Egyptian Samn/Indian Ghee: A dab of holistic well-being, from the cow to the table – Al-Tahrir News Network


Post the hashtag ‘ghee’ on your Instagram or Twitter account and you may be surprised at the number of ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ you receive.

This ancient form of pure butterfat derived from cows’ milk is making a comeback, after decades during which it was reviled in Western health literature as holding hazards to the heart and raising cholesterol levels.

Pure butterfat

But there is now a growing realisation of samn/ghee’s health benefits, as opposed to the risks that are inherent in consuming hydrogenated and artificial fats and oils.

Hydrogenated ghee (photo: krshak)

Used for centuries in the kitchens of age-old cultures like those of Egypt, India and Southeast Asia, samn or ghee has traditionally epitomised well-being, longevity and health.

Pure butterfat

Now, newly emerging studies indicate that the consumption of ghee has actually been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and a lower secretion of two inflammation- inducing elements in the body, prostaglandin and leukotriene.

Samn or ghee can be consumed by the lactose-intolerant, since it does not contain milk solids and is lactose and casein free.

Butter (photo: steakandsass)

The milk solids separate during the clarification process by which the natural, unprocessed butter from which samn/ghee is made, is heated into an oil-like liquid.

These milk solids form at the bottom of the clarifying pan and are eaten in Egypt as a salty cheese-like condiment called “morta”.

Milk solids separated during the process of making samn are eaten in Egypt as a salty cheese-like condiment called morta (photo: wandooo)

Interestingly, the Indian word ‘ghee’ means ‘sprinkling’, or the separation process of the different elements of melted butter.

Samn/ghee also contains beta-caroteinoids and antioxidants like Vitamin A and Vitamin E. These play a role in warding off heart-related diseases and cancers, as well as promoting skin cell growth, good vision and a healthy immune system.

Vitamins K3 and D also play a role in promoting bone health, while a form of fat called CLA plays a role in stabilising the body’s metabolism.

Pure skimmed milk solids. Egyptians call it morta and it is fan-freaking-tastic on bread (photo: lakii)

In the Ayurvedic system of holistic medicine, herbs mixed with ghee are advocated for enhancing the memory, increasing the body’s ability to heal wounds, helping prevent convulsions and protecting the liver. Yoga practitioners also recommend the consumption of ghee as a food, and topically for massage, on the premise that it lubricates the joints and connective tissues.

I have had the good fortune of living close to a rural community in Egypt that produces its own food. In this community samn is an indispensable household staple.

The best time of day is when the thick, round discs of snowy-white cows’ butter are transported into the kitchen, ready to be transformed into samn/ghee.

Butter transformed into samn/ghee (photo: steakandsass)

Samn or ghee has a higher smoking point than oil and and is excellent for cooking rice, baking cakes, roasting meat and sauteeing vegetables.

It has a long shelf life and when stored in clean containers can remain outside of the fridge for up to a year.

It has a long shelf life and when stored in clean containers can remain outside of the fridge for up to a year

Here is how samn is prepared in a rural Egyptian household, it is essentially the same process by which Indian ghee is prepared:

The cow is milked and its milk put into an earthen-ware vessel and stored in the fridge overnight.

The vessel is then removed from the fridge and stored in a pantry closet for 24 to 48 hours, until it thickens in consistency.

A layer of cream will have formed on top of the thickened milk.

This is skimmed from the top and then swirled by hand and shaped into disc-shaped slabs of butter.

The butter is then placed into a thick pan or wok, and gently melted over medium-low heat.

When it is totally melted, the butter will separate into three layers.

The milk solids will reside at the bottom of the pan, while the clarified butter will float above, topped with foam on the surface.

The clarified butter is then left to simmer until clear and its colour is golden like that of oil.

The milk solids “morta” will have turned a brown colour.

The top layer of foam is then removed with a spoon and the heat turned off.

The liquid is left to settle.

The golden clarified butter is then poured through a strainer into a clean jar.

The milk solid, morta (photo: fatakat)