Golden milk, turmeric latte, turmeric tonic — the bright yellow rhizome from India is making the rounds on beverage menus across the U.S. But while it may be this year’s hottest drinks trend, in India, turmeric consumption is a way of life, and a health practice with centuries of history.
According to Dr. Saraswati Sukumar, who has been studying the spice throughout her career, turmeric has been used as a medicinal beverage in India as long as the system of Ayurvedic medicine, developed thousands of years ago, has existed.
“Ayurvedic medicine is based on finding plant products that could be useful as medications, and turmeric is a wild plant that grows around many parts of India,” she says. “It’s a very well-known ingredient that’s used for numerous ailments — arthritis, rheumatism, live ailments, wound healing, you name it.” As a result, she says, many dishes in Indian cuisine begin with heating up turmeric in hot oil — a means of releasing the healing ingredients in the spice.
And well before Americans were drinking turmeric lattes, Indians developed several turmeric-based drinks whose primary function was healing coldlike symptoms. There’s Haldi Doodh, a mixture of hot milk, turmeric and other spices like cardamom and clove; and another beverage of hot water, turmeric, lemon, honey and a pinch of red chile pepper. In America, trendy cafes call the former a turmeric latte, and the latter a turmeric tonic.
Sukumar is currently studying how regular consumption of turmeric might be able to help with long-term ailments like Alzheimer’s, breast cancer or dementia. “It’s an ingredient with minimal side effects that will only be helpful in maintaining your quality of life as you grow older,” she says. She notes, however, that just blending turmeric into your water won’t cut it — in order to receive the spice’s full health effects, the powder or root has to be heated up (though it can be consumed at room temperature with milk or yogurt, as the fats will break down the spice).
Ready to catch the bright yellow wave? Here are seven places across the country making tasty and restorative turmeric drinks.
Turmeric Tonic: Sqirl, Los Angeles, CA
Jessica Koslow, who recently released her first cookbook, named this drink one of her all-time favorite recipes. It’s the ideal sick-day beverage: apple juice, cloves, ginger, black pepper and of course, fresh turmeric. It’s like a restorative take on the traditional hot toddy, and Koslow swears by this over coffee as her morning beverage of choice.
720 N. Virgil Ave. #4, Los Angeles; 213-394-6526
Golden State: The Butcher’s Daughter, New York, NY
It’s no surprise that The Butcher’s Daughter — New York’s purveyor of all things healthy and trendy — has caught on to the turmeric craze in a big way, including it in several of the restaurant’s beverage offerings. The fan favorite? The Golden State — a warming latte made with turmeric powder, black pepper extract, almond milk and maple — for a hint of sweetness.
Starman: Prasad, Portland, OR
Portland’s popular all-vegetarian cafe serves both a turmeric tonic and a turmeric latte — but the latest and greatest liquid offering is the Starman, a supremely healthful juice made with a fridge’s worth of produce — red bell pepper, pineapple, cucumber, carrot — plus fresh turmeric and ginger.
3632 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland; 971-255-0138
Spark Plug: The Punchbowl, Los Angeles, CA
Just in time for flu season, many Los Angeles restaurants have started serving “shots” containing healthy, anti-inflammatory ingredients. The Punchbowl's latest Ibuprofen substitute is the turmeric-centric Spark Plug, with a base of coconut water as well as holy basil (a plant that regularly treats the flu in Ayurvedic medicine). It’s a savory drink that — admittedly — may not go down as smoothly as a turmeric latte; but it’ll cure your cold, stat.
4645 Melbourne Ave., Los Angeles; 323-666-1123
Mango and Turmeric Shrub: The Wild Son, New York, NY
The Wild Son, a sunny cafe in New York’s Meatpacking District, has one of the most comprehensive (and delicious) nonalcoholic cocktail menus around. This mango and turmeric concoction uses the classic cocktail maker’s shrub technique of mixing the main ingredients with vinegar — the result is a fruity, acidic, refreshing drink that is as lovely to drink over breakfast as it is over dinner (and thankfully, it’s available all day and night at the restaurant).
53 Little W. 12th St. New York; 212-727-7900
Liberty: Stanton & Greene, Washington, DC
As the election wears on, DC’s most renowned cocktail bars can’t help but give their drinks a political slant. At Stanton & Greene, the Liberty, a cocktail inspired by the peace-and-liberty-focused libertarian movement, is a vodka tonic blended with calming, restorative seasonings — naturally, turmeric is in the mix, along with tart, dried grapefruit.
319 Pennsylvania Ave SE. Washington, DC; 202-525-3325
Worst Behavior: Lula Café, Chicago, IL
The amazingly named Worst Behavior at Lula Café is the Hair of the Dog of champions — a boozy drink containing all the hangover-friendly healing ingredients like turmeric, honey and lemon juice. It’s tasty even without the alcohol, but regardless, as the name suggests, it’s the ideal cure for all your night-before regrets.
2537 N. Kedzie Ave, Chicago; 773-489-9554