What Are Bitters?

Have you ever gone to a bar and seen bottles of mysterious brown liquids with labels that say “bitters”? If so, you may have wondered what they are and why they’re used.

What Are Bitters

Bitters are an interesting yet important part of the cocktail-making process, and understanding their purpose is key to crafting a delicious drink. Let’s take a closer look at what bitters are and how they can be used in drinks.

Definition Of Bitters

Bitters are an alcoholic beverage made with a combination of herbs, spices, and roots.

They typically have a bitter taste and strong aroma. Bitters are used in many cocktails to add complexity and balance the sweetness of other ingredients.

They can also be used as a digestive aid before or after meals.

Bitters are usually made with a base of alcohol such as vodka, gin, or brandy. The herbs and spices are then added to give the bitters their flavor profile.

Common ingredients include gentian root, angelica root, cardamom pods, orange peel, cinnamon sticks, star anise, licorice root, cloves, and nutmeg. Each type of bitters has its own unique blend of flavors that can range from sweet to spicy to herbal to smoky.

Bitters have been around since ancient times, but they’ve gained popularity in recent years due to the craft cocktail movement. Many bartenders now use bitters in their creations for added depth and complexity of flavor. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to using bitters in cocktails, experimenting with different varieties can lead to some interesting flavor combinations that you may not have experienced before.

Types Of Bitters

Bitters are highly concentrate and there are a variety of different types of bitters available, such as: 

  • Aromatic Bitters:
  • Angostura
  • Peychaud’s
  • Citrus Bitters:
  • Orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Herbal or Spice Bitters:
  • Celery Seed
  • Cardamom

Aromatic bitters have a strong aromatic flavor derived from herbs such as gentian, cardamom, and clove. 

Citrus bitters provide a bright citrus flavor that works well in both sweet and savory applications. 

Herbal or spice bitters can offer complex herbal and spicy notes that work well in classic cocktails like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned.

No matter what type of bitter you choose, they all provide an additional layer of depth and complexity to your drinks. With the right combination of ingredients, bitters can help elevate any cocktail recipe to the next level.

Benefits Of Bitters

Bitters could also be described as a type of herbal infusion, and interestingly they have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. They’re made by steeping herbs, fruits, and spices in either alcohol or glycerin. 

One of the biggest benefits of bitters is how it helps with digestion. It can help food move through the digestive system more quickly and efficiently.

This can help with issues like bloating, constipation, and indigestion. Bitters also stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, helping to break down food more effectively.

Another benefit of bitters is their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. The active compounds found in bitters have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling and pain associated with inflammation.

Additionally, they can help strengthen your immune system so that you’re better equipped to fight off illnesses.

Bitters can be taken as drops or added to food and drinks for added flavor and potential health benefits. Taking small amounts regularly may help improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and strengthen your immune system over time.

How To Use Bitters

What Are Bitters

Bitters are a powerful and concentrated flavor enhancer, so a little goes a long way.

Here are some ways to enjoy bitters:

  1. Add several drops of bitters to your favorite cocktail for an extra depth of flavor.
  2. Use bitters in place of sugar or lemon juice when making homemade lemonade or iced tea for a herbal kick!
  3. Sprinkle some onto your favorite dishes such as salads, grilled meats, and even desserts!
  4. Create a cocktail with soda water and a few dashes of bitters for a refreshing and flavorful beverage.

Bitters can be added to any recipe that could benefit from an extra complexity or zing in its flavor profile. Enjoy experimenting with different flavors of bitters to find the combination that best suits your taste buds!

Recipes With Bitters

Manhattan Cocktail 

One popular recipe that calls for bitters is the classic Manhattan cocktail. This drink combines rye whiskey or bourbon with sweet vermouth and two dashes of Angostura bitters.

The result is a medium-bodied cocktail with complex flavors of citrus, spice, and herbal notes.

Ramos Gin Fizz

Another great recipe that uses bitters is the Ramos Gin Fizz. It includes gin, fresh lemon juice, lime juice, egg white, sugar syrup and orange flower water topped off with a few dashes of orange bitters.

The result is a creamy yet light drink that packs a punch with its bold citrus flavor.

Common Ingredients In Bitters

Having discussed recipes with bitters, let’s now delve into the common ingredients in bitters. As we know, bitters are an infusion of herbs, spices, fruits and other botanicals that have been steeped in alcohol or water for a period of time.

Common ingredients used in bitters include:

  1. Gentian root
  2. Wormwood
  3. Cardamom
  4. Fennel seed

Gentian root is a bitter-tasting perennial herb native to Europe and Asia. It has been used medicinally for hundreds of years to help treat digestive issues such as nausea and stomach pain. 

Wormwood is an aromatic plant whose leaves and flowers are often used in the making of absinthe liquor and herbal teas. It has an intensely bitter flavor that can be used to balance out sweeter flavors in cocktails or food dishes. 

Cardamom is a pungent spice made from the pods of certain species of plants in the ginger family. It has a sweet, spicy flavor that pairs nicely with coffee, tea and baked goods like cookies or cakes. 

Finally, fennel seed is the dried fruit of a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean region which has both sweet and savory applications such as Italian sausage or chai tea lattes.


In conclusion, bitters are one of the oldest and most versatile ingredients in the world of cocktails. They add depth and complexity to drinks while providing flavor and balance.

Bitters have a long history, dating back centuries. With so many options available, you can easily find the perfect bitters for your drink.

Mark Williams
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