Kombucha has been consumed for over 2,000 years but has grown in popularity over the last decade not only for its great effervescent and tangy taste but also for its numerous health benefits. However, kombucha has also been enjoyed for its unique taste and enthusiasts have found new creative ways of flavouring kombucha.
Flavouring Kombucha with Bitters
Recently, bitters have been mixed with kombucha to create a supercharged concoction that packs great flavor and even better health benefits.
Bitters have traditionally been used in preparation of alcoholic drinks (primarily cocktails), soda water and food recipes to enhance and add flavour. These flavours include bitter, sour, and bittersweet. We are making our case to flavouring kombucha with bitters as you would with the traditional uses above.
But first, a history lesson. As we dig deeper into the origins of bitters, we discover that flavouring was only part of the reason they were created.
A Brief History of Bitters
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of bitters, some suspect that the ancient Egyptians used herbs to infuse wine for their medicinal properties. The use of herbal bitters and tonics evolved throughout the Middle Ages as pharmacognosy (the study of medicinal drugs procured from plants and other natural resources) began to grow.
The progression of technology and readily available distilled alcohol allowed for higher level concentrations of the medicinal properties of the herbal/natural additives. It was found that the bitterness of these concoctions helped stimulate the body to produce stomach acids which aided digestion. With the added benefits of the herbs and spices, bitters became known as a "cure-all" and was sold as an elixir for general health.
During the 19th century, Canary wine , which originated in Spain (Canary Islands) was commonly found to have herbal and digestive bitters added to it. This was brought to the Americas and grew in popularity amongst the original American colonies. Some suggest that bitters were added to liquor to help them 'go down' a little easier, while others swear by the improved digestion and other benefits. Many European and South American countries still consume digestive bitters after a meal either neat (no ice) or on the rocks (with ice).
Bitters are predominantly made of spirits, sugar, water, and herbal extracts. Bitters were made from mixing together, aromatic herbs, bark, roots and/or fruit for flavour and medicinal properties. Some of the most commonly found ingredients in bitters include cascarilla, a tree bark known for its medicinal properties, cassia chips (similar to cinnamon) and gentian, a very bitter root.
Two primary components in bitter production are water and alcohol, which is why the smell of bitters is quite pungent. The alcohol helps extract the flavours from the botanicals.
Benefits of Bitters
Improved Digestive Health
Bitters are to be just that... bitter! The flavour helps stimulate the palette and the digestive system to help the body process foods that we consume throughout the day. Although many cringe at the thought of eating something bitter, studies have shown that adding bitter foods to our diets is essential to good health.
When eating/consuming bitter foods the body's salivary glands are simulated to produce more saliva and bile. The increased production of saliva aids in digestion by breaking down foods more efficiently and effectively, so nutrients can be absorbed at a more optimal rate.
Optimized Liver Function
The liver, which is the second largest organ in the body, is one of the keys to staying healthy. It has been called the gatekeeper to the body, rightfully so since it helps clear the body of toxins that are introduced to the body through food consumption. The stimulation from bitters and bitter foods as they enter the liver, increases the production of bile, stomach acid, and other enzymes which improve digestion.
The enzymes and bile are the key elements which breakdown fats into a state which can be absorbed by the cells. Additionally, bile helps excrete any harmful toxins from the liver.
Incorporating Bitters Into Your Diet
As you walk up and down the grocery isles, it may be daunting to think of which bitter foods you should incorporate into your diet. According to many studies, green veggies such as arugula, brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli rabe in addition to fruits such as grapefruits, lemons, and cranberries are all suitable to help stimulate the gut and liver, but it can be cumbersome to keep a fully stocked fridge of these various fresh veggies, herbs, and fruits.
Health professionals are now suggesting that incorporating a regimen of adding a small amount of bitters to sparkling water or kombucha after meals may help address indigestion, stomach pain, irritable bowl syndrome, and bloating. The key is to ensure you can taste the bitters in your drink. The receptors on the tongue will be your best indicator. Experimentation is necessary to see what works for each individual. [*Note: bitters should not be consumed by anyone who has active ulcers or is pregnant, given the high level of alcohol].
Why Your Should Flavour Kombucha with Bitters
You should start using bitters in your kombucha because..
- Flavour! - In addition to the digestive properties of bitters, using them as a flavouring agent enhances the taste of your kombucha without diluting it or adding any sweetness. If your kombucha is perfect as is and simply needs a boost, simply add 3 or 4 drops of bitters to your kombucha and stir. The bitters do not dominate the flavour. They are subtle and add an amazing aromatic experience to your palette. There are also thousands of different options when it comes to bitters companies and flavour varieties!
- Convenience - If you do not have the time or energy to add fresh fruit, herbs and spices to your kombucha, simply complete the second fermentation with only raw kombucha to get your desired level of carbonation. When you are ready to drink, pour a glass of raw kombucha and add a few drops of bitters for an instant flavour addition!
- Save Money - Fresh fruits and ingredients for flavouring kombucha can add up over time. A bottle of bitters may cost anywhere from $10-$30 depending on the size. However, since you only need a few drops at a time they can last you a very long time.
Where To Get Bitters
It is quite simple to get digestive bitters with various flavours to satisfy your discerning palette. The best way is to try various types and see what your taste buds and body likes. You can purchase various flavours of bitters in your local grocery store, or, you can try our new 3 pack of kombucha bitters which we have hand picked for flavouring kombucha: The Kombucha Bitters Sample Pack
Our sample pack includes 3 bottles of 2mls of bitters. Each bottle good for about 25 glasses of kombucha, this is a good way to determine which flavors of bitters you enjoy most.
Stay tuned to our shop for our larger bottles of bitters which you can choose after you have decided which flavours you like best!
- Grapefruit Bitters - The natural bitterness of grapefruit and it's zest gently mingled with gentian. A perfect pairing for kombucha made from black or green tea.
- Lavender Bitters - Bright, floral and well balanced. Spring captured in a bottle. Place the heart of the lavender flower in your glass of kombucha.
- Orange Bitters - A traditional blend of fresh and bitter oranges with hints of herbs and spices. A must have for light kombucha flavouring.
If you plan to try flavouring kombucha with bitters and have questions, get in contact with us on our contact page. We would also like to hear what your favorite bitters are.
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