It is the ‘golden milk’ with a cult following made up of more than just Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website. A firm favourite in wellness capitals Sydney and Los Angeles and a new staple in the diets of the health conscious, the turmeric latte has been dubbed the healthy alternative to coffee and the latest health craze to invest in. Even big-chain Starbucks is hopping on the yellow-hued ‘coffee’ train.
Quickly this golden milk has claimed quite the reputation as a superfood. It has been touted for its anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidant properties, and hailed as a treatment for cancer, Alzheimer’s and the common cold. But should you swap your morning coffee for a dose of the yellow curry ingredient, or is this merely the latest health-food trend to fall off the bandwagon?
For the uninitiated, a turmeric latte is a combination of nut milk and juiced turmeric root, or even just turmeric powder, at a pinch. An unlikely combination, but one that made its name for itself as 2016’s drink of choice, as turmeric became one of the most searched for food trends on Google.
No wonder, considering the hype surrounding the current king of superfoods. Anti-inflammatory compounds within turmeric (namely, curcumin, the key active ingredient in the spice) are said to be more effective than some pharmaceutical medication in terms of treating the symptoms of and even preventing the onset of several chronic diseases. This, according to a review of over 700 studies by ethnobotanist Dr. James Duke.
That reputation, however, may be in pieces after the release of a new review, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, suggesting that curcumin – the well-known chemical in turmeric – has very limited health benefits. One of the major problems noted in the review focussed on curcumin’s inability to be easily absorbed by the body. Another pointed out that while there have been thousands of research papers published on turmeric, there was a glaring absence of double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials to accurately back up the many health claims surrounding the golden spice.
Curcumin’s absorption problem, however, has been known for some time. Many dieticians and online wellness gurus advise pairing turmeric with black pepper; a substance in the black pepper enhances the absorption of turmeric’s beneficial phytochemicals from the digestive system to the bloodstream.
Another point worth noting here is that powdered turmeric often has a reduced essential oil content in comparison to fresh turmeric roots due to the process of peeling, boiling and drying the turmeric roots. Regular powdered turmeric available at your local supermarket probably only has around 2-3% curcumin - good quality powder can have up to 4%. Even fresh turmeric root has small amounts of the powerful compound curcumin, but freshly juiced turmeric root, gently heated would be the more favourable option. Most of the studies showing the amazing health benefits of turmeric are based on the consumption of concentrated curcumin – much more than you would get from the yellow-hued lattes.
That said, we shouldn’t entirely discredit turmeric and its golden milk creation. Although it’s not the panacea people think it is, there is no doubt that curcuminoids, while only available in small doses, are hugely powerful compounds. Swapping your regular morning coffee for a turmeric latte can only be a good investment for your health. Just be sure to add a sprinkle of black pepper!