At Greenlife we are proud to have been able to help many small businesses to get a foot hold on the high street, and we like to think that our willingness to try new products out is part of our character as a shop. It keeps our product range interesting and a little bit different, and as a large independent retailer we can provide the perfect testing ground for small suppliers, enabling them to road test a new idea, a new recipe, or new packaging. Of course, with new brands it’s always the quality of the product that determines whether it will take off – and happily, Happy Butter Organic Ghee is one of the success stories!
After being approached by the founders Kate and Rupert, Greenlife literally bought their first batch off of them and the first jars of Happy Butter Organic Ghee hit our shelves back in 2016. Our buying team were prepared to give it a go, and pleased to be able to carry an organic alternative to other commercially available ghee products for our customers. It wasn’t long after we had given it shelf space here in Totnes however, that it was on the shelves of Planet Organic, Wholefoods and other leading retailers around the country, and it was less than a year later that Happy Butter Ghee was awarded the first (of many) Gold taste awards at The Taste of the West awards, shortly followed by two stars at the Great Taste Awards. Since then, they have been the proud winners of award after award. With the number of stockists growing and major players taking them on, we are pleased we can still get hold of a supply for our many regular customers! So how did this happy story start?
The Happy Butter Story
Like many great business ideas, the origins of Happy Butter Organic Ghee were driven by personal necessity and passion. Rupert, who is by profession an arboriculturist (commonly called a tree surgeon) came across ghee as way to help with Kates special dietary needs. Kate (who is by profession an Osteopath) was struggling with poor thyroid function as a result of Hashimoto’s Disease. After reading that using vegetable, nut and seed oils – the most commonly used cooking oils – could be harmful to health when used for high temperature cooking, he decided they try cooking with ghee instead. When he was growing up, Rupert spent some of his time living on the Indian subcontinent, so he was well aware of the high regard with which ghee is held in Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine).
‘I was familiar with it at a more cultural level from spending part of my childhood in rural India, running barefoot, eating masala dosas and battered chillies on the beach in Goa…
We tried some shop-bought ghee but felt we could make it better ourselves, so gently cooked a batch each week at home in our Devon village, using organic butter from our local dairy. Through trial and error I found the best flavour and texture came with long, gentle cooking, allowing the milk solids to caramelise slightly.’ In India and elsewhere, this low temperature cooking is an absolutely critical part of the traditional methods used to make ghee. But more about that in a moment.
Rupert and Kate found that they enjoyed the fantastic flavour ghee brought to their cooking, and they were seeing a great improvement in Kate’s thyroid health too, so making the ghee became a regular part of their weekly routine. Soon friends were asking about the amazing smell that was emanating from the cast iron pan gently bubbling away on the hob in the kitchen. After friends had tried it and raved about it too, they made the decision to start selling the ghee as a side business.
‘We started out in our own kitchen which was pretty challenging with four children’ Kate explained, ‘but we quickly outgrew that set up and moved the business to a little workshop nearby.’ Rupert continued ‘It set us on a path we were not expecting. What began as a bit of an obsession alongside my full-time job is now our family business. I still batch cook our ghee using that same slow, traditional method as we did in our kitchen at home, only now its three or four times a week in our kitchen workshop in nearby Buckfastleigh.’
From the beginning, getting organic status was very important to them both, and was an important part of their vision. The first thing that they set in motion when they decided to start production of the ghee as a commercial venture was to get the product Soil Association certified. There were multiple reasons for this decision. Like many of our suppliers, they were concerned that organic means reliable traceability, assurance of good animal welfare, and minimal use of chemicals in food and on the land. Of course, it could be argued that high quality organic ingredients have also played a part in their ghee winning numerous great taste awards! We would add that organic certification was the main attraction for our buying team at Greenlife when Kate first approached them.
Happy Butter Ghee is still a relatively small artisan business, but it has grown substantially over the years. They employ one other person but most of the work is done by Kate and Rupert, with Rupert still supervising production as he has done from the start. He explained ‘We make our organic ghee in the traditional way, and while it’s now handmade in a small workshop kitchen, nothing else has really changed. It’s close to what you would find in a home kitchen in rural India. We cook over flame, heating our organic butter slowly for 5-6 hours over direct heat. The air smells like butterscotch as we cook, because once the milk solids drop out of the butter we allow it to caramelise, which give the ghee a deeper flavour and a glorious, golden colour. We use real organic turmeric root in our turmeric ghee. Cooling is not rushed either – it occurs slowly at room temperature over 1-2 hours, producing an authentic slightly grainy texture.’
‘Rupert is the ghee Meister’ said Kate. ‘I cannot take any credit for any of that side of things.’ Kate on the other hand, has handled the equally important marketing end of things. She explained that in the beginning she learned as she went along, picking up little snippets of ideas here and there. “I took a sort of scattergun approach to letting the world know what we were about. Looking back, I feel quite proud considering I had no marketing experience whatsoever.”
She is quick to list a long line of people who helped them – from shops to chefs and bloggers, without all of whom the journey would have been harder. She also points out that The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas supported Happy Butter in assisting with the provision of cooking and packing equipment. Crucially, this allowed Happy Butter to expand and grow. Most of all though, she seems convinced that she learned most by going out and meeting with other small businesses.
‘It’s been great to get out and meet and chat with other foodie small business owners, people at the same point as us, people who have had more experience. To anyone starting a food business, I would recommend this approach wholeheartedly.’
What exactly is ghee? – A few words of clarification
Ghee is a variation of clarified butter that has been used in parts of the Middle East and in the Indian sub-continent for millennia not just as a food, but in the wider cultural, religious and medicinal realms. It’s one of the cornerstones of Ayurveda. Historically, ghee was made in the home or in religious settings in small batches. It was the most common cooking fat available. Nut and seed oils were not common or readily available.
It is traditionally made from cow milk butter (it can be made from other milks but this is less common). In Vedic tradition (a set of religious beliefs and cultural practices which predates Hindu religion, but some of which is incorporated in it) the cow is a sacred animal, and so ghee does take on some spiritual associations. In Ayurveda ghee is used in tandem with medicinal plants and other nutritionally rich foods. Many nutrients are now known to be fat soluble, so it is a very logical tradition.
Traditional production of ghee, and the methods used in the production of Happy Butter Organic Ghee, involves using a very low heat to heat the butter until the water evaporates, leaving behind milk solids. The solids are skimmed off or strained if needed. What remains is only clarified liquid fat known as ghee. Because ghee is treated with low heat, usually under 100 degrees, it retains far more nutrients than standard clarified butter.
So is ghee healthy?
Ghee contains saturated fat, and there is ongoing debate about what levels of saturated fat we should include in our diets, and about how much we should really be concerned about this issue. While experts disagree about saturated fat in the diet, there are many positives to using ghee in a balanced way, and it may be preferable to regular butter in many respects. For example, when you cook with ghee you only require a small amount and it can make a meal more satiating meaning you stay fuller for longer. Ghee is much more stable during high temperature cooking too, meaning that there is no tainting or burning under 250º C unlike some nut and seed oils. This means it is easier to keep it below the smoke point when you cook, so you won’t get bitterness or dangerous carcinogens in your cooking oil.
Because ghee contains no lactose, casein or sugars, it is non-inflammatory, so it’s gentle on the gut too. It is also packed with the vitamins A, D, E and K (which are all fat soluble) and it contains Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). Though the CLA in ghee has been shown to reduce weight gain in some people, and ghee also contains high concentrations of monounsaturated Omega-3 fatty acids which can support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, ghee remains a calorie-dense and fat-rich food, so we would suggest that it is best used as part of a balanced diet.
Will ghee work with my special diet?
Ghee is suitable for Keto, Paleo, GAPS, FODMAP, Whole30, Banting and of course traditional Ayurvedic diets. Happy Butter Ghee is casein and lactose free and abundant in vitamins A, D, E, & K.
Award winning Ghee
The quality and taste of Happy Butter ghee has been appreciated by the judges at Great Taste Awards, who awarded the Organic Ghee two stars in 2017 and the Organic Golden Turmeric Ghee 2 stars in 2018. In 2017 they were successful in the Taste of the West awards winning Champion of Dairy for the Golden Turmeric Ghee as well as Gold for both products. They won Gold in 2018 and 2020 for both the Organic Ghee and Golden Turmeric. In 2021 the organic ghee won two stars at the Great Taste awards and gold at the Taste Of The West awards yet again!
Still not convinced to try it? Here are a few words from the judges at Great Taste awards 2020:
‘Real fudgy aroma, deep yellow buttery colour, visually hugely appealing. It has an appropriately grainy texture which melts perfectly in the mouth. This is deeply buttery, with a distinctly caramel and fudge flavour. Very clean…Delightful and without the funky back note of some ghees. This would be a very good ghee to cook with.’
NB – It’s not just for curry!
Ghee is a versatile cooking oil and its use need not be restricted to making a curry! Of course, it does help to give that authentic taste to your biryani dish, but Kate told us that ghee can be used in place of standard cooking oil in every scenario. From bulletproof coffees to roasting potatoes to frying pancakes, and it can be used as the oil in any dinnertime cooking.