What are Bitters?
The term bitters refers to alcohol-based extracts of the bark, leaves, roots, or flowers of bitter-tasting plants that have been used medicinally since ancient times for digestive ailments.
Traces of bitters have been found on pottery jars from an ancient tomb in Egypt, and the Romans have been known to have infused their wines with bitter herbs to try to boost good digestion and counteract the effects of overeating.
Globe artichoke- a distinctly bitter tasting plant
Bitters were historically popular in England, where they were used in a drink called Canary wine.
The practice of using herbal bitters caught on in the American colonies, as well, especially with the rise of the cocktail. Angostura bitters, which continue to be a key component of many cocktails today, were originally promoted as a stomach remedy in 19th century America.
Our original diets had bitter tastes in it, our carrots were bitter, we ate more bitter plants and it comprised a fairly decent portion of our food intake. But as the years went on, and with the industrialisation of sugar, this taste disappeared from our diet. Sugar/sweetness became celebrated and preferred, it was a signature of wealth and it also tasted pretty good, so we started to breed out the bitter tastes we had in our plants.
Fast forward to now and we have a modern diet that prefers; sugar, salt and fat. In fact there is a great book with the same title that talks about how Fast Food companies and food technologists worked out exact ‘bliss’ points of these three tastes that would encourage repeat consumption and addiction in some cases.
Certain cultures have always kept bitters in their diet, in particular say Italy with their campari or Amaro. Italians would ‘bookend’ a meal with a bitter aperitif and then finish the meal with a bitter digestif. This helped greatly with digestion and also helped with satiety and reducing overeating.
This is because bitters have a direct effect on how you digest your food and how your liver works. It even works on your hormones so can help with overeating and appetite control. Pretty amazing ah! Our next post will talk about how bitters work...