Turmeric has been one of the top-trending culinary ingredients in recent years — from its color-and flavor-enhancement in golden milk lattes to holistic usages and the plant’s health benefits. It hasn’t, however, been seen much in the distilling world, and Seattle-area mixologist and sommelier Chet Holstein saw a niche.

“One morning in July 2015, after a night of indulging, I awoke to find an email from myself,” Holstein recalls. “There was no body, only a subject line: ‘turmeric liqueur?’ Perhaps not surprisingly, I had everything I needed to whip up a batch already in my home and two weeks later, Kuma Turmeric Liqueur was born.”

Kuma — a neologism from the Latin word for turmeric, curcuma — is a liqueur made with raw turmeric root, offering the spicy, earthy flavors the root is known for in a distilled form.

“While we began playing with turmeric for the health benefits, I made Kuma as a highly versatile ingredient for creating new cocktails and revitalizing classics,” Holstein says. “Kuma is all about diversifying options and really bringing that new surprise to the palate.”

Outside of cocktails, Kuma also plays nice in culinary recipes. In a basic, homemade BBQ sauce, the liqueur’s founder says Kuma is allowed to show its power to combine flavors, taming bolder tones while lifting up the more subtler notes.

“Generally speaking, BBQ sauce and some marinades carry a gentle sweetness and spice-orientation that truly complement meats and vegetables when grilling or roasting,” Holstein adds. “In this recipe Kuma brings that exceptional ‘taste intrigue’ that it’s so useful for, adding mysterious complexity and viscosity to your dish.”

One of his favorite Kuma cocktails to pair with the sauce on roasted red meats and vegetables is simple: whiskey and Kuma, two to one, over ice with a squeeze of orange. “The full flavors of the sauce and dish are matched well by the drink,” the bar pro says. “Without a lot of mixer, the cocktail is comfortable and relaxing.”


Yields about 2 cups

½ cup minced sweet onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 cup honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup Kuma liqueur
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup yellow mustard
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon granulated garlic

In a pan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the honey and brown sugar, allowing the mixture to melt into the onions and bubble for 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to scorch the mixture.

Turn off the heat and add the liqueur, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, yellow mustard, apple cider vinegar, tomato paste and granulated garlic. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring continuously. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

Slather on your protein of choice — Holstein recommends on roasted pork or grilled beef, layering on throughout the entire cooking process.