Niter Kibbeh -or- Spiced Ghee

Ethiopian cuisine is wonderful. I started learning to prepare it when I moved back to Virginia and no longer had Ethiopian restaurants nearby. It has incredible richness and depth of flavor, especially in its wide variety of vegetable dishes. Those dishes are must-haves in the repertoire of any vegetarians or vegans.

The foundation of many Ethiopian preparations is the spiced clarified butter called niter kibbeh, or nit’ir qibe. Similar to ghee, it is made by heating butter with spices and sometimes onions and garlic until the milk solids separate and brown.

Most recipes for niter kibbeh you find on the internet call for adding onions and garlic. I opt for just using dry spices for a couple of reasons. One, I use the butter in a variety of dishes many of which have onions and/or garlic in them already, so I prefer to have finer control of those flavors. Two, it just takes less time to make as there is less water to drive off.

Niter kibbeh is not only great for Ethiopian food. I use it in Indian preparations to impart an wonderful base note to some dishes. For Indian dishes, I typically will double the amount of turmeric in this recipe. Breakfast potatoes sautéd in it are magnificent.

It will keep for a long time tightly covered in the fridge so make it and play around with it.


  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken up
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 5–6 green cardamon pods
  • 1 tsp cumin (whole)
  • 1 tsp coriander (whole)
  • 1 tsp fenugreek (whole)
  • ½ lb butter

Put all ingredients in a cold small sauce pan and place on medium low heat. Let the butter melt then reach a full simmer. Stir with a metal spoon or swirl frequently.

In ten to fifteen minutes most of the water will be driven off and the butter will start to foam. Do not walk away at this point as the butter solids will quickly burn. Brush away the foam or swirl the pan so you can see the spices and milk solids in the bottom.

Once the solids in the bottom of the pan become a mahogany color quickly take off of the heat and strain the clarified butter into a non-plastic container (a ceramic bowl will do).

Even if strained tiny particulate will settle on the bottom. You can pour off the butter to remove after it settles. If you are cooking with high heat it is important to avoid these browned solids as they will burn. Use immediately or store tightly covered in the fridge for several weeks.

Cook, Chemist, Engineer, Generalist

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