The cocktail originated around bitters, but over the years we have gradually phased them out of our drinks. But thankfully, they are making a comeback, and for good reason too. Here are two reasons you should consider making your cocktails with bitters.
They taste great
A cocktail can taste great without bitters, but they will taste better with the addition. Bitters, even in very small amounts, add a complex flavor that is beautiful to the palate. They can be warm, astringent, spicy and bittersweet. Many consider them essential to certain cocktails such as an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or the Martini.
And, if you are making a “mocktail,” the secret ingredient is bitters! (There is a very small amount of alcohol in bitters – but there's more alcohol in vanilla extract than in the same amount of vodka). Bitters help transform a fruit- and tonic-based drink into a truly delightful mocktail. I have been experimenting with mocktails, and my husband told me that the last one I made tasted very similar to a normal cocktail!
Bitters could have some health benefits
While I hate to overstate the facts, I find it interesting that bitters were traditionally created for their health properties. While modern studies are scant on some of the traditional ingredients of bitters, there is a lot to encourage the idea that bitters could be beneficial to our health.
For example, dandelion is used in one of my favorite bitters, and it has long been thought to help cleanse the liver or to support healthy liver function. One animal study found that dandelion leaf water has a protective effect against liver damage. One has to wonder if bitters are then the perfect addition to cocktails since alcohol is known to be hard on the liver.
Dandelion root extract was also found in another study to kill off human, chemoresistent melanoma cells without toxicity to healthy cells.
Another traditionally used bitter, Nymphaea stellate, was found to have anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and liver-protective qualities, demonstrating that sometimes the traditional use of an herb is spot on.
My favorite brand so far
While I’ve tried different cocktails at restaurants using some of the more common brands of bitters on occasion, what I keep at home to use in cocktails or mocktails is Urban Moonshine’s handcrafted bitters. Because I have learned to genuinely enjoy the flavor of them, I even like them simply combined with sparkling water. Because some take this brand as a supplement, it is often found in health food stores (or high-end grocery stores) in the supplement section.
Related files on MNN: