There is so much more to herbal bitters than its use as a fancy cocktail ingredient. Bitters actually have a long history as an extremely effective natural remedy around the world. They've been used as a digestive aid for centuries, but have evolved into so much more.
You may have heard of our best selling German herbal bitter digestif, Underberg. It has a cult following, but it’s inner workings are still largely unknown to even the most loyal customers. Despite the murky details surround this mysterious digestif, we’ve unpacked what little is known about its storied history before.
We wanted to take a closer look at Underberg’s influence on gut health and the influence of bitter herbs on digestion. In this post, we'll unpack some of the science behind bitters, reveal one of Underberg's ingredients and share what bitters actually do once they've been consumed.
The Biology of Herbal Bitters
We’ve all seen a map of taste buds. Whether or not you can perfectly remember this lesson from middle school biology, you probably recall learning that each sectioned off area of the tongue is responsible for a different perception of taste. What you may not know is that the map you learned in school is actually entirely wrong. There are four different types of taste cell receptors like you've been taught, but according to Smithsonian Magazine, they don’t just exist in specific sections on the tongue. They can be found throughout the oral cavity and body.
These taste receptor cells help the body to distinguish the difference between substances that are safe to consume and those that aren’t. The four subtypes of taste receptor cells communicate with the brain to help us perceive the difference between sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors. Type 2 cells, which have been studied more than the other types, are responsible for the perception of bitter, sweet and umami flavors. These taste receptors can be found throughout the stomach, gallbladder, and pancreas.
An article published by Harvard University’s Science in the News blog called, “The Bittersweet Truth of Sweet and Bitter Taste Receptors,” shares that bitter foods interact with type 2 taste receptors cells throughout the body. They kickstart the digestive process and encourage stomach acids, bile, and various enzymes to begin breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.
Ingesting bitter compounds can also slow the appetite, release regulating hormones and increase absorption of glucose — helping you feel more satisfied after a big meal.
Gentian Root: One of Underberg’s Powerful Mystery Ingredients
Of the 43 plant extracts found in Underberg, gentian root is one of the few that is known to the public. It’s native to mountainous areas in central and southern Europe. The Gentiana plant is known as the “king of bitter herbs.” There are 300-400 species of gentian plants, which have been used for their medicinal properties since ancient Roman times.
The medicinal properties of this plant are almost exclusively found in its roots. It’s known to be antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, and can regulate the immune system, making it a great digestive aid. It’s often found in herbal extracts, teas, and bitter flavoring agents.
The Influence of Herbal Bitters On Immunity and Wellbeing
Bitter foods have almost entirely been eradicated from most western diets. While many eastern cultures praise the health benefits of foods like Chinese bitter melons or German herbal bitters, many others find bitter foods to be offputting. This means many people aren’t experiencing the health benefits that come with including bitter foods in their diet.
Underberg can do more than just alleviate the pain associated with an upset stomach or indigestion. Incorporating an herbal bitter supplement into your diet could help to introduce bitter compounds you may be missing into your gut and immune system.