What is a Digestif?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A digestif is a beverage served at the end of a meal that is meant to help one digest his meal. Clearly, the root of the term is the same as that of the word “digestion.” Digestifs and aperitifs are meant to bookend a meal, with an aperitif at the beginning and a digestif at the end. The terms come from the French language, but the beverages are used in cuisines outside of France. For examples, a digestif or aperitif may be consumed with Spanish, Moroccan, and Greek meals.

Lillet is commonly served as a digestif.
Lillet is commonly served as a digestif.

Digestifs and aperitifs are alcoholic beverages. Generally, aperitifs are lighter spirits of clear to light yellow color. Lillet, for example, is a sweet floral spirit that is often consumed as an aperitif. On the other hand, digestifs are heavy spirits that are dark brown or red. Furthermore, digestifs are often the more alcoholic of the two. Traditionally, both drinks are served neat. Common digestifs include armagnacs, cognacs, scotch, brandies, and whiskies. There are some heavy and sweet wines that are served as digestifs. Madeira, port, and sherry are examples of wines that are sometimes served as digestifs. In addition to being heavier wines, they are also generally fortified.

Restaurants often offer coffee at the end of a meal as a digestif.
Restaurants often offer coffee at the end of a meal as a digestif.

It is quite common for restaurants to offer tea, espresso, cappuccino, and other coffee-based beverages at the end of a meal. In the traditional sense, however, these are not digestifs because they do not contain alcohol. It is becoming more common to consume caffeinated beverages at the end of a meal than alcoholic beverages. Many people are concerned about maintaining sobriety so that they can drive home or to their next destination at the end of a meal. Taking a strong drink just before departing a restaurant, could create dangers on the road.

A digestif typically has a higher alcohol content than an apertif.
A digestif typically has a higher alcohol content than an apertif.

Furthermore, in the United States, dining culture is somewhat different than it is in Europe. Restaurateurs expect to turn their tables at least once in an evening. For this reason, the dining experience is often shorter than it is in Europe, where diners often remain at their table throughout an evening. It may be for this reason that digestifs are not offered as often in the United States as they are in Europe. There are, however, many traditional European restaurants in the United States that offer the complete dining experience, including aperitifs and digestifs.

Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages may lead to high blood pressure.
Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages may lead to high blood pressure.
Spirits that are dark brown or red are often digestifs.
Spirits that are dark brown or red are often digestifs.
Wine served as a digestif is often heavy and sweet.
Wine served as a digestif is often heavy and sweet.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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