Stomach Pains: Bitters and Soda Panacea

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

-The kitchen cure for an upset stomach.-

When you’re cooking and eating three, or four, or five, and sometimes six different macaroni and cheese recipes within a 24 hour time span it can kinda rock your system a little. Even if you’ve built up a mighty tolerance to take in and process copious amounts of pasta and well-aged milk that much food can just knock you out. Even if you relegate yourself to just tastes you have to taste and taste and taste throughout each and every step so it results in staggering amounts of consumption.

It’s part of what comes with working as a food blogger or cookbook writer, I suppose. One must throw themselves upon the sword, or, perhaps, a steak knife and suffer for their craft so that others may benefit. While the meal may be delicious, the photos spectacular, and the writing practically sacrosanct so polished and holy are the words the eater in question may well suffer.

We’ve all had those meals that shift our focus on food and leave an indelible mark on how we cook. We’ve also had those ones where we stuff ourselves stupid and have to sit on the curb outside for fifteen minutes without moving as any motion to our now-potbellied gyroscopic selves will make us hurl into the parking lot. After a while we can waddle our way to the car and the emergency ration of Tums that Why-for-the-love-of-God-don’t-they-work-instantaneously.

It’s the price we pay. Unless, of course, you know a few tricks.

I have on solid homespun remedy for such a physical (albeit self-inflicted) dilemma that my grandmother on my father’s side taught me.

Fizzy water and bitters.

Really. Seriously.  It is that simple.

I don’t care how much you’ve eaten or what it was, I guarantee this will work. I’ve converted many to this bubbly panacea (most recently my partner, Stephanie, who will equally swear by it).

I don’t know why it works. My grandmother – a stalwart and proper old woman who wore silk well, kept a sharp string of pearls, and didn’t trust anyone but herself to polish the family silver – never explained it to me. I rationalize it as a simple old money, WASP-y nostrum. One that comes from a family where cocktail hour lasted from 7:30 at dusk till last man standing. Still, you can’t argue with the restorative results.

The bitters aren’t actually so bitter, but rather, floral, fragrant, spicy, sweet. (And, yes, a tad bitter. Obviously.) Add a few hearty shakes – about 3 to 5 –  to some soda water over ice and nurture that glass like a baby bird for the next half hour or so. You’ll feel sprightly, bright, and ready to go with any effects of your heavy-set meal gone.

The bitters you choose is up to you. Grandmother preferred Angostura before it was cool and when it was the only bitters on the market, while I enjoy rhubarb bitters as they’re sweeter, sour, and very floral.

Give it a shot next time you’re a bit doubled over from over-eating. It’ll do you well.

Bitters and Soda Panacea
Tonic Water or Club Soda
Bitters (your choice)

Place the ice in a tall glass and pour 3-5 good shakes of bitters in the glass. Top with tonic water or club soda and drink.


  1. Thanks for this! I have a tricky tummy due to having no gall bladder. Always looking for new ways to calm my belly when I eat something I shouldn't (which is always since I refuse to give up red sauce, beans, garlic, and every other food I love). I find that nibbling on a nub of candied ginger helps a ton also.

  2. Yes, yes, yes. It's so funny because I have been on a bitters kick, too. Someday, I want to drink fizz and bitters with you, G. We are of like minds. Beautiful photo.

  3. i have never had bitters and soda - is it "refreshing"? it sounds a though it might be. where does one find rhubarb bitters? they sound interesting - how else do you use them?

  4. "7:30 at dusk till last man standing."

    Some of my relations practice this, only a little earlier in the evening. I love your turn of phrase here, you hit the nail right on the head.

  5. Madame: YES! YES! YES! We must!

    Annonymous: It is and just use them in your favorite cocktails.

    NotAppealing: It's only really funny when you really have experienced it. ;)

  6. Yes, I totally bought into the bitters thing! It works!

  7. How we suffer for our craft. ... This homemade remedy is excellent. Thanks for sharing it. This is definitely gonna be very useful.

  8. I love the sound of rhubarb bitters! Tart, floral and sophisticated. Have never seen them over here though... Are they an American thing? Any ideas on where I might be able to get them, as someone who lives in Scotland?

  9. Sonnda: I would call some local liquor shops. If not, perhaps online?

  10. I just bought rhubarb bitters at Dean and Duluca and wasn't sure what to do with them. Now I know!

  11. You are right!!!! I even love to drink something effervesce :)

  12. It does work! An old barman in Memphis gave me some once when I turned down having a drink because of my upset stomach.

    Then, in Mississippi, I had bacon-infused bitters and club soda and it was more subtle than I expected and yummy (I did not have an upset stomach that time)!

  13. I must say this stuff does work. I thought my stomach would pop after having a hearty lunch but when the waiter brought it out to me, I must admit that it wasn't the most pleasant drink but man it hit the spot and very quickly!!! I will be investing in some for home.

  14. I visited Puerto Rico several years ago for a flyaway wedding at a beautiful resort; I got a little sick to my stomach and the staff brought me a glass of club soda, ice, fresh squeezed lime and bitters. They called it Campeche. I've used it ever since, and it works. Sometimes I have one when I feel fine. But I've googled Campeche countless times and find no evidence of a drink with that name. It does exist, at least in the town of Rincón, PR


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