Ghee is far from the first Indian food product to be appropriated by the West, but it could well be the one that’s most popular today. This traditional form of clarified butter has slowly made its way to the western mainstream in the last two years, reports NBC. But as more and more American companies produce whitewashed versions of ghee, the discussion around cultural appropriation is once again in the spotlight.
To some extent, ghee owes its newfound popularity to TikTok, where influencers tout it as the perfect superfood for glowing skin and quick weight loss. One of the most-watched TikTok videos on ghee was produced by Jeremy Fragrance and has collected 6.8 million views. It shows the influencer sniffing jars of ghee and making noises at the camera, reports NBC.
“It’s so sexy… As far as I know, this originated in India because they didn’t have a fridge for a long time,” he says in the video.
Ghee needs no introduction in India, but the west is currently capitalising on its popularity with trendy packaging and needless additives. Many brands have released ghee infused with flavours like garlic and vanilla bean.About three years ago, a picture of a bottle of “grass-fed ghee oil” invited outrage on social media.
This is what they have done to our ghee pic.twitter.com/D1ZfuagHaz
— Baba (@BabaGlocal) February 25, 2019
As American brands take over shelf space with their own versions of the traditional ghee, South Asian businesses are suffering.
Food experts say that brands are capitalising on the popularity of ghee by overpricing and under-delivering. Take, for example, the Iowa-based Spring Sunrise Natural Foods, which prices a jar of ghee between $10 to $20. In contrast, a jar of ghee at an Indian grocery store costs less than $6.
The problem doesn’t stop there. Several American brands, including Spring Sunrise Natural Foods, claim to use Ayurvedic properties in the production of ghee. Some go so far as to use Sanskrit script in their branding, all of which has led to criticism about cultural appropriation.
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After NBC News reached out to Spring Sunrise for a statement, managing partner Donald Revolinski said the company would remove references to Ayurveda from its products.At Spring Sunrise Natural Foods we value the tenets of ayurveda in our own lives. However, after researching this issue further, we acknowledge the problem of cultural appropriation and therefore have decided to remove references to ayurveda from our label and marketing,” he said. “We maintain the highest standards for our products.”