What Is Golden Milk, and Do I Have to Drink It?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Jerrelle Guy)

The last time I came down with a cold, I curled up beneath a heap of blankets, propped myself up with pillows, and battled my brain fog with a mug of “golden milk.” Warm and velvety, spiced with turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger, it was the color of daffodils — and every bit as comforting. But I wasn’t just going for soothing; I was gunning for a record-breaking recovery. Would golden milk be my Seabiscuit?

What Is Golden Milk?

Touted by bloggers and boosted by celebrities, golden milk, aka the “turmeric latte,” has become a frenzied favorite of the wellness set. Generally speaking, the star players of golden milk are its milky foundation (cow, almond, coconut, or otherwise) and a dash of yellow turmeric. Some recipes call for a knob of coconut oil or a teaspoon of dried ginger, like the ones on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop or Chloe Coscarelli’s blog, By Chloe. Cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, and sweeteners also make frequent appearances. Served hot or cold, the ingredients are usually combined in a saucepan or blitzed in a blender.

Let’s Talk About Turmeric

Golden milk’s signature color comes from turmeric, the spice-rack staple and the blogosphere’s “superfood” spice du jour. Turmeric root, a cousin of ginger (unpeeled, the family resemblance is strong), is most notable for its electric orange color; it’s an instant dye for your tea and your cutting board and whatever new item of clothing you happen to be wearing. It’s also commonly sold in a dried powder, which makes it easy to measure and cook with.

You’re probably most familiar with turmeric thanks to its featured role in South Asian food. Many curries get their color from turmeric, which is a common ingredient in curry powder spice mixes.

Fact or Fiction: The Curcumin Cure

The purported health benefits of turmeric are due to the plant compound curcumin, which also gives the root its finger-staining orange color. Research suggests that curcumin may help prevent or treat cancer, and claims in the blogosphere link curcumin with a range of digestive, respiratory, and reproductive health improvements. But, to date, these claims haven’t been substantiated by scientific trials.

As a recent New York Times article points out, clinical trials comparing the effect of curcumin to that of prescription drugs have been few in number, and greater research needs to take place on a larger scale to prove turmeric’s efficacy as a health supplement. What’s more, turmeric has relatively poor bioavailability, which means it isn’t readily absorbed or used by the body. In other words, even if curcumin is a medical panacea, you may not get enough of it by drinking a mug of golden milk.

The Bottom Line

Cozy as a cup of golden milk might be, none of us (myself included) should rely on the beverage to soothe our symptoms as a health aid. While the research looks promising, there just isn’t enough of it to back up the myriad claims made by golden milk’s great enthusiasts.

But if you love a frothy latte or crave a sunny cup of spiced milk, golden milk is just the thing. And if you’re looking for a frosty, summer-appropriate take on this trendy drink du jour, why not try our golden milkshake?

You can also easily incorporate turmeric into meals by tossing it with vegetables and blending it into smoothies (we’ve got a few ideas for you here), just in case future research proves that the spice is all it’s hyped up to be.

Have you tried golden milk? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.