly organised large scale dairies develop continuous ghee making methods like cream de-emulsification methods, etc. There are several limitations of batch methods which are overcome by continuous methods. Batch methods involve unsanitary operation, ghee is exposed to the environment this increases chances of contamination. Low heat transfer co-efficient of batch equipment causing bulky equipment also high energy-consuming equipment. Product spillage during manufacturing in batch methods makes floor slippery which has the threat of accidents. Further, there is the formation of the tenacious scale of ghee residues on the heating surface thus making a poor performance of equipment and making cleaning strenuous.

These limitations can be overcome by continuous methods which mainly work on two principles:

a) moisture evaporation from cream/butter using thin-film scraped surface heat exchanger (TSSHE).

b) de-emulsification of cream by using high-speed clarifixtor and oil concentrator followed by moisture evaporation.

 

Flavour Development

It is greatly valued for its rich characteristic flavour and granular texture. A pleasant, rich nutty, lightly cooked or caramelised sweet (rather than pungent) acidic aroma is desirable. The flavour development is possible due to interaction during heating process among a protein, lactose and minerals. The constituents of butter flavour like indole, skatol and dimethyl sulphide could on heating transfer to ghee in their original or modified forms. Fermented products formed due to fermentation of milk imparts typical ghee flavour. Lactic acid serves as a precursor for many flavouring substances.  Propanone-ethanol n-butanol, butanone-2, monocarbonyls, keto glycerides, delta lactones and gamma lactones are main chemical compounds affecting the aroma of ghee. In respect of flavour, undercooked ghee tends to butteriness and oiliness mouthfeel and overcooked product to pungency.

 

Granulation 

Development of granules is considered an important criterion of quality and purity by the average Indian buyer. The party granular texture is due to certain glycerides of higher melting saturated fatty acids mainly palmitic and stearic. Buffalo ghee usually more saturated crystallizes rapidly and more effectively than cow ghee. It has been observed that heating it to 60 to 100°C then cooling it rapidly yields small sized uniform grains. The cold storage facility should be avoided as it leads to loss of granularity and development of waxy texture in the final product. Inherent factors such as type of milk, feed and fodders and season, region, etc affect granularity.

 

Concluding Remarks

It is expected to have a keeping quality of about 9 months on storage at 21°C when packaged in rust-free lacquered tin containers. The spoilage, results in the production of off flavours resulting in losing consumer acceptability, adversely affecting its nutritive value, development of toxic compounds due to auto-oxidation and loss of attractive colour. Initial moisture content, initial acidity, amount of residues formed, oxygen content in a packaged product, methods of packaging and storage temperature and conditions influence keeping quality of ghee. The analytical constants of ghee cover a wide range thus permitting a fairly high degree of adulteration while still keeping the constants normal. Recently, many advanced and sensitive techniques like thin layer chromatography, paper chromatography, etc are developed for the detection of adulteration. Population growth, rising incomes and awareness regarding benefits of ghee, the market is expected to grow @ 15%.

Read more on the health benefits of Ghee

Read our article on the reality of Vitamin C
 

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