Prepping food plans commonly call for the token beans, rice, canned goods, and dried food products you can purchase online and at the grocery store. However, one thing that might be overlooked is a fat source to use in baked goods and for general cooking. Many fats and oils have the tendency to go rancid, and the processed versions, though shelf stable, don’t always look appetizing or healthy.
So, what is a shelf stable option? Consider butter, and for the purposes of this article, two specific forms of butter: ghee and canned butter.
Why in the world would anyone want to go through the hassle of making ghee or canning butter when there are other easier fat options out there? Perhaps you have your own source of butter and have more on hand than you can use before it goes bad. Perhaps you have limited freezer space and want a shelf-stable option for your butter so you have freezer space for other foods. Whatever your situation, making ghee or canning butter might be options that would work for you. Conventional butter is generally better than, say, partially hydrogenated oils such as vegetable shortening that contains trans-fats. Consider your food preps and decide for yourself which option you will choose for your family.
The best choice to use for making butter products is butter from organic grass-fed cows. Realizing this is not always affordable or even available, it is also entirely possible to make these butter products with butter from conventional corn- and soy- fed cows. You will just not have as many of the beneficial nutrients that are found in grass-fed dairy products, such as the omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K, most of which we in America are deficient. Whatever your butter source, make sure to use fresh butter when prepping it for long-term storage.
Let’s compare ghee and canned butter, some attributes of each, and learn how to make them. Hopefully you can decide from there what the best choice is for your situation.
Ghee: What Is It?
Simply put, ghee is clarified butter that is used most commonly in Indian cooking. It has a very high smoke point (485° F)—much higher than regular butter (250-300°)—making it a good choice for frying. It has a shelf life of about six months when stored at room temperature. It is cooked down to remove the water in the butter, and afterward the milk solids are removed, leaving a clear amber-colored butter product that is shelf stable.
Ghee: How To Make It
What you will need:
- Thick-bottomed pan large enough to melt and simmer the butter
- Ghee strainer (a coffee filter or cheesecloth and metal strainer will work)
- Sterilized jar and lid
1. Begin by putting your butter into your pan and melting the butter down. Heat further until the butter is sizzling. This is the liquid being evaporated from the butter.
2. Once the sizzling sound starts, reduce the heat. Simmer until the sizzling stops and the milk solids settle to the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently so that the milk solids do not burn and give the ghee an off flavor.
3. If you wish, you may skim off the white foam.
4. Once the sizzling has stopped and the milk solids have settled, set up whatever straining method you have chosen and pour the contents of the pan into your filter. Allow the ghee to strain through your filter and into the jar.
5. The ghee should be a clear amber color with no other impurities in it. If you are allergic to dairy and want to be extra careful of milk solids, you may strain it again through a clean filter a second time.
If you want to take further measures in preserving your ghee, you might want to consider canning it. Detailed instructions can be had at Cooks.com. I do not personally see much benefit if you are working with sterile methods in making and storing your ghee in the first place, as the shelf life for the canned ghee on the recipe site is the same as for regular ghee stored in a sterile container (six months). For planned long-term storage of larger quantities of ghee, I might find more peace of mind if I were to can it.
Ghee has a shelf life of about six months when stored at room temperature. If kept in a cool area and clean of any food bits or other adulterations, it has been reported to last almost indefinitely. Some sources claim their canned ghee has kept for up to ten years. Use your own judgment and of course refrain from eating anything that appears, smells, or tastes “off.”
Ghee: How Do I Use It?
Ghee can be used one-to-one in any recipe calling for butter. Ghee can be also used to fry at much higher temperatures than butter, so go ahead and use it for frying! If you wish to reduce the “bad” cholesterol of butter/ghee and raise the heat point of more beneficial oils (such as extra virgin olive oil), the oils may be combined in cooking to get benefits from both oils.
Ghee: Alternative Sources
If you would rather purchase ghee for your prepping stores, you should be able to find it at an Indian grocer or in the ethnic section of your local grocery store. If you are not fortunate to have those options available to you, it may be purchased online at a number of online retailers. There are versions available to suit several tastes, whether you are looking for plain, conventional ghee or ghee from organic, grass-fed cows. Consider your nutritional needs for prepping and whether you think you will need the extra nutrients during a potentially stressful time and buy accordingly.
Canned Butter: What Is It?
The term “canned butter” can be confusing and a bit misleading, as the phrase can be used to refer to multiple food items: commercially canned butter, butter sealed at home in jars, and truly home-canned butter.
Commercial Canned Butter
Butter that has been commercially canned is available for purchase and is usually made in Australia, New Zealand, or Holland. Red Feather is one brand you can look for. I am not sure why it is not produced in the United States other than there is not enough demand for such a product and there is a wide availability of fresh dairy products year round in stores. Luckily, that doesn’t stop you from ordering it over the Internet. I have found it to run about $6.50 for a twelve-ounce can. It has a shelf life of about two years.
Canned Butter vs. Commercial Canned Butter: What’s The Difference?
It is important to realize that many of the homemade methods of “canning” butter promoted on the Internet are not truly canned. The end product looks like it is canned, since the butter is in sealed jars like Grandma used to make, but it has not gone through a true canning process.
The method of “canning” butter has been around for some time, but it is not recommended by the USDA or any county extension office as being a safe method. The National Center for Home Food Preservation says that “canning” butter is pointless because “good butter is readily available at all times.” While that would not be true for everyone in an emergency situation, they do suggest alternatives further down in the article. Please read the information, as there are other valid reasons to reconsider “canning” butter—the main issues coming down to potential botulism poisoning. Butter is a low-acid food and a good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) environment for storing botulism spores. Botulism spores are killed at 240°F, while water at sea level boils at 212°F, so getting the proper consistent temperature for a long enough time to kill the spores in your food product requires a pressure cooker and not an oven. Even with the heat, the fat in high-fat foods such as butter can protect the spores from being destroyed, leaving the live spores in the food to create their toxins and poison the consumer in the future.
This is not to say that people have not been “canning” butter successfully for years without having any (documented) issues with food poisoning. There are plenty of testimonials lauding the safety of “canning” butter. When making your decision as to whether you want to “can” butter, consider your butter source, your setup, how you will be using the butter after it is canned, who will be consuming the butter, how long you plan to store it, and how you would plan to deal with botulism should it occur. So, that said, proceed at your own risk.
How To Make Canned Butter
Most sources on the Internet offer instructions on “canning” butter that include “sterilizing” jars in a hot oven, melting butter, pouring it into the hot jars, placing lids and rings on the jars, and shaking the jars as the butter cools in order to keep it from separating. This is not canning. In my opinion, there is a lot of room here for error, and there is a better way.
You can truly can your butter with a pressure cooker and reduce your risk of food poisoning. Keep in mind that, again, this is not recommended by the USDA. I am including these instructions rather than the most popularly posted method because I feel they are safer and we need to think about the health of our families during difficult times as much as we think about providing food for them. Again, proceed at your own risk.
How To Truly Can Butter In A Pressure Canner
What you need:
- Butter (half salted and half unsalted)
- Large heavy-bottomed pan for melting your butter
- Half-pint jars
- Large pan of boiling water for sterilizing jars and lids
- Pressure canner
1. Unwrap your butter, touching the butter as little as possible with your freshly washed fingers, and place it in the pan. The reason for using half salted and half unsalted butter is that, as the butter is melted down, some of the water will evaporate, making a more concentrated butter product. If you use all salted butter, it will be saltier than you are used to.
2. Place jars, lids, and rings in boiling water for ten minutes to sterilize them. To keep them warm until you are ready to pour butter into them, place the sterilized jars open side up on a warm (220°-240°F) baking sheet in the oven. Placing a clean, damp dishtowel on the baking sheet will help keep them from sliding around.
3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in your pan on the stovetop. Skim any foam from the top and save for it another use, such as on vegetables.
4. Gently stir the butter to include milk solids in each jar. Ladle the hot butter into jars, leaving one inch of headspace. A canning funnel will help you to keep your jar rim clean. If you get anything on the rim, wipe it using a clean paper towel dipped in hot water to help ensure your lids get a proper seal.
5. Using a magnetic sealing wand, remove a lid from the boiling water, shake off any excess water, and place it on the jar. Place a ring on the jar and hand-tighten it until you feel resistance. Don’t over tighten.
6. Load the jars into the pressure canner as per your pressure cooker’s recommendations. Process the jars as you would meat. For half-pints, use ten pounds of pressure for sixty minutes. Check canning recommendations, such as those in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, for canning meat in your jar size and at your elevation for more accurate times.
7. When the jars are finished processing, allow the pressure to go down in your pressure canner as per your pressure cooker’s instructions. Carefully remove the lid and use a jar lifter to remove your jars to a towel on your countertop. You should start hearing the jars “ping” as they cool and seal.
8. Allow the jars to cool enough to where you can comfortably handle them. Shake the jars every fifteen to twenty minutes to get the butter and milk solids to combine. Continue doing this until the jars are completely cooled. This will leave you with a smoother product once the butter has cooled.
Truly canned butter does not have an official keeping time. The maker of the YouTube video, katzcradul, says that hers has lasted for years.
Canned Butter: How Do I Use It?
The texture is not as smooth as regular butter, but the taste is the same. It should behave as regular butter in cooking.
When it’s all said and done…
My personal opinion may differ from yours, but here is how I would rate the various options for long-term storage of butter, in order from best to least:
1. Commercially canned butter
2. Canned ghee
3. Ghee (store-bought or homemade)
4. Truly canned butter
5. Commercial butter-like dry mixes
6. “Canned” butter (sealed without a pressure canner)
The first three are a close tie. The reason I put the commercially canned butter at the top is because it has been commercially canned at high enough temperatures to kill botulism and other things that might make the butter go bad. It is also in metal tins that are more durable in the case of moving food stores, potential freezing, etc.
I put canned ghee second because it has been clarified and already has at least a six-month room-temperature shelf life. In my estimation, canning ghee in a water bath will extend that shelf life because one more step has been taken to kill any bacteria that may have gotten into the jar, and I would not be worried about botulism in this situation.
I put ghee (uncanned) third because of its basic shelf life of six months, knowing that its shelf life may be longer. Without the canning process, though, there is potential for things to go awry if something were not sterilized properly or the ghee is not stored in optimal conditions.
Butter that has been truly canned in a pressure cooker would fall fourth on my list but would come almost at a tie with ghee. I do have some reservations due to the method not being recommended by the USDA, but I am much more comfortable with this method of canning the butter as if it were meat rather than the other methods of “canning” butter that are not truly canning. I also prefer real butter to butter-like substances when it comes to nutrition.
If I were to include commercial dry butter-ish products in my considerations, they would fall fifth. They are expensive and not exactly all-natural, but they are shelf stable and pretty much not something to worry about getting sick with.
I put the “canned” butter as a last resort because I have many doubts as far as the risk for botulism and, if food poisoning were to occur in my loved ones from my “canned” butter, I am not sure how to treat botulism poisoning in a world that may not have hospital facilities readily available. I do not feel it is worth the risk of someone’s life or well-being. I would rather do without butter if “canned butter” were my only option, and instead seek out a different fat source. I would certainly not give “canned” butter to a small child.
If you have health issues that would prohibit you from regular use of butter as your main source of oils in your diet or if you are turned off by butter as a fat source for other reasons, you may want to explore other options. Some other natural, fairly shelf-stable oils, especially if you have cool year-round storage, are raw coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil.
Good luck and happy prepping!