sanbitterbottleYes, even Liquid Diets needs to have drinks without alcohol (or caffeine) in them! Actually, I’d just as soon drink non-alcoholic versions of what I do drink as I’m a lot more interested in the flavor than the buzz, but the alcohol is more or less a byproduct of what makes the flavors to begin with, so….

People who’ve read this blog regularly know I like bitter flavors and am crazy about Campari, the lovely red Italian bitter. I had the day off and took the time to go to the Italian market inside the River Market, today, and I found two things I’ve been wanting to find for a long time: Chinotto and Sanbitter. These are two non-alcoholic sodas that are common in Italy and I’ve been dying to try them. I bought a single bottle of Chinotto out of the cooler for $1.50 and a 10-pack Sanbitter for $9 or so.

Both of these sodas are marketed as “apertif” sodas. In other words, besides being delicious, they are intended to aid digestion. Digestion is an important concept in Europe, particularly in Italy. Long meals, long walks after meals, pre-dinner and post-dinner drinks and bitter flavors are all strategies intended to help the body digest the food you are eating. In a real Italian restaurant, dinner will take 3-4 hours, easily. It’s not a 30-minute table-turning, stuff-your-face-o-rama like we have learned to accept in this country.

Bitter flavors aid digestion by stimulating the 10th cranial nerve, the Vagus Nerve. Explaining what the vagus does is beyond the scope of this review, but suffice to say if the vagus is happy and stimulated it will have a calming effect on the body and enhance digestion and elimination.

chinottojpgSanbitter is made by San Pelligrino, which manufactures a host of sodas and water products. It looks ruby red, just like Campari, and comes packaged in delightful little 100mL (3.4 oz) glass bottles with a bottle cap topping it. I don’t use the word “cute” very often, but these bottles surely fit the bill. According to the bottle cap, the sweetener is “sugar,” not high fructose corn syrup, so that is one advantage of this soda over something American (I know, a lot of the boutique sodas are made with real sugar, but they’re also very sweet, not an apertif soda like this).

Sanbitter tastes  a little like Campari in that it does have some of the same herbal and citrus notes. I saw it described as “extremely bitter” on many American websites as I was researching for this, but I disagree. I know my palate is tuned differently than a lot of folks’, but it is nowhere near as bitter as Campari, in my opinion. The next time I drink Sanbitter I am going to try it over ice (I poured it straight from the bottle) and if I have some, throw a slice of orange in with it. Sanbitter is a good alternative to Campari and soda if you’re looking for an apertif and can’t drink any alcohol.

Chinotto is also made by San Pelligrino and comes in a slightly larger bottle than Sanbitter. It looks like slightly watered-down Coke®, kind of brown/caramel in color. It is a sweetened soda made from chinotto, a small citrus fruit (pictured at the left) that looks like an orange. The flavor of Chinotto soda is like bitter orange with some hints of cola in the background.

I found the Chinotto to be more complex and enjoyable than the Sanbitter, but both were really good. I try not to drink too much soda pop, but if I am these are what I’d like to reach for when I have the chance. They aren’t too bitter (to me), and they are carbonated and refreshing, offsetting some of the sugar in them.