Bitters are our new favourite thing. Why? Bitters not only have a unique and oddly addictive taste, but they also offer supportive properties for our health and wellbeing and can aid digestion. Bitters add a refreshing twist to sparkling water or pop a little in your cocktail to give it a healthy boost. Cheers to good health!
First things first: what are bitters?
The term ‘bitters’ refers to alcohol-based extracts of the bark, leaves, roots, or flowers of bitter-tasting plants. Used traditionally for thousands of years for digestive relief, 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 for boost good digestion and to counteract the effects of overeating.
Bitter is a flavour profile – there are some basic flavours – sweet, salty, sour, pungent and bitter. These foods often feel quite astringent in the mouth.
Sweeter times and bitter memories
Did you know that back in the day, before we had stoves, we actually ate more bitter things? Our carrots were bitter, and we ate more bitter plants. But with modern life, we started to celebrate sweetness and convenience…enter, sugar. Over time, we began to consume more and more sugar, and even started to breed the bitter out of our plants. Often the food industry actively removes bitter compounds from foods making us less familiar with the flavour and how we might appreciate its inclusion to our palette.
However, some cultures have still kept and celebrated bitter and we are so grateful for that! In particular you may be familiar with Italian alcoholic bitters like Campari and Amaro. In fact, cocktail culture celebrated bitters and started a resurgence in the term and use of bitters. Apart from making a tasty cocktail, bitters like Campari often are consumed pre-meals to help support digestion. Tasty and functional!
Forgotten benefits of bitters
It’s thought that plants have produced bitter toxins as an evolutionary survival tactic, to stop them being eaten by herbivores. This is also why humans have an in-built avoidance of bitter flavours, and why many people don’t like the taste of vegetables. Interestingly research has shown that if people understand that mild bitters are good for them, they eat more of them which can make us question how instinctual our avoidance actually is. Many mildly bitter plants are bitter because of the antioxidant compounds that have multiple health benefits.
It won’t be surprising to hear of some of the foods that are commonly thought of as having bitter flavour are the Brassica family of vegetables (broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, kale, kohl rabi, turnips), black tea, Extra virgin Olive oil, soy, dark chocolate or cocoa, coffee, grapefruit, hops, green tea, red wine, and whole wheat bread.
The antioxidant compounds that have a bitter flavour include phenols, glucosinolates, flavonoids, isoflavones, and terpenes. As well as supporting healthy digestive secretions, these antioxidant substances have been studied for the support they offer the immune system, from supporting the normal turnover of cells and the normal cell life cycle, to supporting an optimal aging process.
So why would you have bitters?
Bitters can help support your digestive and elimination systems. Digestion is a huge area of concern for so many of us, due to modern diets, lifestyles and also stress, so support is something most of us need.
The variety of bitter substances can impact our digestive tract in different ways. Some herbs can tone and support the integrity of the lining of our digestive tract. Many of our secretions come from the cells in the lining of our digestive tract, so maintaining health of the tissue is important. It’s also thought that bitters support our digestion by supporting the circulation of blood within digestive organs.
Did you know that we have 40-80 types of bitter taste receptors and we have these receptors all through our body! So, once we taste something bitter, our bitter taste receptors help to signal our digestive system to prepare for food. This usually involves increasing the secretion of digestive juices, enzymes and bile to help break everything down more efficiently. This can also be useful if you’ve overeaten and you’re feeling a bit “blarp”. So, if you feel if your digestive system needs a bit of support, bitters might be for you.
So how do you take them?
As well as increasing mild bitter foods in the diet, we’ve made it easy for you with Wild Dispensary. Wild Dispensary Liver Bitters come in a handy dropper bottle can be taken 15 minutes before your bigger meals. They are also very helpful after meals to help with that 'overindulged feeling'. Formulated with Globe Artichoke, Orange Peel, Calendula, Cardamom and Manuka, each plant works together beautifully to support healthy digestion.
Two other easy ways to use Wild Dispensary Bitters:
- Add 1/2 a dropper in a large glass of sparkling water for a refreshing drink
- Add to your favourite cocktail drink
Bitter Herbs Support the liver
- Globe Artichoke Leaf has been researched and shown to support the health and function of liver cells. If you need extra support during more social (and alcohol containing) events, Globe artichoke is a favoured herb by naturopaths and herbalists for the way it supports the liver to naturally eliminate waste and support the immune system and cells of the liver.
- Orange Peel is rich in antioxidants, and you guessed it, bitter flavour. Peel from citrus plants has been shown to support the health of liver cells, supporting healthy cholesterol and metabolic rate.
- Cardamom a spice used traditionally to support the tummy by helping the optimal secretion of digestive juices.
- Manuka, loved NZ tree known for its unique health-giving properties. Manuka extract has been used for digestion and supporting comfort within the bowel.
- Calendula the bright sunny flower supports immunity within the liver, has a bitter taste profile and supports the health of the liver cells as well as being an antioxidant.
And though an Italian inspired Aperitivo might be a fun way to while away an afternoon every now and then, you can also healthily incorporate bitters into your everyday. Bitters have strong historical and traditional use for supporting the body. We want to support the body to do what it does naturally, and we believe plants are the best medium for that.
Best of Natural Winner
Wild Dispensary Liver Bitters won the Best of Natural Awards for the Best Digestion category. Judges loved the thoughtful formulation of the herbs which made a delicious bitter tasting product that not only supports the liver and digestion very well, but is easy to take. The traditional approach that Wild Dispensary are taking as well as their love of using local wild crafted herbs is inspiring.
Always read the label and take as directed. Supplementary to a balanced diet. Wild Dispensary, Dunedin.