Bitters are powerful little potions that go far beyond a bitter cocktail ingredient.

Chances are, you’ve likely tasted bitters in an Old-Fashioned, Champagne cocktail, or any craft cocktail of the week at your favorite trendy bar. But did you know that drinking bitters daily can be good for your overall health and digestion?

Bitters benefits

  • may curb sugar cravings
  • aids in digestion and detoxification
  • reduces inflammation

It works like this.

The human body contains tons of receptors for bitter compounds. These receptors are called bitter taste receptors (T2Rs), and they can be found in the mouth, tongue, gut, stomach, liver, and pancreas.

The stimulation of T2Rs increases digestive secretions, promoting a healthy digestive system that absorbs nutrients better and naturally detoxes the liver. Thanks to the gut-brain connection, bitters can have a positive effect on stress levels, too.

Bitters may also help curb sugar cravings, as found in one study conducted on flies. They also release hunger-controlling hormones peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which may help to suppress a person’s appetite. Meanwhile, some studies have also found they can help control overeating.

The gentian root in these bitters contains cancer-fighting compounds, while dandelion root is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation.

One way to use bitters is to take a few drops, up to 1 milliliter or 1 teaspoon, either straight as a tincture on your tongue or diluted into water and about 15 to 20 minutes before or after your meal.

Doses used traditionally and in research studies vary based on the specific bitter and the intended health outcome. That said, they can range from 18 milligrams of quinine to 2.23 grams daily for gentian root and up to 4.64 grams for dandelion root. Other bitter compounds may be recommended in doses of 5 grams multiple times per day.

Homemade bitters recipe

Star ingredient: bittering agents

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. (28 grams) dried gentian root
  • 1/2 oz. (14 grams) dried dandelion root
  • 1/2 oz. (14 grams) dried wormwood
  • 1 tsp. (0.5 gram) dried orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp. (0.5 gram) dried ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. (1 gram) fennel seed
  • 8 oz. alcohol (recommended: 100 proof vodka or SEEDLIP's Spice 94, a nonalcoholic option)

Directions

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a mason jar. Pour alcohol or other liquid on top.
  2. Seal tightly and store the bitters in a cool, dark place.
  3. Let the bitters infuse until the desired strength is reached, about two to four weeks. Shake the jars regularly, about once per day.
  4. When ready, strain the bitters through a muslin cheesecloth or coffee filter. Store the strained bitters in an airtight container at room temperature.
Potential side effects of bitters include interacting with certain medications (such as antibiotics, diabetes, and anticoagulants) and increased bile flow, which can be harmful to those with gallstones. Bitters should also be avoided by anyone who is pregnant, as it may cause miscarriage, premature labor, or harmful uterine contractions.

Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.