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What is golden milk and should you be drinking it?

The spicy drink made with turmeric may be a new Instagram food darling but the beverage has actually been around for centuries.
/ Source: TODAY

If you follow food lovers on Instagram or consider yourself up-to-date on the latest healthy drink trends across the country, you've probably already heard about golden milk.

Also known as a golden or turmeric latte, this brightly hued beverage is winning over countless celebs and even nutritionists. And though you may have only recently seen the drink popping up on your feed, it's actually thousands of years old and has been a staple in many Indian kitchens for generations.

Just like bone broth, which my grandma made every time I got sick, became social media's foodie darling last year, golden milk has become a popular tried-and-true meets Instagram-worthy drink today.

But the lovely name and ultra-photogenic aesthetic are just two reasons behind the drink's popularity. It turns out, this bright yellow concoction isn't just a pretty face. Due in large part to the drink's active ingredient turmeric, there's some pretty substantial science to back up the supposed health claims.

At its most basic, golden milk is comprised of any milk of your choice (cow, goat, hemp, pea, almond, etc.) and a sprinkle of turmeric, a peppery, bright yellow spice that's been praised for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Turmeric milk can be augmented with other spices and it can be served hot or cold. Golden milk might be a relative newcomer to the U.S., but in India — where the drink originated — milk infused with turmeric is called haldi doodh. According to food reporter Vidya Rao, who trained at New York City's Natural Gourmet Institute, golden milk is a "drink Indian mothers have been making for centuries to soothe their sick children and help them sleep."

It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to help with insomnia, coughs and colds. So while the beverage may be available at dozens of coffee shops around the U.S., it definitely wasn't invented by the hipsters at your local roastery. But of course, even Starbucks has gotten in on the action at many of its locations in the U.K.

Here, it's available in bottled from companies like Pressed Juicery and Rebbl. And golden milk can be found at dozens of independent and mini chain coffee houses around the country.

But part of what makes the drink more accessible than some of its predecessors (like bone broth or matcha tea) is that you don't need any special tools like a matcha whisk, lots of patience or fancy milk frother. A pot, standard whisk and mug will do the trick — so a lot of Instagrammers are posting homemade versions of the drink.

Golden milk offers what many believe to be health benefits associated with turmeric. Those benefits supposedly include (but are not limited to) antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

"This bright yellow spice contains anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation and swelling and may even alleviate aches and pains associated with arthritis," TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer MS, RDN, tells TODAY Food. "In fact, some research suggests it could potentially work as well as ibuprofen."

Bauer says using a dash of black pepper and milk with some fat in the beverage can increase absorption of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. But other than that, Bauer says the sky is the limit when it comes to introducing other ingredients.

There have not yet been enough large scale human studies to make the widespread claim that those supposed health benefits work as well for humans as they do in lab rodents. However, as The New York Times reports, there have been clinical trials that found that curcumin "may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation in people with diabetes or pre-diabetes, though larger studies are needed."

Jai Lott, coffee director at New York City-based Bluestone Lane Coffee, started serving golden milk lattes in 2016. "Our Golden Latte comes in third [as the most-ordered drink] very regularly on a day to day [basis], especially with the younger demographic."

He chalks it up to people interested in the drink's potential health benefits who also want something warm, like coffee, to drink in the morning. Bluestone Lane's version is made with turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, black pepper, coconut sugar and almond milk. As with any wildly popular "health" drink, there are some unknowns.

Bauer tells TODAY Food that "turmeric may interact with other medications, so if you’re taking anything, chat with your doctor to make sure it’s okay with your current regimen." However, the nutritionist also said that "there’s typically a small amount of turmeric in a turmeric latte (otherwise, the taste would be too harsh to drink), so there’s no real limit on how much, how often."

So it's fine to imbibe multiple servings of golden milk as long as they don't contain too many added sugars or milk fat.

The hashtag #goldenlatte has over 16,000 tags on Instagram while #goldenmilk has tens of thousands more, making the drink a bonafide social media star.

When asked how many people take a snapshot of the drink before drinking it, Lott says, "It would be easier to calculate how many people actually don't photograph it."