What makes the perfect drink? What's the best concoction for proper digestion? A little liquid ingredient called bitters is your ticket to the good life. What are they, though? What goes into them? What flavors are available? If you're new to bitters then you don't need to worry. We're here to break down all you need to know about this ingredient and why it's so important.

What Are Bitters?

tiki cocktail next to a bottle of bitters

Simply put, bitters are nothing more than a liquid ingredient mainly used in alcoholic drinks and for digestion. Less commonly, bitters are also used in different recipes like soups or salad dressings. They're often infused with a variety of ingredients like bark, flowering plants, orange peel, and roots. However, those flavorings are just the tip of the iceberg.

Since bitters come in many shapes and sizes, the tastes are bound to change from bottle to bottle. Bitters can range from being flat-out bitter or more on the bittersweet side.

Where Do They Come From?

Given that bitters can carry medicinal properties, they're traced all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, who are rumored to have used similar recipes for similar purposes. From there, it was moved into the Middle Ages and the early 19th-century where it picked up steam and carried over into the modern world.

Once the introduction of cocktails came into the world, bitters gained even more traction as a crucial ingredient needed to help with flavor, digestion, and a slew of other health benefits.

Digestive Bitters

Sometimes referred to as digestifs, these guys are typically ingested on their own or with ice to water it down slightly. It's important to note that while certain countries welcome straight bitters, many don't recommend the practice. Due to the taste and strength, ingesting them in smaller doses is often the sought after method of consumption.

Digestive bitters more popular in Europe and South America and typically consumed after a meal to help:

  • Better digest food
  • Lessen heartburn
  • Promote healthy livers
  • Lower nausea
  • Maintain healthy sugar levels
  • Promote healthy skin
  • Eases bowel movements
  • Balance overeating

This particular bitter is made with specific ingredients like orange, ginger, fennel, mint, and tarragon. The list doesn't stop there, though. Manufacturers and home brewers can cast a wide net of additional ingredients including various herbs and beans.

Popular Digestive Bitters

While there are dozens out on the market, some of the more popular digestive bitters include Amaro, Campari, Jagermeister, Urban Moonshine, and Unicum.

Cocktail Bitters

bartender adding bitter into a drink

Unlike digestive bitters, cocktail bitters are only added to drinks in small doses or even just drops. The good news here is that these bottles will last you a lifetime. While the digestive kinds are used for different purposes, cocktail bitters can offer an assortment of benefits too:

  • They're included in your standard cocktail and are mainly used to make each drink unique
  • They add something special to each beverage
  • Cocktail bitters, especially since they're added in such small doses, don't diminish the flavor of a drink. They bring out notes of other ingredients and make the entire experience better

The same as with digestive bitters, these liquids range from including herbs, citrus additions, chocolate, and coffee.

Popular Cocktail Bitters

Once more, there are many cocktail bitters to choose from, but the more popular ones on the market are Angostura, Fee Brothers, Bittercube, and Bitter End.

Recipes For Bitters

bottles of bitters lined up

Interested in making some of your own? Thanks to the versatility of bitters, you're encouraged to play around with the recipe and make it your own using spices and herbs that suit your tastes. Before we jump into the kinds you can make, here are some of the aromatic and bittering agents frequently used:

  • Allspice
  • Juniper berries
  • Toasted almonds
  • Pecans
  • Lavender
  • Lemongrass
  • Artichoke leaf
  • Coffee beans
  • Sarsaparilla
  • Licorice root

Orange Bitters Recipe

Orange peel will give you plenty of benefits on its own, let alone being accompanied by a great smell. You can switch up the rum you use for a sweeter taste, but normally you just need some lemons, an orange, cinnamon, lemongrass, white pepper, some coriander, and a few other ingredients to brew your own bitter at home.

Martinis and Manhattans are popular drinks calling for orange bitters.

Mole Bitters Recipe

a bowl of cacao nibs in a bowl and spilling onto a wooden table

As we said, chocolate can be used in a bitters recipe and honestly, who wouldn't want to make a bottle? By combining chocolate and some spicier seasoning you'll be able to create your own mole bitter at home to use in a variety of cocktails. Cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and agave are just some of the things you need to bring this concoction to your kitchen. Adjusting the recipe slightly will also allow you to make a plain ol' bitter using nothing but chocolate.

A New England Daiquiri and an Old Fashioned are two popular choices for a chocolate bitter.

Cherry Vanilla Bitters Recipe

Cherry and vanilla are two sweet flavors we just can't help but turn to. Bring these two together once more in a bitters recipe you can use for a collection of alcoholic beverages. Mix some dried cherries, vanilla beans, rye whiskey, and a few other things to get this bottle going.

You can use this guy when making a Manhattan or a Cherry Gin Fizz. The latter generally only uses cherry bitters, but there's no reason you can't experiment.

Grapefruit Bitters Recipe

a cocktail next to sliced grapefruit on a black surface

Even though herbs, bark, and spices are traditionally used, we noted how a huge net is cast when seeking out ingredients. Fruits can also be used and this recipe for a grapefruit bitter is going to prove it. With some simple grapefruit, granulated sugar, vodka, water, and a few other ingredients you'll be able to make yourself a sweet bitter you can return to over and over.

A Seabreeze, Old Fashioned, and New England Sour are all drinks you can add a grapefruit bitter to.

Where You Can Find Bitters

If, on the other hand, you're more interested in just grabbing some from the store then you can easily find them. Grocery stores will usually have them in stock and you'll always get your hands on a bottle from liquor stores.

If it's close to holiday time, though, your luck may run out. In that case, you can always go online to get your hands on some. You should be able to find cocktail and digestive bitters without any hassle.

Final Notes

a bartender adding a green bitter into a drink

Bitters are fantastic additions to an assortment of drinks at the bar. A few droplets are all you need to bring out the flavors of our favorite cocktails and add something unique to each beverage. They do, however, also contain health benefits such as bettering skin, helping digestion, and easing nausea. You can make your own at home using a huge list of ingredients or you can easily purchase them in stores. However you get your hands on them, bitters are a useful little liquid that we just can't get enough of.

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