As winter draws closer, we all start to dream of open fires, cosy sweaters and warm, comforting drinks. Come in from the cold and warm your hands around these home-made, spice-infused fall drinks, or try venturing further afield with one of these tempting winter drinks from around the world. But for the ultimate winter warmer, our classic recipe for a simple, soothing hot toddy is a must.
A hot toddy is a mixture of hot water, honey, lemon, and a drop of alcohol, usually whiskey. Its exact origin is unknown. Some sources say it was developed in the British-occupied Indian subcontinent, and the word ‘toddy’ is taken from the Sri-Lankan English word for palm wine. Others say that it was first made in Scotland from Scotch whiskey and hot water, and is named after Edinburgh’s Todian Well, the source of the water. Yet another theory is that it was named after an Irish doctor called Robert Bentley Todd, who prescribed hot brandy, cinnamon and sugar water to his patients.
What we do know is that people have been drinking hot toddies in Britain since at least the eighteenth century. They have traditionally been used as a remedy for various ailments, coughs and colds in particular. These days they are still used to soothe and comfort people with flu-like symptoms, and also enjoyed as a delicious cocktail to keep you warm on a cold day.
Add the whiskey, 2 teaspoons of honey and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and stir until the honey has completely dissolved.
Taste, and add an extra teaspoon of honey if you want it sweeter, or an extra teaspoon of lemon juice for more sharpness.
Garnish with a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick.
Hot Toddy: Benefits for cough or cold
Unfortunately, the only real cure for the common cold is time, but can a warm glass of hot toddy help with your symptoms? Each of its ingredients is thought to have specific benefits, but some are more reliable than others.
Lemon is often included in cough and cold remedies because of its vitamin C content. Some studies show that regular consumption of vitamin C can reduce the symptoms and severity of a cold, and even prevent you from catching a cold in the first place. These results are not considered to be particularly reliable however, as similar experiments have shown no effect at all.
Honey is thought to be good for soothing sore throats, and is also said to have antibacterial qualities, making it useful for fighting infections. Unfortunately, honey only works as an antibacterial agent when applied directly to a wound, and does not have an effect when ingested. There is evidence to suggest that honey can soothe a sore throat, but the effect was stronger in small children, so a kids’ version of the hot toddy, minus the alcohol, could be what the doctor ordered for little ones.
Apart from making you forget your discomfort, there is actually some evidence that the alcohol in your hot toddy can help ease cold symptoms. Doctors say that alcohol dilates your blood vessels slightly, making it easier for your mucus membranes to deal with the infection. That said, alcohol is also a diuretic, and will rob your body of much-needed fluids, so more than the smallest nip of booze is likely to do more harm than good. It can also interfere with prescription medicines, so if you’re taking medication then alcohol is a big no-no.
In fact, it seems that the healthiest ingredient in the hot toddy is humble H2O. The heat from the hot water dilates your nasal passages, relieving nasal congestion, and drinking lots of fluids also helps to keep your body hydrated. So while hot toddies can help with cold and flu symptoms, it seems that any hot drink would do the job just as well. On the plus side, this means you can swap and change the ingredients in your hot toddy without losing any of its healing benefits.
If you’re looking for other household ingredients with health-giving qualities, you might be interested to know that scientists are investigating the possibility of chocolate cough medicine!
Hot Toddy: Recipe variations
Hot toddies are traditionally made using whiskey, but you can substitute your favourite dark spirit instead. Bourbon, brandy and dark or spiced rum all make a deliciously warm and soothing hot toddy. A hot toddy made with rum is sometimes referred to as ‘grog’.
For a vegan hot toddy, try swapping the honey for a different sweetener. You can use maple syrup, agave syrup, or a few spoonfuls of brown sugar.
Experimenting with spices is another way of adding depth and flavour to your hot toddy. Go for sweet spices with a touch of warmth, like cloves, star anise, nutmeg, and grated ginger.
If you find yourself falling in love with hot toddies and wishing you could enjoy them all year round, why not try a Cold Toddy when the warmer weather returns? Made with whiskey, bitters, Earl Grey tea, sweet oranges and zesty lemons, honey, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, this sweet, spicy drink is the perfect summertime version of the hot toddy.
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