A lot of people today know bitters as flavouring to cocktails. They come in a variety of flavours and are used only in very small quantities to give specific flavour to cocktails.
A lot of people today know bitters as flavouring to cocktails. They come in a variety of flavours and are used only in very small quantities to give specific flavour (fruits, herbs, spices) to cocktails. However, bitters are actually a much older concept and had started out as medicines in the 18th century and were used for the treatment of various conditions but especially digestive issues.
Now, after so many years, bitters are again gaining popularity as medicines. Bitters can also be used to flavour soups, salads and pies.
What are bitters?
Bitters are infusions made by extracting certain bitter components from various herbs by immersing the roots, stem, leaves, bark, seeds or any other part of a plant in alcohol.
According to the herb society of America, bitter herbs can be of four types:
Astringent bitters like Cinchona bark
Acrid bitters like ginger
Aromatic bitters like orange peels
Simple bitters like gentian root
Health benefits of bitters
Bitters can be effective in the management of digestive problems. When you consume a bitter, it stimulates the secretion of saliva in your mouth, gastric acids in your stomach and bile from your liver. This aids the breakdown of food into simpler molecules that are later converted into energy.
Proper bile secretion keeps the bile from being accumulated in the gallbladder and hence prevents the formation of gallstones.
Bitters also increase the peristaltic movement of the intestine, which helps move the food quickly through the digestive tract.
They promote the function of the pancreas, a small gland located in the abdomen which is responsible for producing insulin and controlling blood sugar levels. Studies suggest a spoonful of bitters can help curb sugar cravings by acting on the neurons that make us want to consume more sugar.
Additionally, bitters help maintain appetite but control overeating as they act on the gut-brain pathway.
Finally, bitters help release toxins from the body as they improve liver function.
How to make your own bitters
Yes, you can make your bitters at home, though it is recommended that you talk to a doctor if you are planning on using them for a health issue. A lot of herbs cross-react with each other and with medicines (in case you are taking any).
Here is a simple way to make a bitter out of dried plant material or one with not much water in it:
Take a glass jar.
Fill half or 3/4th of it with leaves or ¼ or ⅓ if it is a root.
Now, top up the jar with an 80-90 proof (meaning 40-45% alcohol) vodka or any alcohol. Vodka is preferred as it does not affect the taste of the herb itself and it is colourless.
Seal the jar tight and keep it in a cool and dark place. Make sure that the jar is completely filled with alcohol and there is no space for air
Keep shaking the jar in between for about a week. If you notice the alcohol level dropping (which it may due to evaporation), add a bit more alcohol to ensure the jar is filled to the top.
The bitter would likely be ready within 10 days. However, dried fruits usually take 14-21 days.
Bitters are used in minute quantities, just a dash in drinks or a few drops as medicine as per the recommendation of an expert (a doctor or a herbalist).