How to Avoid Ghee in India
“How do I avoid ghee products found in many vegetarian cuisines?”, is the number one question vegans ask when travelling to India.
Ghee is a bit sneaky, since you cannot see it, nor smell it, but you still know it might be there in the beautiful vegetable dish you’ve just been served.
Add to this the fact that most waiters at your favorite vegetarian restaurants do not understand what being vegan means, nor do they really know which dishes have ghee in them and which do not.
Ghee is an intrinsic part of the “culture”
It is very hard to find people in india that think of ghee in a negative way. To most Indians, dairy and ghee come from the beloved and holy cow and therefore can only have good attributes.
Ghee is a highly clarified butter that is prepared by separating liquid animal milk fats through the churning of buttermilk and then is treated by heating. Usage of ghee is very popular since ancient times, especially its use in some Ayurveda treatments (an ancient vegetarian-based traditional Indian system of medicine) and religious rituals such as in the form of ‘offerings’ to God during prayers, anointing of murti (idols), prasad(food offerings to devotees) etc. Having religious ties, it is predominantly used by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, and the consumption is rampant.
So how do we avoid ghee?
Besides religious connections, milk products, especially ghee based curries, desserts and snacks, are also traditionally used for public and private ceremonies, functions and occasions like marriages, house-warming, anniversaries, birthdays, achievements, etc. This is an Indian way of sharing one’s success and happiness with others. Ghee is often used as one of the key ingredients in Indian desserts/sweets.
When you refuse ghee based products, especially at religious ceremonies, it is possible for the priest or the person who is offering the prasad (religious food offerings) to take offence. It is best that you either be prepared and avoid or at least have a local Indian friend or tour guide to help you in such situations.
Where is the use of ghee rampant?
1. The majority of North Indian curries and its preparation called “tadka”, use either yoghurt or ghee, sometimes even both.
2. The majority of desserts/sweets (both in the North and South of India) do contain dairy products, most commonly ghee. However, jaggery (raw sugar) based foods usually don’t contain dairy.
3. It is not just the sweetened foods, but also some spicy foods that can have ghee. For example, some restaurants garish the indian breads (such as chapati and rotis) in ghee. The famous south indian breakfast food “Dosa” will usually be garnished with ghee unless specified otherwise.
Where ghee is less often used?
1. The majority of South Indian vegetarian cuisines are vegan, however, some do add ghee as a garnish. The Idly and Vada that are considered breakfast foods will usually be ghee free. In most traditional thali/meals, ghee and curd is served separately along with lentil/dal.
2. Chinese vegetarian cuisines are almost always free from dairy products including ghee.
3. Cheaper eateries will not use ghee because it is more expensive than regular oil.
In the end, you have to rely on trust
Do ask the waiter to avoid using ghee, and/or replace with regular cooking oil. It’s likely that you will be understood and that your needs will be respected, for in Indian culture, we see guests as a form to God too, “Atithi Devo Bhava”.
This article was written by:
Harsha Atmakuri is a doctor (MBBS) by education and used to work as a Medical Writer before he left his job back in May 2018 to become a full-time independent Animal Rights Activist. He primarily works on Animal Rights awareness campaigns – offline and online. He’s the founder of Truth Is Vegan and Vegans Of India.
Still have questions? Visit our India Forum tab to get all the answers.