Guest Column

Indians and Ghee. Love-hate-love relationship

By G Mohan

Ghee has been an essential part of Indian life for ages. Ghee is not just a cooking medium. It is a seasoning. It is a sacred fuel for the havans. It lights the temple lamps. A lot of ayurvedic medicines have to be taken only with ghee. Ghee is a lotion. So ghee commanded respect and status, that perhaps nothing else in the kitchen shelves got. On this, in varying degrees, whole India agreed.

Sometime in the 1930s, the Europeans sensed an opportunity to market a substitute for ghee. They imported saturated vegetable fat from Holland. It got an Indian name Vanaspati. Lever Brothers even launched a separate company called Hindustan Vanaspati Mfg Co in 1931.Levers got the rights to produce Dada vanaspati in India. In order to put their identity in the brand, they included an L in the middle, so DALDA was born.

Dalda was marketed as a cheaper alternative to ghee, largely only for the ghee’s use as a cooking medium. Marketing of Dalda was not easy. As Sagar Boke of Bunge India says, “The challenge for Dalda in the initial years was to drive home the point that it tasted just like desi ghee, had deep-frying properties like it but unlike ghee, it wouldn’t feel heavy either on the pocket or the palate.”

Suddenly the exalted status of ghee was under attack. New words started entering the common Indian’s lexicon. Cholesterol, HDL and LDL, saturated fats, unsaturated fats , PUFA etc some scientific and a lot just marketing mumbo-jumbo carefully created by the marketers, media and medical fraternity either playing ball or simply keeping quiet. Ghee was seen as unhealthy, at least as a cooking medium. On special occasions and for special preparations, ghee never really left Indian cooking.

Dalda enjoyed a dream run for three decades. Dalda became a generic name for vanaspati.

But some of the very reasons that vansapati marketers used to move consumers away from ghee became the reasons on which vanaspati lost out to the refined oil marketers. Vanaspati almost became a taboo, and a byword for unhealthy eating. So much so, that Hindustan Unilever decided to sell Dalda to Bunge India in 2003.

Vanaspati’s loss was not ghee’s gain, immediately. It took a while for the long nurtured misconceptions and biases against ghee to go.

Ghee’s comeback can be traced to the influence of the Babas and Swamis. As Indians turned towards yoga, ayurveda and watching the TV channels like Sanskar and Aastha, ghee came back. Ghee also got differentiated as Buffalo Ghee and Cow’s Ghee.

The new found love for cow’s ghee in the last 10 years is the real turnaround story in the fortunes of ghee. Though cow’s ghee even now accounts only for 10 per cent of the total ghee sales, it is growing at 3 times the market rate. If a regular 500 ml pack of Amul Ghee sells at Rs 215, a 500 ml pack of Cow’s ghee sells at more than double the price at Rs 500 for a 500 ml bottle.

Cow’s ghee is that holy cow which has all the virtues of ghee but none of its faults. Even in the cow’s ghee, a new variant is catching fancy among the rich and the health conscious. This is the cow’s ghee made from A2 milk drawn from the Gir cows. The A2 milk is considered to be superior and acceptable to even the lactose intolerant. The A2 Gir cow’s ghee sells at Rs 1500 per 500 ml pack, three times the price of regular cow’s ghee and over seven times the price of ghee (mostly made from buffalo’s  milk in India). 

Cow’s ghee has become such a selling point that Hindustan Unilever that several decades ago had badmouthed ghee in order to sell their Dalda vanaspati, today markets its bathing soaps and lotions under their Ayush range of personal products as having Cow’s Ghee.

Will the cow’s ghee fad last?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Filter Kaapi Live does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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