What you need to know about the paleo turmeric coffee trend

Kevin Farrell

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A study in March of this year found that 64% of Americans consumed a cup of coffee within the past 24 hours. A 2013 study showed 83% of adults in the U.S. admitting to being regular coffee drinkers. A cup of coffee is a critical part of the morning routine for an overwhelming majority of the country. Maybe that’s why the ritual has become ground zero for so many mind-boggling twists and innovative takes on the classic cup of Joe. Just this year alone, dueling butter coffee, broccoli coffee and mushroom coffee trends have all managed to carve out space for themselves among the curious. So what’s the next big thing happening in java town? Turmeric coffee.


Why are people drinking turmeric coffee now?

The constant churn and burn of new-now-next food trends aside, turmeric coffee is having its own little moment right now, largely because of turmeric’s success as a non-coffee staple in many cafes in recent years. Turmeric has been popping up in smoothies, green juices, and the various golden milk recipes that that have Instagrammed their way straight into our hearts and bellies. Golden milk is the eye-catching combination of turmeric and ginger, mixed with liquids ranging from coconut milk to bone broth, depending on how they do it in your neck of the woods. It's served both hot and cold, making it a perfect year-round treat. Cinnamon, maple syrup, cardamom and even citrus zest are frequent collaborators in these heady brews that range in color from ochre to pale, buttery yellow.

It’s likely that rising public awareness in the ingredient, along with vague understandings about its health benefits are what has adventurous baristas combining turmeric and coffee. The rest of us are just along for the ride.

Now that I think about it, what is turmeric anyway?

It’s a bright yellow spice. We get it by drying and grinding down the rhizome – an odd, horizontally-growing underground root system with vertical stalks that pierce the soil above – of a plant in the ginger family. It’s sort of like yellow wasabi, in both its appearance as a plant, and in its bold color and intensity of flavor.

Why are people drinking it in anything, coffee or otherwise?

I don’t like to use the word superfood around all the often, because it’s an unregulated word primarily used by marketing departments, but turmeric is one food that absolutely fits the bill. It’s loaded with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, most likely linked to an active ingredient called curcumin.

Curcumin has been the subject of all manner of scientific trials, with promising results. One study found curcumin likely responsible for reversing liver damage. Another suggests that it may be useful in combating Alzheimer’s disease. We’re still in the early stages of figuring out why exactly curcumin works such wonders when consumed, and scientists aren’t even entirely sure that the polyphenol is even the part of turmeric that makes it such an immune system booster. But even so, people have been using turmeric medicinally for more than 2,000 years, so there must be something about it that’s working.

What does it taste like?

The spice smells a bit like orange peel and ginger, and has an earthy taste a bit like cardamom or even cinnamon. For all of its bright showmanship when it comes to its appearance, turmeric is a fairly mild spice that generally plays well with other flavor profiles. Hence it’s newfound popularity in elixirs, golden milks, and yes, coffee.

Even if you think you haven’t ever had a taste of turmeric, you likely have. That’s because it is used fairly commonly as a food additive in mustards, and as an ingredient in counterfeit saffron blends. Turmeric grows fairly easily anywhere in the world so long as the climate is warm enough, so there’s not much holding it back from becoming a staple in diets all over the world.

So how does it taste with coffee then?

Since this trend is new, recipes will vary from cafe to cafe, but to really get the health benefits of the spice, you’re going to need a full teaspoon of it in your coffee. That’s quite a bit, and may leave coffee – already an earthy flavor – tasting a bit too bitter for many. So baristas are taking the edge off by serving turmeric coffees with ground ginger and orange peel or zest. There’s even a pre-batched chai recipe you can buy if you’re more of a tea drinker than a coffee person. All in all, turmeric sounds like a better flavor compliment to coffee than broccoli or butter, so this trend may have legs.

Sweet. Anything else I need to know before giving it a shot?

Now that you mention it, yes! Turmeric has a unique relationship with another, far more common spice rack staple: black pepper. The genetic makeup of the two spices are insanely reactive with one another. A click or two of the pepper grinder can increase the bioavailability of turmeric – the proportion of the food that enters the bloodstream upon consumption – by as much as 2,000%. Adding a dash of black pepper to your turmeric coffee is just the thing to help your body make the most of this food trend, even if subbing sugar for pepper may sound a bit daunting at first.


Kevin Farrell

About Kevin Farrell

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