Say Hello To Bitters: Your Secret Weapon In The Kitchen

That bottle of bitters you turn to every time you make an Old Fashioned? It’s time to bring it into your kitchen. What’s that you say? You keep it on the bar cart? Well, you’re going to need to reevaluate because bitters are not just a go-to for a classic cocktail, but also a little-known pantry staple.  

We believe a perfect recipe is a balanced recipe, and one ingredient that adds balance and dimension is bitters. Don’t worry, just because they’re called “bitters” doesn’t mean they’ll make your food bitter. To be honest, you won’t get the bitter flavor unless you use a lot. And using bitters is not just about the flavor, but the fact that just a few dashes can instantly add complexity and dimension to a dish, complementing and enhancing the tastes of all ingredients. 

But before we go any further, let’s start at the very beginning. Here is a little bit more about the history of bitters, where they’re traditionally used, and how to use them in the kitchen.

Cooking With Bitters What Are Bitters

What Exactly Are Bitters?

Bitters are small but mighty! Made by infusing alcohol with a combination of ingredients (often herbs, barks, roots, botanicals and such), they’re named “bitters” because they often have a bitter or bittersweet flavor. There are reports of bitters being used throughout history, from Egyptian times to the Middle Ages. The story of ANGOSTURA® aromatic bitters dates back to 1824 when founder Dr. Johann Siegert, a German doctor living in Venezuela, first produced aromatic bitters as a medicinal tincture designed to alleviate stomach ailments for soldiers in Simon Bolivar’s army.

Fast forward to the 1870s when Dr. Siegert’s three sons, including Don Carlos Siegert who created the ANGOSTURA brand, emigrated to Trinidad.  On the Caribbean island, Siegert’s sons took bitters beyond medicine and established ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters as an integral ingredient in cocktails and food.

Where are bitters traditionally used?

Around the turn of the 20th century, ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters developed a reputation as a “cure all” and were regularly used for aiding stomach ailments. In fact, it’s still used regularly after a big meal, as a digestif, or when we’re feeling a bit queasy (read: hungover)! I like to mix 5 to 6 dashes of bitters with some sparkling water to help remedy my stomach aches.

But back to the history of bitters: in the early 1900s, some rather creative individuals started using bitters in all sorts of food and drink because they recognized that bitters add complexity and depth to almost any recipe.  

The most common place to find ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters is in a bar, where they’re an essential ingredient for both modern and classic cocktails (think:  the Old Fashioned,  the Manhattan and the Mai Tai).

So, how can I cook with bitters?

We like to think of bitters like a magic potion in the kitchen. Both the classic ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters and ANGOSTURA orange bitters work well beyond the cocktail cart and can amplify flavor in both sweet and savory recipes. 

The best way to practice using ANGOSTURA aromatic bitters and ANGOSTURA orange bitters in the kitchen is to experiment, because their use isn’t limited to just one type of food. Instead, consider them a go-to ingredient anytime you want to add more depth and complexity to a dish.

Here are a few culinary applications where we’d recommend adding a few dashes of bitters:

  • Marinating meats: add 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of marinade to taste.
  • Homemade ketchup, barbecue sauce, and cocktail sauce: add just a few dashes.
  • Salad dressings: a few dashes are great in vinaigrettes.
  • Caramel: we like to add a bit of the orange bitters to our classic caramel sauce.
  • Simple syrups: for both cocktails and fruit salads, throw in a couple dashes!
  • Cake batter: next time, swap in orange bitters for vanilla extract!

A good place to start cooking with bitters is this Caribbean-Jerk-Glazed Spare Ribs with Pineapple Relish, where the bitters not only enhance flavors but also help to tenderize the meat.

Bottom line: we think you should get “bitter” in your kitchen. Okay, no, not literally, because you never want to bring bad vibes into your kitchen, but in terms of your ingredients we’re all about it.

Sponsored Content: This story has been brought to you by THE HOUSE OF ANGOSTURA®. Thank you for supporting these sponsors who help keep Salt & Wind up and running.

More Entertaining On Salt & Wind

Did you know we lead boutique food and wine tours for food lovers? Come join our next Salt & Wind trip!

P.S. If you liked this story, you'll probably like our newsletter too! 

P.P.S. Hitting the road soon? Show us how you travel in good taste by sharing your adventures on Instagram with the #swsociety hashtag!