Count me among the estimated 3 to 5 million Americans who use kratom, an herbal supplement trusted for everything from pain management to reducing opioid dependence. For centuries, kratom has been a part of life in Southeast Asia, where it’s primarily grown. In the U.S., the plant is newer but no less beloved by its devotees. When the DEA made moves to classify it as a Schedule I substance in 2016, the public outcry was such that kratom remains unscheduled, though it’s now illegal in some states.
The plant’s struggle to remain legal here is for numerous reasons, the big one rumored to be the pharmaceutical industry’s inability to patent and profit from it. Officially, though, the FDA believes that “no reliable evidence” exists pointing to kratom’s efficacy as a treatment for opioid dependence, per a 2017 public health advisory. Other arguments against kratom involve the total lack of regulation in Western markets: Retailers could really be selling consumers anything, of any quality.
But neither the FDA nor the DEA has ever released any official statement pertaining to what I see as kratom’s primary drawback: its taste. Kratom is available in several forms; the online merchant where I buy mine offers everything from capsules to powder to tinctures. I’ve never bothered with capsules, which need to be taken in great quantities to achieve any effect, and the tinctures are too expensive. That leaves me and most of the people I know who consume kratom with the powder, which can be mixed into beverages or “toss-and-washed” (i.e., knocking back a serving of powder followed immediately by a liquid chaser, and swishing the two together in your mouth before swallowing).
I intend no disrespect to either the farmers who work so hard to grow kratom or the good people of Thailand and Malaysia who have consumed it for centuries without complaint. That said, this stuff is hard on the average American palate, which was more designed to accommodate playful, delicate flavors like buffalo chicken dip. My little cousin calls kratom “Rax’s Nasty Drink,” based on the expression on my face every time I sip it. A pinch of unadulterated powder tastes of unbrewed tea leaves and sticks to the tongue on the way down. The obvious move, then, is to mix it with a liquid. But what liquid makes for the most palatable kratom concoction?
Allow me to be your guide.
The primary issue with kratom’s palatability is the fact that it’s stubborn and prefers not to dissolve in liquid. Instead, it clumps up. Savvy consumers know that the best move is to mix it with a strong-tasting liquid that will convince your mouth it isn’t gobbling up globs of wet lawn. As such, mixing it with water — plain old ordinary water! — never occurred to me. If the powder already tastes like grass clippings, what benefit could there be in muddying those grass clippings with New York City tap water?
Then I started seeing someone who takes his kratom with water, and oxytocin made me stupid. I believed that the practice must have something to recommend if a man I liked was doing it. Over the years, this is the sort of thinking that has driven me to give unwarranted second chances to everything from Cutco knives to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Well, after incorporating this simple little cocktail into today’s taste tests, I’m walking away feeling totally confident that I was right all along. Why go the grass-clippings route when you don’t have to?
Final Verdict: 5/10
One popular way around kratom’s texture is to brew the powder with hot water like it’s a tea. The major upside to this procedure is that it’s the only way I know to force this stuff to dissolve. Kratom clumps probably don’t sound like a huge deal, but trust me: The first time you get a marble-sized lump of kratom wedged in your esophagus, you immediately sell your soul to the devil to ensure that such a thing never, ever happens again.
My hot water kratom was a pleasant surprise. It was neither lumpy nor grainy, and went down pretty smoothly. The taste was reminiscent of overbrewed green tea; kratom has some of the same earthiness of matcha powder, though I’d never forgive the baker who tried to make, say, a mille crepe cake with kratom. Sipping my hot kratom water, I could imagine dolloping in a little honey on a winter evening and sitting with the drink by a fireplace, which I think is the highest praise available to any hot drink anywhere.
My only qualm with this mixture is, well, I don’t love hot drinks in general, and I already drink hot coffee in the mornings. My usual morning beverage lineup is a mug of coffee (hot), a bottle of kratom drink (cold) and a bottle of water (room temperature, which I sip it all day). I find that this mix of temperatures and textures is critical to my happiness. If I add a second hot beverage to the mix, who knows what could happen to us as a society?
Final Verdict: 7/10
This is my go-to kratom mixer, my OG, my alpha and omega, partly because it’s available literally everywhere and partly because the strong citrus flavor masks the bitter taste of the powder. For whatever reason, orange juice is also the most helpful cold liquid I’ve found for the impossible task of making the kratom powder dissolve just a little. It’s imperfect, but after a few good stirs, I find that I rarely stumble onto lumps.
It held up beautifully in today’s testing, too. Tartness does seem to be the answer to that bitter kratom taste, if it’s a taste that you struggle with as much as I do. My advice for the novice kratom user is to bury this powder in as mouth-puckeringly sour a liquid as you can stand. You won’t do your tooth enamel any favors, but tooth enamel is a small price to pay for happiness, no?
Final Verdict: 8/10
My suspicion was that the fat in the milk would have some beneficent effect on both the taste and the clumpiness. My suspicion was borne out. (I’ll take that James Beard Award anytime, ladies and gentlemen of the awards jury.) I wanted to try this with a glass of white milk, but chickened out at the grocery store, because I remembered that white milk is horrible. Anyway, I don’t think it would have worked as well.
Something about the chocolate milk’s richness made it kratom-friendly, at least in terms of taste. The clumpiness was worse than ever, but because the chocolate milk was sweet enough to mellow the kratom’s taste so much, I wasn’t as troubled by the texture as I normally am. Still, who wants to ruin a nice glass of chocolate milk this way? I have three-quarters of the bottle left, and I’m not wasting it on further kratom shenanigans. Chocolate milk is too innocent, too good for this life.
Final Verdict: 6/10
My ex who introduced me to kratom recommended this, swearing up and down that I’d be pleasantly surprised. This felt unlikely; I don’t like Clamato and struggle to imagine a scenario in which its presence in my life would constitute a pleasant, rather than unpleasant, surprise. But he never steered me wrong when it came to matters of kratom in the past, so I decided to trust him one more time.
And… holy shit! You can’t taste the kratom at all in this stuff! He was right about that, and right to call it a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, though, you very much can taste the Clamato.
Final Verdict: 5/10
I had a bottle of this in my fridge anyway, because I’m a cool gamer. I figured there’d be no harm in making a little kratom cocktail with it. I really would have preferred the Baja Blast variety, but beggars who don’t live within walking distance of a Taco Bell can’t be choosers.
Now, looking into all these glasses, I didn’t like what I saw, all these variants on greenish-brown sludge. But looking into this glass in particular, I really didn’t like what I saw:
Doesn’t that look foul? Doesn’t that look like something you’d find in the cauldron of a not-very-hygienic witch? I take kratom every day now, and have long gotten used to the way it looks, to the point that it always surprises me when other people are grossed out by the contents of my kratom bottle. But this concoction was a reminder of the way I felt the first time I ever stared down the barrel of a kratom cocktail, wondering what herbal supplement could be so miraculous that it was worth the way it looked and tasted.
Drinking it wasn’t so bad. But it wasn’t good, either. The Mountain Dew is so sugary that it masks the bitter kratom taste handily, but you have to really, really like Mountain Dew in order to get any benefit from that. I don’t really, really like Mountain Dew and found the combination nauseating.
I’ll say this for it, though: Despite that eerie, bubbly texture, I didn’t run into any undissolved kratom clumps.
Final Verdict: 5/10
Picklebacks were my getting-irresponsibly-hammered drink of choice in the days when I got irresponsibly hammered at happy little dive bars, rather than here in the quarantine cave where I go to have depression. For the uninitiated, a pickleback is a shot of whiskey followed immediately by a shot of pickle juice. The pickle juice’s high acidity instantly neutralizes the burn of the whiskey, making it much easier to drink a lot of whiskey faster, if that’s your thing. (It’s very much my thing.)
I’ve never been one for the toss-and-wash method of using kratom. I always get stuck on the “toss” step, when you load a scoop of kratom powder directly into your mouth. Every time I’ve accidentally swallowed a nub of undissolved kratom powder, it’s stuck to the entire inside of my mouth and made me cough. So I didn’t relish the idea of doing this on purpose.
And it’s true, that first step is a rough one. As I knocked back my kratom serving and hunted around for my pickle juice chaser, I felt as if I was drowning in sand. The powder immediately coated the roof and sides of my mouth all the way back to my throat. But the pickle juice redeemed the experience as soon as I drank it, just like it does with the harshest well whiskey. It neutralized the bitter taste of the kratom and took even the most stubborn clumps with it when I swallowed.
The toss-and-wash pickleback was the dark horse winner of the day. It allowed me to consume my daily portion of kratom in seconds, when it usually takes me about an hour of sipping on my orange juice concoction. I’ll be doing this again for sure.
Final Verdict: 9/10
Before I Take a Powder…
I swear by kratom and have done so for years, ever since Clamato Boyfriend bought me my first bag of maeng da from an online retailer whose website ended in .biz. I have Crohn’s disease, which manifests in many ways, not least of which is the occasional months-long stretch of chronic and abject pain. Kratom’s analgesic effects have allowed me to take vast swaths of my life back. For me, it’s like a subtler version of being on opiates: The pain exists, but it’s dull and ignorable. I suppose kratom could be pried out of my cold dead hands, but grave-robbing notwithstanding, I don’t foresee myself ever giving it up.
And yet, even through my gratitude, I can’t help but be aware that kratom is quite literally hard to swallow. I don’t see myself as a particularly picky eater, but it seems I draw the line at a powder that tastes like the son green tea had with potting soil. So I’m pleased to learn all these options I have for hiding the taste of this supplement I depend on, and pleased to share those options with you all in turn.
The next time you find yourself coughing up a green ball of partially dissolved powder in a public place with your mouth full of pickle juice, no need to thank me — just pay it forward.