About Bittering Agents

Bittering Agents are the substances from which various bitters, amari, liqueurs, and vermouths derive their characteristic bitter taste profiles. Many different types of bittering agents exist, and most were historically utilized for their health benefits as herbal medicines or digestive aids.

As discussed in our intro to bitters, humans have a love-hate relationship with bitter-tasting substances. They activate taste receptors that make us grimace, and they dry out our mouths with tannins. But regardless of your feelings about bitter food and drink, one thing is for sure: bitter roots and plants have been used for centuries to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of certain physical ailments and to generally improve bodily functions.

Each bittering agent listed below has its own unique history and its own special set of properties that make it better or worse for different applications. Some are great for making light, citrusy bitters, and others are better for sweet, complex liqueurs and amari. Very soon, we’ll have a full webpage devoted to each bittering agent on this list. Until then, feel free to conduct your own research and maybe even start experimenting to find out which flavors excite you the most.

A List of Bittering Agents and Their Applications

Bittering AgentOther NamesCommon UsesCharacteristics
Angelica RootAngelica archangelic, Garden Angelica, Wild Celery, Holy GhostCitrus bitters, fruit bitters, various liqueurs and vermouthsMedium amber color; sharp, up-front bitterness; light, tangy, peppery flavor
Burdock RootArctium lappaAromatic bitters, sarsaparilla, certain amariDark orange color; mellow bitterness; orange and cola flavor notes
Cinchona BarkCinchona officinalis L., Cinchona calisaya, Jesuit’s BarkCitrus bitters, dry vermouth, gin drinksYellow color; quinine-laced full-mouth bitterness; bright, floral flavor
Dandelion RootTaraxacum official, Lion’s Tooth, CankerwortMany bitters, tonics, and amariYellowish-green color; slightly sweet/tangy, dully bitter; grassy flavor
Yellow GentianGentiana lutea, Yellow Gentian, BitterwortAll-purposeDark orange color; intense, astringent bitterness; pungent vegetal flavor
HopsHumulus lupusCitrus Bitters, vegetal amariYellowish-green color; mild bitterness; citrusy, tangy flavor
Quassia BarkQuassia amara, Amargo, Bitter AshCitrus Bitters, very bitter amariPale yellow color; intensely bitter and astringent; slight citrus/grassy flavor
WormwoodArtemisia absinthiumComplex aromatic or creole-style bittersGreenish color; sweet, concentrated bitterness; resinous flavor, anise finish

Sources and Recommended Reading

Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari by Mark Bitterman, Andrews McMeel Publishing

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Copyright 2013

Disclaimer: We here at Embitterment are not doctors, and you should not take any of the content on this page or anywhere else on this website as medical advice. Please read our full disclaimer to learn more.