Ask the RD
Question: My favorite coffee shop now serves Golden Milk, which is warm coconut milk or cow’s milk infused with turmeric. I love the flavor, but is it really as healthy as they say?
Answer: Turmeric has a mild, earthy, almost woody flavor, which makes it wonderful in sweet and savory dishes. The yellow powdered spice we call turmeric comes from a rhizome in the ginger family. Fresh turmeric looks a lot like fresh ginger root, but with an intense yellow-orange color visible beneath the beige skin. The color comes from curcumin, a polyphenolic phytochemical.
In countries like India and China, which have a tradition of using turmeric, it has been known for its medicinal properties for hundreds of years. Recently, scientific research has begun to tease out the wide range of effects it has on human health, most of which come from its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (Hewlings & Kalman 2017). Although not all research on turmeric is conclusive, its effects have been studied for a variety of conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention, treatment of gastrointestinal problems like stomach ulcers and ulcerative colitis, and treatment of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes (Zhang et al. 2013). It has been shown to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis as well as irritable bowel syndrome (Gupta et al. 2013). Turmeric also has antibacterial properties (Teow et al. 2016).
The spice appears safe to consume in fairly large amounts (Gupta et al. 2013), but one challenge with using it medicinally is that curcumin is not well absorbed (i.e., not very bioavailable). One solution is to consume turmeric with black pepper. The pepper contains piperine, a phytochemical shown to dramatically increase turmeric’s bioavailability. So, enjoy your Golden Milk, and while it steeps, you may want to add a dash of ground black pepper or a few peppercorns, which will make it even tastier.