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Can Ghee Go Bad?

If you’re using ghee for sautéing and use a non-stick pan as I do, you know it takes quite a while until you finish that container of ghee or clarified butter. I don’t use that much fat for sautéing, so it usually takes me at least a couple of months to go through the whole container. And at a certain point, I had to do some research to make sure what I’m cooking with is still perfectly fine to use. That’s how I learned about spoilage, shelf life, and storage methods of ghee.

In this article, I’m going to cover all these topics and share my findings with you. And since ghee is a type of clarified butter, and many people use these terms interchangeably, I’m going to do the same here. The production process and resulting taste of ghee are slightly different from clarified butter, but pretty much the same guidelines apply to both. Let’s go through them.

Can Ghee Go Bad? How Do You Know If Ghee Has Gone Bad?

Like all food products, ghee can go bad. But if you take good care of it, it doesn’t spoil quickly ([SG]). Since clarified butter doesn’t have any milk solids, it keeps much better than butter. And we all know that butter lasts pretty long compared to most other dairy products.

So what you need to know is how to tell if your ghee is off or not. Let’s start with some characteristics of “healthy” ghee and clarified butter. Both are yellow-gold in color, and solid in the fridge. If you decide to store either at room temperature, the top layer might liquefy, as the melting point is around 76° F (or 24° C) ([ILG]). In that regard, ghee is quite similar to coconut oil. So if your ghee arrived with some liquid on top or it has started to “separate” on the counter on a warm day, these are not harmful, just the results of melting. When it comes to smell and taste, clarified butter resembles butter, while ghee has a more nutty flavor due to milk solids being caramelized in the production process ([FAH]).

When it comes to ghee going bad, look for changes in color, smell, and taste. Sour smell or taste, or lack of the fresh nutty flavor in ghee, are sure signs of ghee going rancid. While it’s most likely safe to use that ghee, its taste is subpar, and it’s better to throw it out. If it has started to turn white, that’s caused by oxidation, and the reason is most likely that you forgot to close it tightly. Cut off the white part and then some, and use the remaining portion provided it’s okay. Of course, if there’s mold or the clarified butter smells really bad, just throw it out.

Now it’s time to talk about how long you can keep that container of ghee around until things start to go south.

Cooked food on a frying pan
(credit: Annie Spratt)

How Long Does Ghee Last?

Well, this one is tricky, as the answer depends on who you ask. Different companies provide different guidelines. Some say it’s best within a year of opening ([LP]), while others suggest 3 months for top quality ([SG]). But if you take good care of it (more on that a bit later), it can last pretty much indefinitely ([FAH]) and taste really good for years.

While all ghee and clarified butter containers come with a best-by date, it’s only a reference point ([ILG]) of how long, at the very least, the product should retain peak quality. So if you follow good storage practices, you can surely get at least a few months of additional shelf life, if not more. I, for one, finished my last container of ghee 4 or 5 months after the date on the label, and there were no issues with the fat whatsoever. As usual, if the product is past the best-by date, make sure to check for signs of spoilage before using.

It’s time to talk about those storage guidelines, as these aren’t as straightforward as “keep it in the fridge.”

How To Store Ghee? Does Ghee Require Refrigeration?

You can store ghee either at room temperature or refrigerate it. The best way to go about this depends on your circumstances, that is on how long you expect to keep that container around and what you use that ghee for.

Let’s start with storage period. If you usually open the container soon after buying and finish the whole thing within 3 to maybe 6 months, room temperature is perfectly fine. For long-term storage, the fridge is a better option. Or you can just store the unopened ghee at room temperature, and transfer it to the refrigerator upon opening ([LP]). In short, the longer you need to keep it around, the better it is to refrigerate it.

Black steel wok with veggies
(credit: Clem Onojeghuo)

When it comes to how you use ghee or clarified butter, if you’re like me, and use it mostly for pan frying, keeping it in the fridge is fine. But if you’re using it as a spreadable, room temperature is probably more convenient. The fat will be much easier to spread on our sandwiches right away. That means no waiting until it warms up to spread it. But if you’re using clarified butter for that purpose, that probably means you’re using quite a lot of it regularly. Thus you don’t need to worry about storing it long-term.

Knowing that, you should be able to choose which store option suits your needs better.

To finish off this section, let’s talk about two super-important storage practices you should follow. First, always keep the container closed when not in use. Second, use clean utensils when scooping the fat and never “double dip” ([SG]). Following these will ensure you ghee keeps its quality for a long time.

Can You Freeze Ghee?

So you already know that clarified butter lasts quite a long time, especially if you refrigerate it. But if you’ve bought way too much and are looking for ways to retain its quality for even longer, freezing is the way to go. The whole process is straightforward and takes only a few minutes.

  1. Cut ghee into pieces. Each piece should be enough for you for at least a week, but not more than you can use within 2 to 3 months.
  2. Place each piece in a freezer bag.
  3. Put the bags into the freezer.

If you don’t want to have a bunch of bags in the freezer, you can use a bigger one and put all the smaller ones in it. Separation of the pieces is important so they won’t freeze together. With the described solution you can easily grab a portion and thaw it overnight in the fridge, so it’s ready to use the next day.

In a Nutshell

  • ghee can go bad but lasts months past the date on the label if stored properly
  • room temperature is okay for short-term storage (probably up to 6 months), refrigeration suggested for prolonged storage
  • clarified butter liquefies at slightly higher than room temperature, so it’s normal to see some liquid on top on a hot day (if you keep it on the counter)
  • if ghee smells or tastes sour, throw it out; cut out any white parts if there are some