Is ghee actually butter? If so, how are they related? Why do they have such differing consistencies?
The Short Answer:
Yes, ghee is butter.
The Long Answer:
Ghee is butter, but it’s a form of clarified butter. What’s the difference, you might ask? When butter is heated it separates into two different parts. Those are the butterfat and milk solids. Once the solids are removed, the butter is considered clarified and ghee is created. Ghee is cooked longer than normal clarified butter, causing the milk solids to become caramelized and more liquid to evaporate.
The biggest difference between butter and ghee is that ghee has virtually no dairy protein in it. Butter, while mostly fat and water, still contains trace amounts of casein and lactose, the two dairy compounds which cause lactose intolerance. But when the milk solids are scooped away from ghee, the casein and lactose go along with it. So even individuals with a high sensitivity to dairy can still enjoy ghee.
Ghee and butter also differ taste-wise. While butter is more creamy, ghee has a nutty flavor which holds up well against strong spices. This is a contributing factor to ghee’s increased presence in Indian and Thai recipes.
So, in conclusion, while all ghee is butter, all butter is not ghee.