Bitters: The Healthy Boost of Flavor Your Cocktails Are Missing

It’s no secret that bitters are a having a moment in trendy bars. What you might not know? Behind the cool factor, these cocktail ingredients actually have big benefits, especially when it comes to your digestive health.Bitters are complex blends of roots, flowers, seeds or barks that are infused in alcohol, yielding a concentrated, bittersweet liquid that can bring a ho-hum drink to life with just a few drops. “Bitters can tamp down sweetness or add aroma or bring disparate flavors together,” says Brad Thomas Parsons, author of “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All.”Usually, a bitters’ flavor profile determines which cocktails it pairs best with. The Christmas-like aroma of Angostura bitters feels at home in whiskey- and bourbon-based drinks like Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, while citrusy orange bitters complement martinis. And those are just the beginning: You can find flavors like cardamom, hopped grapefruit and even chocolate-y Mexican mole from craft bitters producers.But bitters do more than just transform your average cocktail. For centuries, bitter flavors—in the form of alcoholic tonics or bitter-tasting foods like wild greens or unripe fruits—have long been associated with healthy digestion, thanks to their ability to stimulate the production of gastric acid, bile and enzymes in the stomach, liver and pancreas. Research suggests bitter compounds may also help you stay fuller longer and even help the body absorb nutrients from complex carbs, fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins. “When you have healthy digestive function you feel properly nourished, satisfied and calm, and it has a positive impact on the whole body,” says Jovial King, founder of the Vermont-based organic bitters and herbal tonics brand Urban Moonshine.What’s more, the benefits of bitters may go beyond your belly. One small study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences found that bitter orange extract boosted metabolism and resulted in modest weight loss in overweight and obese participants. Bitters might help you breathe easier, too: When sensed by bitter taste receptors in the throat, bitter substances appear to work better than common asthma treatments like bronchodilators at expanding tightened airways, reported a 2013 study published in the journal PLoS One. The findings could even spur research aimed at developing more effective asthma treatments.Still, they’re not a cure-all. “I wouldn’t necessarily prescribe taking bitters instead of Advil,” Parsons says. “But I do swear by bitters and [club] soda after a rich meal, and I definitely feel better.”Keep it simple by following Parsons lead, and add a few drops of any bitters that sound delicious to you to a glass of seltzer—Brooklyn Hemispherical Bitters Meyer Lemon sounds amazing to us for summer—and sip after a meal.Want more inspiration? Try these healthy—and seriously inventive—cocktail recipes from Urban Moonshine. Bottoms up!

 

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