If you’ve had even one cocktail in the past decade, you’re probably familiar with the existence of cocktail bitters. An aromatic that was a necessary ingredient in the original “cocktail” definition, bitters are found in classics like Manhattans and Sazeracs as well as newly inventive craft cocktails. Thanks to the modern cocktail movement, there’s been a resurgence in bitters that has surfaced unique flavors including the once long-lost orange bitters. But, as delicious as orange bitters are in your Old Fashioneds, did you know they are a great addition to your food?
Before we even get there, though, it helps to understand exactly what modern bitters are. Why modern? Because bitters have been around for centuries. All cocktail bitters are made with a neutral, high proof alcohol steeped with aromatics such as botanicals, fruit, spices, and seeds. Back in the 19th century, they were considered medicinal tonics for ailments such as seasickness and stomach aches. However, once the FDA began regulating medicines, the tonic-focused marketing quieted down, and because they’re alcohol-based, Prohibition was deadly for a lot of bitters manufacturers.
It’s also important to note that cocktail bitters are different from amari, otherwise known as Italian bitters. While an amaro can be consumed by the glassful as a liqueur, cocktail bitters are highly concentrated and, well, bitter enough that they can’t—or shouldn’t be—consumed straight or in large quantities. That’s why bartenders only need to put a dash or two of bitters into a cocktail to give it a signature flavor.
But as ubiquitous as common brands such as Angostura and Peychaud’s are in drinks, many people don’t know that they can be a secret ingredient in cooking and baking. Just as bitters can elevate a drink from ordinary to magnificent, a few dashes of bitters can give food recipes an extra oomph—a complexity and depth they wouldn’t have on their own. It’s like using salt in a recipe: You wouldn’t want to lick a plate of salt straight, but adding a bit to your food while cooking can bring out and elevate flavors that would otherwise be bland.
Though you can cook with any flavor of bitters, there’s something a little extra special about using orange bitters. Orange bitters used to be found in all kinds of cocktails but began dying off in popularity throughout the 20th century due to changing tastes. It was only in the very late 20th century that bartenders and enthusiasts began to make a strong push for its return; even Angostura, one of the most common brands of bitters sold today, didn’t start making their own orange version until 2008.
Orange bitters are traditionally made with the zest of Seville oranges mixed with other spices, such as cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon, though each manufacturer has its own recipe. These particular blends add warmth to foods that normally do well with those flavor profiles, such as chocolate or baked goods. Orange bitters are also great for foods that have very sweet notes from ingredients like citrus and sugar, as the bitterness and other spices balance them out. On the flip side, the citrus notes can easily be added to foods that need an additional layer of flavor, like starches or whipped cream. They can also be substituted for extracts in baking. In short, orange bitters are incredibly versatile.
Each brand of orange bitters will have its own unique flavor profile, so don’t fret too much when shopping at the store. Experiment and find the one that you enjoy the most. Some of the more popular brands to look out for include Angostura Orange (not to be confused with regular Angostura), Regan’s, Fee Brothers, and the Bitter End. You can also try your hand at making your own from scratch. Whatever style you use, though, set aside the cocktail glass and try them in your food today!
Before you fret over which brand to buy, have you considered making a batch of orange bitters yourself? Bitters-making isn’t difficult, it just requires a little patience while the ingredients steep. Make a jar for yourself and impress all of your friends. Get our Orange Bitters recipe.
This is a great example of how bitters can elevate a savory dish. Potatoes, oranges, bitters and goat cheese transform a regular pan of roasted potatoes into something unique for your plate. Enjoy this sweet, salty, and tangy recipe as a side to your main dish. Get the recipe.
A sweet citrus salad gets balanced out by the aromatics in the bitters, a great example of how bitters can temper something overly sweet. Use your choice of citrus fruits for the base and see how orange bitters adds that extra layer of flavor. Get the recipe.
Pumpkin pie is pumpkin pie, right? Not when you enhance the flavors with some orange bitters. The pumpkin pie gets an extra zing and a depth of flavor from a few dashes of Angostura Orange. This easy recipe comes from bitters royalty, the House of Angostura. Check out their blog for other ways to add different flavored bitters to all kinds of foods. Get the recipe.
Not really sure how this makes it an imposter, unless you think that pound cake is pretty boring on its own. If you do, this is the recipe for you! Adding a few dashes of the orange gives it both a hint of citrus and a complexity of flavor than pound cake wouldn’t have on its own. You can adjust based on how much orange zest you use. Don’t have an orange to zest? The bitters will take care of the flavor profile. Get the recipe.
You may think it’s impossible to improve on chocolate chip cookies, but this recipe proves you wrong. It’s a great example of how something that is already satisfying and delicious can be taken to another level with the multi-faceted flavor profile of orange bitters. Simply add a few shakes and enjoy! Get the recipe.
You’ll need an ice cream maker for this one, but it’ll be worth it. This recipe uses two different kinds of bitters: saffron and orange. It’s also a great example of how bitters can substitute for an extract in a recipe. Get the recipe.
Do you love cranberry sauce but wonder how you can indulge when it’s not Thanksgiving? Give this recipe a try. Made with fresh cranberries, this boozy and tangy southwest style recipe gains complexity with the orange bitters addition. Get the recipe.
So, the name of this cake is somewhat misleading. It’s not the the cake that has the bitters but the delicious glaze on top. Again, a great example of how bitters can temper sweetness while adding complexity, and the use of orange bitters complements the clementines in the cake. Get the recipe.