Butter is many things, but one thing that it can’t do very well is high-heat cooking. This is because butter is made of three things: fat, water, and milk solids. Most types of butter are made of at least 80 percent of fat, which means the rest of it is made of water and easy-to-burn milk solids. Clarified butter is essentially made by boiling butter until all three components separate; the water evaporates, and the milk solids foam up and then settle on the bottom, leaving a layer of aromatic fat on top called clarified butter or liquid gold.
While butter starts burning at 350 degrees F, clarified butter has a smoke point of 450 degrees F, which is higher if not on par with the likes of canola oil. This makes clarified butter excellent for high-heat cooking like frying, searing, and roasting. Its nutty and toasted flavors make clarified butter an excellent finishing fat on all kinds of savory foods, from eggs and rice to popcorn, potatoes, and everything in between. Clarified butter’s stability is also why it’s an excellent fat to use in temperamental sauces like hollandaise.
Ghee, a type of clarified butter popular in Indian cuisine, is made by cooking butter for even longer until all the milk solids turn brown, leaving an even more intense and nutty flavor behind. Plus, ghee has long been used for its vitamins, antioxidants, and digestion-aiding properties in the Ayurvedic medicinal system, so it may just be the one butter that isn’t all that bad for your health.