Aperitifs and Digestifs - assisting your digestion

by Sandra Radja

If you dig deep and explore the traditions of food and dining, you will find that Ayurveda is not solely an Indian concept.  It can more readily be described as an intelligence or common sense.  I like the phrase common sense because it implies that the insights derived from the sages in Ayurveda were based on the truths of nature and therefore anyone able to observe how nature works can apply its premise to the world around them.  Ayurveda encourages being true to your environment.   Believing in this would certainly reduce the carbon footprint.

An aperitif is a dry alcoholic beverage served to stimulate the appetite, so it is served before a meal.  It can consist of drinks such as vermouth, kir, campari, aperol, calvados and dry champagne.  According to wiki, a French chemist, Josepth Dubonnet, created a medicinal drink with quinine to fight malaria and used herbs and spices to mask the intense taste of quinine.  It became a huge hit and spread throughout Europe and bounced over the Atlantic to the US, which became the basis of happy hour (except those franchised food halls tarnished it with cheap well drinks and bad beer – goes better with buffalo wings I suppose).

In Ayurveda, a small amount of the bitter taste before a meal will bring to life the other tastes. One logical idea is that since the bitter taste consists of air and ether, it provides the space for digestion to occur as well as a little air to stimulate agni, or the digestive fire.  The low alcohol content is meant to mildly relax the diner and stimulate the senses rather than wipe them out.  It’s not about getting drunk, it’s about understanding the point of what you drink and preparing to not only digest your food well but truly enjoy every taste on offer whilst taking your time and seeing the meal as a celebration.  Digesting is also about relaxing and a little alcohol can aid this process well.

NOTE - Prayer, breathing and intention, is another less boozy way to also open up the channels and there are those bitter herbal sprays you can buy at health food stores for the same purpose if alcohol doesn’t appeal.

St. Diadochos of Photiki, in his writing on the Christian Spiritual Life, On Spiritual Knowledge, states, "People who wish to discipline the sexual organs should avoid drinking those artificial concoctions which are called 'aperitifs'presumably because they open a way to the stomach for the vast meal which is to follow."  Therefore, it was implied that the use of aperitifs in the 5th century was used to affect the ability to consume food. 

Digestifs are alcoholic beverages taken after a meal to aid digestion.  Alcohol stimulates the stomach’s production of the enzyme pepsin and increases secretions of the pancreas and gall bladder. Classic digestifs are usually drunk straight and are most often spirits—bitters, brandy, cognac and brandy, armagnac, grappa, or even a whiskey-based liqueur such as Drambuie.  The most health producing ones contain herbs and spices that are believed to have stomach-settling properties.  Jagermeister would be an example.

I LOVE a good   story  .  Here is one digestif to try with a fascinating family history that I bet has been soaked in the barrels of this 80 proof drink.  

I LOVE a good story.  Here is one digestif to try with a fascinating family history that I bet has been soaked in the barrels of this 80 proof drink.  

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, which increases in alcohol-metabolizing enzymes and liver blood flow.  

Using small amounts of alcohol in a food based celebration can turn an "evil" into something that can work for you.  Nothing is good or bad, it's all in the way you see it or as I like to say, it's all in the way you "ayurveda" it.