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 Agent||Other Names||Common Uses||Characteristics|
|Angelica Root||Angelica archangelic, Garden Angelica, Wild Celery, Holy Ghost||Citrus bitters, fruit bitters, various liqueurs and vermouths||Medium amber color; sharp, up-front bitterness; light, tangy, peppery flavor|
|Burdock Root||Arctium lappa||Aromatic bitters, sarsaparilla, certain amari||Dark orange color; mellow bitterness; orange and cola flavor notes|
|Cinchona Bark||Cinchona officinalis L., Cinchona calisaya, Jesuit’s Bark||Citrus bitters, dry vermouth, gin drinks||Yellow color; quinine-laced full-mouth bitterness; bright, floral flavor|
|Dandelion Root||Taraxacum official, Lion’s Tooth, Cankerwort||Many bitters, tonics, and amari||Yellowish-green color; slightly sweet/tangy, dully bitter; grassy flavor|
|Yellow Gentian||Gentiana lutea, Yellow Gentian, Bitterwort||All-purpose||Dark orange color; intense, astringent bitterness; pungent vegetal flavor|
|Hops||Humulus lupus||Citrus Bitters, vegetal amari||Yellowish-green color; mild bitterness; citrusy, tangy flavor|
|Quassia Bark||Quassia amara, Amargo, Bitter Ash||Citrus Bitters, very bitter amari||Pale yellow color; intensely bitter and astringent; slight citrus/grassy flavor|
|Wormwood||Artemisia absinthium||Complex aromatic or creole-style bitters||Greenish color; sweet, concentrated bitterness; resinous flavor, anise finish|