Health Benefits of Golden Milk aka Turmeric Latte aka Turmeric Milk
Turmeric is widely valued for its beneficial health effects, mainly due to the presence of the bioactive compound named Curcumin which is present in the root. One way in which the powder of this root is often consumed is in ‘turmeric milk’, also known as golden milk, a home remedy widely used to treat coughs and colds. The preparation of turmeric milk varies greatly in a home setting, but always involves boiling turmeric powder in milk or a dairy-free alternative.
Curcumin has a huge range of therapeutic effects; read our separate post on the health benefits of turmeric for a brief overview. It is understood to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardio-protective and much more, with new research being performed increasingly. For example, curcumin may be able to suppress the activity of NF-κB: a protein which promotes abnormal inflammation and leads to arthritis.
Some herbs are prepared in milk rather than water in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment and prevention of certain diseases; turmeric, ginger, tulsi and pepper are examples of these. This may be because milk has a high fat content, so contains molecules which bind to both fat and water. In contrast, curcumin is hydrophobic, meaning that it does not bind well to water and therefore often does not dissolve in liquids. Normally, this limits the bioavailability and health benefits of this compound . However, adding turmeric to the binding molecules in milk may ensure that it is properly incorporated into the beverage, improving its bioavailability. The curcumin in turmeric is more available to the digestive system when prepared in foods containing more fat; traditional Indian turmeric milk, or Golden Milk, sometimes has clarified butter added. Curcumin and turmeric have been found in studies to be more soluble in mixtures of butter and milk or milk alone, compared to water. Even preparations of curcumin in milk without butter increased the solubility seven-fold versus water .
Graph: Plot of cumulative amount of curcumin permeated per unit area vs time from turmeric using different vehicles .
Another study found that when turmeric was prepared in a milk drink, it contained a 3.2 times greater content of phenolic compounds in comparison to an equal preparation in water . These phenolic substances are responsible for turmeric’s antioxidant effect, acting as a ‘scavenger’ in the body for damaging free radical molecules. Turmeric consumed in milk may therefore have a greater antioxidant effect than turmeric in water.
Golden milk may also benefit from the shorter cooking time than that of other dishes such as curries. One study tested the ability of processed turmeric extracts to prevent iron-induced oxidative damage in the liver of animal models, measuring the effects of different cooking methods. The milk preparation model preserved most of this activity in the extract, producing an effect similar to an unprocessed extract and much more than after cooking for 30 minutes or frying . The quick preparation time of turmeric milk isn’t only convenient for the consumer; it may also be among the most beneficial preparations where antioxidant activity is concerned.
Many companies in the Western world have developed formulas to make turmeric milk more appealing and convenient to consumers in areas where the drink was not previously well-known. The ‘turmeric latte’ is one example of this; a modified version of turmeric milk where the milk is added to coffee. One advantage of these instant powders is that they can be standardized to allow for nutritional analysis for research, whereas analysis of homemade turmeric milk is difficult due to the variation. One formula studied consisted of spray dried turmeric oleoresin, combined with gums and dairy whitener. The addition of dairy whitener was beneficial in this study due to milk’s ability to bind to fat and water. It ensured that the curcumin in the turmeric oleoresin was bound within the liquid of the final drink made up by the consumer, increasing the amount absorbed in the intestine. The curcumin content of this powder was found to be between around 540 to 706mg per 100g; a safe and beneficial dose .
Traditional Golden Milk is often prepared with the addition of other spices, namely black pepper. One of the compounds contained in black pepper is piperine. Curcumin concentration in the blood is often measured as being very low after turmeric is consumed, mainly due to its poor absorption alone. However, when just 20mg of piperine was added to a 2g dose of curcumin, the bioavailability increased by 2,000% compared to curcumin alone. Piperine increased the blood concentration after consumption and extent of absorption, making black pepper an excellent addition to turmeric milk 
The use of turmeric in plain milk is not the only way to prepare this beverage; Lassi is a popular dairy drink in India and can be enriched with spices. This is milk curd fermented with probiotic cultures; commercial yogurt cultures can be used to make it. Turmeric was added to this drink in a study to measure its effect on the phenolic content of the drink. This increased the phenolic content significantly in comparison to plain lassi .
The evidence suggests that milk and turmeric complement each other to produce a drink with a higher antioxidant activity than milk alone or turmeric prepared in other ways. Turmeric has been combined with dairy and additional spices in folk medicine for thousands of years, which is incredible as scientific studies have only recently begun to understand how they improve the therapeutic effects of the golden spice . Traditionally, turmeric milk was prepared by first creating a paste on the stovetop from the fresh root or dried powder. This was cooled then combined with milk and gently heated again, often with the addition of other spices. A simple turmeric milk can be made by combining a teaspoon of turmeric powder with a very small amount of black pepper, before adding to milk and heating. Ayurvedic tradition suggests that this is best consumed two or three times per day on an empty stomach .
Picture: Harvesting of Turmeric. “the land is plowed, the clumps are carefully lifted with a spade and the rhizomes are picked and collected by hand.” .
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 India Science, 2021. Harvesting of Turmeric. https://www.indiascience.in/videos/harvesting-of-turmeric-h