A hot toddy is a hot, sweet, and spicy alcoholic drink often consumed for its supposed medicinal benefits. It’s served hot with honey/sugar and spices and can be made with or without tea. It is a drink consumed in many countries and one that takes on many forms using different spirits, sweeteners, and spices.
But what are the best hot toddy recipes? What is the origin of this drink? And can it really help you beat a cold?
What is a Hot Toddy?
Hot water and honey are two of the main ingredients and are rarely substituted. Whisky is often used, but it’s not uncommon for a hot toddy to be made with dark rum, bourbon, or brandy.
In the United States, bourbon and brandy are nearly always used in place of whisky, but you’ll have to look long and hard to find an Irish or Scottish recipe that doesn’t use whisky.
The Origin of the Drink
The hot toddy is often thought to be a Scottish invention. It certainly sounds Scottish, and the use of whisky—as well as its reputation as a drink to be consumed during long, cold nights—perpetuates this. But there are a number of theories regarding the origins of the hot toddy.
One of these suggests that it came from a Hindi word used to describe a type of fermented sap before being adopted by the British sometime in the 17th or 18th century. Another credits its creation to Robert Bentley Todd, an Irishman best known for his work on a condition now called Toddy’s Palsy.
Another theory connects it to Scotland, suggesting that the water first used to make these drinks came from Todd’s Well. The real history is still up for debate and probably always will be, but it could be any of these, none of these, or a combination of all of them.
Hot Toddy for Coughs and Colds
This decadent, soothing drink is often consumed for its apparent medicinal benefits, and there are those who swear by its ability to soothe coughs, colds, and pretty much every other ailment. These claims are made about a lot of everyday food and drink, from chicken soup to ginger ale, and there is usually some truth to them.
They’re certainly not going to replace antibiotics or be offered on prescription, but these beliefs may have some substance to them:
- Honey: This natural sweetener contains an abundance of antioxidants, as well as trace amounts of many vitamins and minerals. Honey is antibacterial and has potent anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also instantly soothing on the throat and could be just the ticket if you’ve been coughing all day or are suffering from a sore throat.
- Tea: The United Kingdom’s favourite hot drink is loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that can help perk you up when you’re feeling rundown. Most teas offer these health benefits, and they are at their strongest in herbal teas like sideritis, but the added caffeine provided by black tea may be better suited. It’s enough to lift some of the fatigue and sluggishness without triggering the negative effects associated with high doses of caffeine.
- Spices: Many spices contain small amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, but they also provide an instantly soothing warmth. This won’t help beat the bug, but it may go some way to alleviating the discomfort momentarily.
- Lemon: A squirt of this citrus fruit is often added for flavour and vitamin C. It certainly sounds like it would provide some additional health benefits, but contrary to what supplement companies would have you believe, vitamin C is not a magical cure for colds and flu. Even if it was, a squirt of lemon juice in a cup of tea wouldn’t be enough.
- Alcohol: The “unhealthiest” part of the drink may actually be the thing that provides you with the most benefits. A little alcohol when you’re suffering from a cold can help relax you and send you to sleep. However, anything more than a “little” when you’re ill may leave you disorientated, groggy, nauseous, and dehydrated, so make sure you take it easy.
How to Make a Hot Toddy
A hot toddy can be made in several ways, and you can have a lot of fun experimenting with it. You can substitute any ingredients that you don’t have, swapping honey for sugar or maple syrup; dark spirits for vodka; black tea for herbal tea.
We can’t promise that it would taste the same, or even that it would be palatable, but if the alcohol is there and is backed up by the warmth of the spices then it should be somewhat beneficial.
Here’s a quick hot toddy recipe to get you started.
- 1 cup hot tea
- 1 shot whisky
- 1 tablespoon raw honey (the darker the better, as it adds a richer flavour and a higher nutrient content)
- 1 slice lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
The first step is to make your tea. Make it strong (but not over-steeped) and leave out the sugar and the milk. If you simply add loose tea to the pan and boil it with the other ingredients then you run the risk of over-steeping, so it’s always best to make a cup beforehand and then add it to a saucepan.
Put the pan on a medium heat, add the other ingredients, and then let it simmer gently for 5 minutes. When it’s done just strain, serve, and enjoy!
Feel free to experiment, especially with the spices. Ginger is rarely added to hot toddies, but if you’re feeling a little nauseous it can be a very effective treatment, while the addition of super-spice turmeric can help with a host of other issues.
If you want an even quicker and easier recipe, just brew a strong cup of chai tea using a readymade loose-leaf mix or teabag, add a squirt of lemon juice, a generous serving of honey, and a shot of whisky. That’s it! According to grandmothers the world over, you’ve just created the ultimate cure-all. According to everyone else, you’ve just created an alcoholic cup of tea that tastes great and might make you feel a little better, albeit temporarily.