How Ghee Took Over U.S. Grocery Shelves

The recent global rise of the clarified butter — as common as salt in many South Asian and Middle Eastern kitchens — is striking for an ingredient steeped in centuries of culinary history.

Nikhita Venugopal

December 22, 2021

How Ghee Took Over U.S. Grocery Shelves
Ghee (Subodh Sathe)

For Sandeep Agarwal, ghee has always been in the family. His great-great grandfather Lala Khoobram Agarwal started selling ghee in the late 1800s, a tradition that his relatives in Hisar, Haryana continued for generations. Agarwal, however, had gone to the United States in 1994 for an education and career in finance. It wasn’t until over a decade ago, when he visited his uncle’s 100-year-old ghee shop in Haryana, that he realized his next great adventure may lie in an ancient golden liquid. 

Around that time, Sandeep and his wife Nalini’s young son suffered from allergies and other health issues. His research led Agarwal to believe that some of these symptoms could be due to highly processed foods. “We are eating…too much prepared food instead of cooking from scratch,” Sandeep Agarwal told me. The family switched to a diet with more organic and fermented foods, as well as homeopathic medicine. Soon enough, they noticed an impact. Their principles of eating well led them to launch Pure Indian Foods in 2008 at a commercial kitchen in New Jersey. 

Early on, the couple opted to use locally-sourced ingredients instead of importing products or supplies from India. Today, Pure Indian Foods carries a range of flavored, organic ghee as well as spices, oils, and Ayurvedic products. But back then, few others were making and selling organic ghee in the United States, and there was still little awareness outside of South Asian communities of how — or even why — people should cook with it, Agarwal said. But in the years since, that’s changed in a big way. “The acceptance of the product is increasing in the mainstream,” Agarwal said.