Happy New Year everyone ! Who hasn’t heard of golden milk? Sometimes called turmeric latte, it is known as Kurkuma latte where I live. This « detox » turmeric drink, with its Ayurvedic roots, is like a liquid version of the avocado toast: The hipster sensation that took over the world and Instagram. Minus the ecological disaster.
It must be said that this drink is quite effective, and tasty to boot. I prepare copious amounts of it when I feel down, with lots of ginger and lemon juice for a vitamin boost.
What is so good about turmeric?
Turmeric is a close cousin of ginger. It is a rhizome, that is, a thick stem that looks just like a root. The brown scales around it are actually leaves. Turmeric’s main benefits come from curcumin. It gives turmeric its gorgeous orange hue. Dried turmeric contains around 3% of curcumin.
Curcumin has many properties that Eastern medical traditions have known about for a long time. It is a potent anti-inflammatory compound as well as an antioxidant. It is thought to help regulating blood cholesterol levels and digestion, especially because of its stimulating effect on the liver – this is also why turmeric is advertised as a « detox » food.
Western medicine is currently researching its anti-cancer properties (curcumin is thought to slow down cell proliferation), especially for cancers of the digestive tract. There is no consensus yet, however, although turmeric research is literally booming. Most studies have been conducted on mouse models, or in vitro. It will probably take decades to shed light on all of turmeric’s benefits (or lack thereof).
How to better absorb curcumin?
Turmeric, especially if fresh, contains only a small fraction of curcumin. The quantities that are considered to be actually effective are far more important than a reasonable turmeric consumption would permit. No one eats a bucket of turmeric in one sitting, right? One (impractical) solution is to get hold of a prohibitively expensive concentrated turmeric extract. Fortunately, there are alternative, cheap ways to amp up the effect of the turmeric we eat.
- Black pepper contains piperine, a spicy compound. It affects the bioavailability of some nutrients such as curcumin, by allowing them to cross the intestinal barrier more easily. Be careful though: For this very reason, it may also interfere with the absorption of medicine! In the case of curcumin, it is thought that piperine increases curcumin absorption by a whopping 2000%.
- Fat. Curcumin is fat-soluble. It is thus wise to pair turmeric with a healthy source of fat.
Ancient civilisations seem to have guessed how to benefit from turmeric’s benefits. In most Indian curry blends, turmeric is paired with pepper. Moreover, the spices are usually sautéed or fried in ghee (clarified butter) or oil.
Is coconut oil a superfood?
Many westernized golden milk recipes recommend the addition of a spoonful of coconut oil to it. This is not traditional and despite health claims about coconut oil, it remains a totally saturated fat. Hence, it should be consumed with moderation, according to the Harvard Medical School. Here’s why.
Coconut oil contains 92% saturated fat, compared with just over 60% for butter. You must have heard that the saturated fatty acids in coconut oil have a different structure from animal saturated fats (lard, tallow, butter). Indeed, coconut oil contains shorter fatty acids, which are more easily converted into energy, and therefore less likely to be stored in the body or to clog our arteries. This, however, has not been proven on humans!
One of the most repeated arguments is that coconut oil contains a lot of lauric acid, which is also a component of human breast milk. Then, this fat is necessarily good for health, right? After all, breast milk can’t be for you. In my humble opinion… that’s not really the point! Breast milk is suited to the metabolism and needs of a baby, not those of an adult. Adults, I suppose, don’t consume breast milk.
Moreover, breast milk contains only about 4% fat. Lauric acid makes for less than 20% of it. It is not realistic to compare breast milk and coconut oil and then to to draw health claims because of a common molecule in them. It may help to see it that way: breast milk contains cholesterol. Last time I checked, it was still not advised to consume concentrated cholesterol to be healthy.
Coconut oil can increase the level of good cholesterol, its supporters claim. The Australian dietitians’ association, however, indicates that coconut oil also increases the level of bad cholesterol, while unsaturated vegetable fats only increase the level of good cholesterol. As a rule, we should all be wary of any media that conveys partial information – in our case, the action of coconut oil on the good cholesterol, omitting the big picture. The truth is never so simple, so let us exercise our critical thinking at all times.
Shall we completely eradicate coconut oil from our diet? Not so fast! In a varied diet, there is room for everything, in small quantities. Refined and hydrogenated oils, rich in trans fat, must of course be avoided. Organic and virgin oils are much healthier. Virgin coconut oil has high smoke point, of about 177°C, which is lower than that of virgin olive oil (190°C). It is therefore suitable for cooking but not for frying, nor for high temperatures.
Traditional golden milk recipes use whole cow’s milk, which high in fat and helps absorbing curcumin. A vegetable oil (olive, sesame) or ghee is often added. I use olive oil or almond butter, and vegetable milk (such as almond or soy). I add the fat when the drink has cooled a little. Below is a quick recipe for making plant-based milk. It is practical if you’re in a hurry and can be whipped up in one minute.
- 300 ml water
- 300 ml milk (plant, or whole cow’s milk)
- 1 tsp fresh, grated turmeric
- 1 black peppercorn
- 1/2 c. tsp ground cinnamon
Optional and delicious
- fresh ginger, ground
- cardamom powder
- cloves powder
- 1 tsp blackstrap molasses, or unrefined cane sugar
- 1 tsp almond butter (or cashew, or other nut butter)
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- fresh lemon juice
Boil the water and milk with the turmeric, pepper and cinnamon. Let it simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the other ingredients, pour in a cup and enjoy.
Note: to make it quicker, use turmeric powder instead. Then use half the amount of liquid and don’t cook it, simply pour hot liquid on the powder.
Quick almond-oat milk
- 500 ml water
- 2 tbsp rolled oats
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- Optional: dates, honey, molasses, vanilla powder, cinnamon…
Mix all ingredients in a blender. You may or may not want to filter it. If not, simply shake the bottle before use, as fiber and other residues will gather at the bottom. Keep in the fridge for 3 days maximum.