A primary ingredient in Indian and other Asian cuisines, turmeric is making major headway at the bar as mixologists look to add flavor and color to mixed drinks. The powdered spice, which comes from a flowering plant and is bright yellow in color, is often described as warm, bitter, earthy, and pepper-like, and it adds a savory taste to drinks. Turmeric has become popular with modern consumers due to its purported health benefits; it helps with inflammation and boosts the immune system. The spice can play well with a variety of spirits, and it’s becoming a fun tool in the bartending arsenal.
“In cocktails, turmeric provides a richer mouthfeel, in addition to cutting sweetness and tartness,” says Andrew Zagozdon, bar manager at Pub Royale in Chicago. “We’re an Indian-Anglo-inspired bar and restaurant, so people come in here inherently ready to consume turmeric or other spices.”
Pub Royale creates a unique flavor contrast with its Strawberry Turmeric Daiquiri, which has become one of the venue’s top sellers. The drink ($13) mixes Plantation Original Dark and Xaymaca Special Dry rums with house-made strawberry-turmeric Demerara syrup and lime juice. “The turmeric adds complexity to a sweet-tart drink,” Zagozdon explains. “It enhances the tropical and fruity flavors of the drink while providing an earthy sweetness. We’ve kept it on the menu through three menu changes now thanks to popular demand.” Zagozdon primarily uses turmeric with dark spirits, including rum and aged Tequila, and notes that a little bit of the spice goes a long way.
San Francisco cocktail bar Maven grates fresh turmeric root for use in a house-made syrup that goes into the Oxford Comma ($13), along with Partida Blanco Tequila, Bonal Gentiane-Quina aperitif, house-made ginger syrup, lime juice, and a fresh sage garnish. “We use actual turmeric root because it has more flavor and color,” says Maven founder Jay Bordeleau. “Turmeric root adds pungency, depth of flavor, earthiness, and a spice element that work in tandem with the ginger without feeling too much like curry. The Oxford Comma is our best-selling drink. It’s well-balanced and has great complexity.”
Bartenders often combine turmeric with other complex flavors to make intricate and sophisticated cocktails. Upscale Indian restaurant Junoon in New York City offers the El Matador ($17), made with Siete Misterios Doba Yej mezcal, house-made turmeric tincture, house-made curry leaf-jalapeño maple syrup, and lime juice. Ginger is also a common pairing for turmeric. French bistro Le Coq Rico in New York City offers a minty gin drink made with turmeric and ginger, while the upscale Brooklyn eatery Celestine serves a Gin & Tonic enhanced with turmeric and ginger. Similarly, contemporary Vietnamese restaurant Crustacean in Beverly Hills, California boasts the Turmeric Mule ($18), mixing Roku gin with fresh turmeric juice, house-made ginger syrup, lemon and lime juices, and soda water. This is joined by an alcohol-free wellness drink that combines house-made turmeric syrup with ginger, honey, lime, and soda water ($8).
“Turmeric has a lot of versatility,” says Eden Dozier, chief of staff for Crustacean owner House of An. “We use it across our cocktail and food menus. We fresh-press the root to make juices and syrups. Turmeric has a natural pungent orange and ginger flavor. We play off that natural flavor profile by serving it with ginger, citrus, and honey, which enhance its flavor and create balance.”
Dozier touts turmeric’s medicinal benefits, including its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and its immune-boosting elements, and says Crustacean’s turmeric offerings are among the venue’s more popular drinks. “Our Turmeric Mule showcases the wonderful flavor and bright yellow color of turmeric, while also improving the health of our guests,” Dozier adds. “It’s one of our most popular cocktails. Even people who don’t like gin are surprised by how refreshing the cocktail is and the uniqueness of the turmeric flavor.”