The new got-to-have ingredient is ghee — not from India, where this ancient style of clarified butter originated, but from right here in Los Angeles.
The demand is huge, judging by what has happened to Raquel Tavares Gunsagar, who is making ghee under the brand name Tava in a commercial kitchen in Lincoln Heights. “We basically grew 1,000% in five months of business,” she said.
Tavares has taken ghee to the cutting edge by adding flavors such as vanilla bean, serrano chili and Himalayan salt. She also makes ghee flavored only with the natural nuttiness that distinguishes it from ordinary clarified butter.
The butter from which Tava ghee is made comes from grass-fed cows in New Zealand. “The cost of butter here was really high because of the drought,” Tavares explained, and organic butter wasn't consistently available.
The feed results in ghee as strikingly yellow as the nail polish she often wears. “When I photograph it, people think it's photo-shopped,” she said.
Why use ghee? It’s ideal for sautéing because it has a high smoke point, meaning it won’t burn like butter. In baked goods, it works like oil but adds buttery flavor. And it doesn’t have to be softened first. Ghee blends smoothly into dips, sauces and onto your morning toast. It’s handy for greasing baking dishes. And it doesn’t need refrigeration. It can stand on the counter for weeks without spoiling.
In India, ghee is not only a cooking staple but plays a part in Hindu rituals. Considered healthful, it's used in Ayurvedic medicines.
Worried about the saturated fats and cholesterol in ghee? Tavares refers to research findings reported in the International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda. “Everyone needs fat in their diet,” she said. “If you are going to choose a fat ... this would be high on your list.”
The lactose intolerant can eat ghee because it contains no milk solids. These are filtered out after the long, slow boiling of the butter. Tavares has Tava ghee lab-tested to verify that it is lactose-free. She also is working toward organic and kosher certification.
A one-time yoga studio owner, Tavares, who now lives with her family in Pacific Palisades, grew up with ghee because her mother was an Ayurvedic practitioner. She’s not Indian but was born in Brazil and moved to California as a child. The brand name Tava stands for her maiden name and also is the name of a flat pan used for baking Indian breads.
Tavares’ company, Tava Life Provisions, launched in March at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. After making ghee in a shared kitchen in Redondo Beach, Tavares moved to Lincoln Heights in April. There, she produces 500 jars a day and can expand to 1,000, using commercial equipment to boil the butter, then pouring the ghee into jars and labeling them by hand. The kitchen includes a six-burner Southbend range for testing new products and reheating ghee if necessary to improve consistency.
You won’t find her ghee in Indian markets, at least not yet. But you will find a couple of other ghees that are produced in Southern California. Gopi Pure Ghee comes from Karoun Dairies of San Fernando, and Koshys Pure Ghee is distributed by Kosh Foods of Newport Beach.
Competition just means that more of this good stuff is available. It’s certainly not cutting into Tavares’ business. She recently signed with two national distributors, supplying ghee to Hong Kong and Japan, and she expects to be in 50 stores nationwide by the end of July.