Apéritif and Digestif

dryness

Apéritifs and digestifs are drinks, typically alcoholic, served before (apéritif) or after (digestif) a meal. An apéritif is served to stimulate the appetite, and is therefore usually dry rather than sweet. A digestif is intended to aid digestion. When served after a coffee course, it may be called ‘pousse-café.’ Digestifs are usually taken straight and typically contain carminative herbs, which are thought to aid digestion. ‘Apéritif’ is a French word derived from the Latin verb ‘aperire,’ which means ‘to open.’ The French slang word for ‘apéritif’ is ‘apéro,’ although in France an ‘apéro’ is also light food eaten in the late afternoon/early evening.

Common apéritif choices include dry vermouth, champagne, pastis (an anise-flavored spirit from France), gin, and dry sherry (e.g. fino and amontillado). ‘Apéritif’ may also refer to a snack that precedes a meal. This includes an amuse-bouche (a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre), such as crackers, cheese, pâté or olives. Common kinds of digestif include: Brandy, Cream Sherry, Sweet Vermouth, Port, Grand Marnier, Jagermeister, Kahlua, limoncello, ouzo, and tequila. In certain areas, it is not uncommon for a digestif to be taken before a main course. One example is le trou Normand, a glass of Calvados taken before the main course of a meal.

In many countries, people drink alcoholic beverages at lunch and dinner. Studies have found that when food is eaten before drinking alcohol, alcohol absorption is reduced and the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from the blood is increased. The mechanism for the faster alcohol elimination appears to be unrelated to the type of food. The likely mechanism is food-induced increases in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes and liver blood flow.

The landmark of aperitif birth is 1796, when Antonio Carpano created in Turin the recipe of vermouth. The apéritif was introduced in France in 1846 when a French chemist, Joseph Dubonnet, created his eponymous wine-based drink as a means of delivering malaria-fighting quinine. The medicine was a bitter brew, so he developed a formula of herbs and spices to mask quinine’s sharp flavor, and it worked so well that the recipe has remained well-guarded ever since. French Foreign Legion soldiers made use of it in mosquito-infested Northern Africa. Joseph’s wife was so fond of the drink that she had all her friends try it, and its popularity spread.

Apéritifs were already widespread in the 19th century in Italy, where they were being served in fashionable cafés in Rome, Genoa, Florence, Milan, Turin, and Venice. Apéritifs became very popular in Europe in the late 19th century. The popularity in Europe crossed the Atlantic and by 1900, they were also commonly served in the United States. The apéritif recrossed the Atlantic in the 1970s: the habit of a substantial food offering with the purchase of a drink during ‘Happy Hour’ in the States pushed the development of a more food-heavy apéritif in Italy as well. In Spain and in some countries of Latin America, apéritifs have been a staple of tapas for centuries.

There is no single alcoholic drink that is always served as an apéritif. Fortified wine, liqueur, and dry champagne are probably the most common choices. In France, the apéritif varies from region to region: pastis is popular in the south of France, Calvados brandy in the Normandy region, Crémant d’Alsace in the eastern region. Champagne wine or Cognac may also be served. Kir, also called Blanc-cassis, is a common and very popular apéritif-cocktail made with a measure of crème de cassis (black currant liqueur) topped up with white wine. The word Kir Royal is used when white wine is replaced with a Champagne wine. A simple glass of red wine, such as Beaujolais nouveau, can also be presented as an apéritif, accompanied by amuse-bouches.

In Italy, vermouth or wine may be served as the apéritif (called aperitivo). Aperol spritz and Campari with soda are also popular aperitivo drinks of choice. In Greece, ouzo is a popular choice, except on Crete, where it is very common to take some raki (an anise-flavored Turkish spirit) after a meal. In the Eastern Mediterranean, arak (a Levantine alcoholic spirit also in the anise drinks family) is served with meze (appetizers).

 

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