This year all of my recipes were inspired by my six-week trip to France and Iceland earlier this spring. I am really looking forward to sharing these goodies with you!
Our first recipe is a digestive bitters blend made with grapefruit and herbs and spices.
While we are seeing an increasing infatuation with the bitter taste here in the US (with herbalists and bartenders and chefs), France never lost its love of bitters and numerous bitter drinks are still a daily part of the French life.
These drinks are sipped before meals (aperitifs) or after meals (digestifs) and include famous labels such as Chartreuse or Suze as well as regional artisan blends.
Perhaps one reason why the French never lost their love of bitters is because their rich diet almost necessitates a bitter digestive aid! If you were eating copious amounts of cheese, cream-based meals, duck confit and chocolate mousse you’d never want to give up your bitters either!
The bitter taste is a powerful part of digestion that is commonly missing from our daily diets. The bitter taste increases salivation (our first digestive enzyme, which breaks down carbohydrates). This releases a cascades of digestive events, including increased HCL in the stomach that further breaks down carbohydrates and proteins. It also promotes bile production and release, which is necessary for the digestion of fats. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the benefits of bitters for digestion.
When you begin a meal with a bitter taste you are essentially alerting your digestive system, “Hey, wake up! Food is on its way!”
To get the benefits of the bitter taste you can eat bitter foods (like endives or raddiccio) or take herbal teas, pastilles or tinctures. You’ll derive the most benefits when bitters are a daily part of your life. While taking bitters once in awhile could help with acute digestive problems such as bloating or gas, taking bitters every day broadly supports your digestion to keep it healthy and strong.
And while we commonly recommend bitters before the meals, the French drink bitters before their meals (Suze), eat bitter foods in their meal (endives) and may even drink a bitter digestif after the meal.
Before we get to our grapefruit bitters recipe let’s take a look at the ingredients.
This recipe uses the fruit as well as the peel of a grapefruit. The fruit gives this a pleasant flavor and the peel adds additional antioxidants and a bitter taste. While we obviously enjoy the flavor of the fruit over the peel the peel is actually more nutrient dense!
Artichoke Leaves (Cynara scolymus)
Besides the bitter grapefruit peel, artichoke is the herb that adds an additional bitter taste. Artichoke leaf has many health benefits and is commonly used in bitter digestive blends as well as for supporting healthy cholesterol levels.
Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn berries are high in antioxidants and famously used in western herbalism to support heart health. The Chinese use hawthorn berries for stagnant digestion, making them a great addition to this digestive blend.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Hibiscus has a tart flavor and give a pink to red color to this blend. Hibiscus has traditionally been used to support healthy blood pressure and address high blood sugar.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel is one of my favorite carminative herbs. It has a pleasant aromatic taste that is frequently used for upset tummies in both children and adults.
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
I’ve been adding black pepper to many of my recipes. This spice adds a pleasant taste, supports digestion and improves the digestibility of all the other herbs in this recipe.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander is an herb that brings everything together. It has carminative properties that make it a good match for this digestive blend. Coriander is commonly used as a corrigent herb; that is, an herb that is added to recipes to help balance them either through taste or energetics.
Star Anise (Illicium verum)
I actually built this recipe around star anise. I wanted to challenge myself to use an herb that I don’t frequently reach for and star anise is the one that called out to me. From there I chose the other herbs around its special taste. Star anise is a beautiful spice that is both sweet and aromatic with a delicate licorice-like flavor. Even if you don’t tend to like licorice I would give this recipe a shot since the taste is incredibly mild in this blend.
Grapefruit Bitters Recipe
This bitters recipe is perfect for daily use to support healthy digestion. I recommend taking a small amount before each meal. This can be taken straight on a spoon or added to sparkling water as a type of low alcohol “mocktail”.
What you’ll need…
- 1/2 of a large grapefruit
- 1 tablespoon dried artichoke leaves (1 gram)
- 1/4 cup dried hawthorn berries (20 grams)
- 1/4 cup dried whole hibiscus flowers (7 grams)
- 2 tablespoons dried coriander seeds (5 grams)
- 4 dried star anise pods
- 1 tablespoon dried fennel seeds (5 grams)
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper (3 grams)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey
- Vodka or brandy
- Cut up the half grapefruit including the fruit and peel. Add this to a quart jar.
- Place the rest of the herbs and spices in the jar.
- Add honey to taste. The sweetness of the honey brings out the flavors in the recipe but is not meant to overpower the bitter flavor.
- Fill the jar with vodka or brandy. Cover and shake well. Label.
- Keep this out on your counter, shaking it occasionally.
- I suggest tasting it regularly to see when it is to your liking. While we often macerate tinctures for 4 to 6 weeks, I find that this tastes great after about 2 weeks.
- I like to add a few splashes of grapefruit bitters to sparkling water.
Your grapefruit bitters will last indefinitely, but I recommend using it within a year.
If you avoid alcohol, you could try this with vinegar instead of brandy or vodka. Keep in mind that it may not preserve very well with the added water content of the grapefruit. You can also try this bitter pastilles recipe, which does not use alcohol.