Commonly used in Eastern and Asian cuisine, turmeric has increasingly been the star of craft-cocktail programs as bartenders are charmed by its brilliant daffodil-yellow hue and earthy flavor.
For Extra Virgin bar manager Berto Santoro, turmeric is attractive partly for its vibrant color. “There's something about the color that makes you feel like you're drinking a really different, unique cocktail,” Santoro says. “It's kind of an experience, and I love that.” He's also interested in the spice's holistic uses; turmeric root has also long been considering a healing ingredient in India and other Southeast Asian countries thanks to its main active ingredient, curcumin. In Santoro’s It’s Not A Tumor-ic, he shakes up a combination of Del Maguey Vida mezcal, turmeric, grapefruit and a pear-white peppercorn shrub.
Extra Virgin, 1900 Main St., Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.842.2202, extravirginkc.com
At V. Picasso in downtown Champaign, Illinois, bar manager Jake Wallace uses turmeric in a play on the classic Bee’s Knees, which traditionally features gin and honey. The V’s Knees includes a ginger-turmeric simple syrup, gin and fresh lemon juice. “Honey mixes really well with turmeric,” he says. “The taste of turmeric is a little bitter – almost harsh – so the bittersweet combination with honey really sets it off on the palate. It covers the full range of the tongue; I end up using the turmeric-honey combination a lot.” Wallace has long been a proponent of adding spices to cocktails for extra complexity. “I think they add another dimension of flavor,” he says. “They taste really good, and I like to use as many spices as possible on my menu.”
V. Picasso, 122 N. Neil St., Champaign, Illinois, 217.351.9463, vpicasso.com
“I’ve used turmeric in cocktails for a couple years now,” says Tim Wiggins, bar manager at Retreat Gastropub in St. Louis. “After reading Liquid Intelligence, I started infusing gin with fresh turmeric to make earthy yellow Gimlets. For cocktails, the function of the turmeric is both flavor and color – but mostly color. The flavor is mild, but it provides a savory earthiness that works well with gin, coconut, fresh lemon and orange liqueur.” These are the ingredients in Wiggins’ Golden State cocktail, a drink he designed to mimic the flavors and color of coconut curry soup. Turmeric adds a glowing yellow color which pairs well with his opaque coconut syrup, and it also provides a slightly spicy flavor. “I think the use of turmeric is a rising trend mainly because of its amazing color,” Wiggins says. “If you want to create a great cocktail, it has to look as good as it tastes, and turmeric is the perfect ingredient for that. Using root vegetables and savory elements is a great way to show another level of presentation, complexity and flavor that bartenders are falling in love with.”
Retreat Gastropub, 6 N. Sarah St., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.261.4497, retreatgastropub.com