Ghee is soaring in popularity thanks to the popularity of keto and paleo diets

Thanks to trendy, higher-fat diets, ghee has become increasingly popular in recent years.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Erica Chayes Wida

Raquel Tavares has been making and using ghee since she was a young girl. A few years ago, the Brazilian-born businesswoman decided to turn her passion for this ancient pantry staple into a full-time occupation.

Now, her company is worth millions.

Tavares' mom, a dietician and ayurvedic practitioner, helped her understand the healthful properties of ghee at an early age. Ghee (a type of clarified butter) is a lactose-free, nutty-tasting spread that is shelf stable and can be cooked at high temperatures. It has been a staple of Indian cuisine for centuries and is made from melted grass-fed butter that's cooked for a long time, then all of the milk solids are filtered out.

Not only is ghee free of lactose making it suitable for those with dairy sensitivities, it also has fewer calories than both coconut and olive oils. Proponents of ghee believe that it helps improve digestion and reduces inflammation in the body.

Tavares, who has always considered herself an entrepreneur, grew up in California and tried various jobs throughout the early stages of her career (at one time she was a yoga instructor, but also worked in the tech industry). Still, she always dreamed of having her own business.

In 2013, she recalls looking at a jar of her homemade ghee and realizing that her true business calling had been in her kitchen all along.

"I thought to myself, 'Shelf-stable butter, who doesn't want that?' That was the beginning of Fourth and Heart and the genesis of what you see today," Tavares told TODAY Food.

By 2014, around the time she left her day job to care for her young children, Tavares began selling her homemade ghee at local trade shows in Los Angeles. An integral part of her business model? Making samples of grilled cheese sandwiches. When the classic sandwich is cooked in a hot pan of melted ghee, Tavares swears that it gets extra crispy edges, making it an irresistible snack or lunch.

Despite investors' initial doubts about her breaking into the butter business, Tavares took a big leap to make her dream a reality. Though she initially had trouble raising money, soon her company Fourth and Heart (stylized as 4th & Heart and named for the fourth chakra of the body: the heart) was born.

"A lot of the lessons I've learned as a yoga instructor and a yogi I've been able to apply to being an entrepreneur as well," Tavares said. "Patience (and) the ability to have to change course on the fly."

Today, Fourth and Heart is thriving and Tavares has raised over $18 million in funding. The CEO attributes the company's whirlwind success in the U.S. in large part to the relatively recent rise in the popularity of trendy low-carb, higher-fat diets like keto and paleo. Kourtney Kardashian, who posts recipes and product recommendations on her wellness and lifestyle site Poosh, recently wrote about how she loves ghee for its sweet, nutty flavor and uses it as a substitute for regular butter.

Tavares now has 15 different types of products (which are all manufactured in Northern California) and sells her ghee in 10,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Kroger, Giant, Eagle, Ralph's and Target. The company now has multiple flavors (vanilla bean, garlic, turmeric and Himalayan pink salt to name a few), cooking sprays, oils and even a chocolate spread. Soon, she will be releasing a protein bar called Woke.

"I do have to take a moment to say, 'Wow look what I've created. Look at what we've created," Tavares told TODAY. "And its been incredible. No regrets."