The Pre-Dinner Apéritif (aka, “Digestive Primer”)

I’ve always enjoyed the concept of the pre-dinner apéritif.

Perhaps not quite to the same degree as what’s traditionally meant by the word, but more so as a primer for setting the stage for optimal digestion.

By definition, (and there are a few) an apéritif is typically a small alcoholic drink taken before a meal as a means to stimulate digestion and prepare the body for the meal to follow. Often the drink has bitter qualities that helps to awaken the digestive process and perk up the appetite.

Apéritif is a French word derived from the Latin verb aperire, which means “to open”.

And as one French woman puts it, “The Apéritif is to a French meal, what foreplay is to sex. A taste, a tease, to awaken you to know the people you are sharing it with and make you want to engage in the main course.”

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? ;)

And while there’s a whole culture devoted to this almost ceremonial ritual, what I’m personally extrapolating from it is this…

I consider the apéritif to be a reprieve of sorts between your busy day and your evening meal. The line that separates the two. A “pause”, if you will.

And it doesn’t have to involve alcohol at all.

In fact, I’ll explain some of my favorite non-alcoholic apéritifs that you can make at home in just a moment.

But before I get to the drinks…

You may be familiar with the saying, “Hunger is the Best Sauce”.

Well another way to put this would be to say, “Hunger is the Best Apéritif“. In fact, I’m pretty sure I once read that somewhere as well (likely in a French cookbook, no doubt).

Hunger is the Best Apéritif Click To Tweet

In both cases, I’d have to agree.

Hunger signals our body to begin the process of digestion. Just the sight, smell, and anticipation of eating is enough to trigger the flow of digestive juices, hormones, and saliva that prime our body to digest the food we’re about to enjoy.

Ideally we want to experience the sensation of light hunger before eating, and not just eat at a specific time out of habit.

There’s nothing worse than sitting down to a beautiful plate of food with no appetite because you’ve been snacking on a bunch of almonds (or what have you) an hour before.

And we also know that our emotions heavily influence the digestive process, so it’s important to get into a calm and receptive mode before sitting down at the table.

I personally love doing something active to separate my work day from dinnertime, and for me, this is often the time I get a workout in, or go to a class at the gym. This awakens my appetite even more – plus I prefer to work out on an empty stomach. (In case you haven’t concluded, I take the pleasure of eating pretty seriously, particularly dinner time when it’s a little more relaxed and marks the time to unwind after the day).

Going for a nice long walk is also another great way to stimulate digestion, although at the moment where I live, it’s the dead of winter and negative 15 degrees Celsius, so not as appealing.

Other ways to take a pause before dinner could be taking a bath, doing some reading, or just chilling out with a loved one and conversing about your day.

Now this is where the apéritif, in the traditional sense of the word, comes into play.

Here are a few of my favorite sips before dinner:


Apéritifs (sans alcohol)

Mix any of the following with sparkling water. If the carbonation is an issue for you (i.e. causes gas and bloating) you can forgo it for flat water, or do a combo of flat and a little bit of sparkling just for the bubbles and refreshing factor.

1) Herbal Bitters

The bitters that I use typically come from the health food store and contain a variation of bitter herbs and botanicals such as dandelion, artichoke leaf, burdock, gentian, and ginger. A few of my favorite brands are St. Francis Herb Farm: Canadian Bitters, Botanica: Digestive Bitters Compound, and Harmonic Arts: Herbal Bitters – there are many others but it will depend what’s available near you. I also like Dillions Small Batch Distiller’s Bitters found at the LCBO. Here’s a snap I took earlier this year over on Instagram for reference.

2) Lemon/Lime Juice

Mix the juice of half the fruit into your water. Basic and simple!

3) Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)

Mix 1-2 tbsp. into your water. Be sure to buy an ACV that’s raw and contains the “mother”. A few common brands that I often buy are Filsingers and Bragg’s.

Of course you can also do any of these straight up as a way to stimulate digestion, but that kind of takes away the enjoyment of sipping on something.


Apéritifs (with alcohol)

While this definitely isn’t the case every night, this is more likely to happen at the end of the week or perhaps on the weekend.

It goes without saying, if alcohol is an issue for you in any way (or you don’t enjoy it), then clearly avoid it. I find that most people though can have at least 1 serving without any issues (ideally around food) unless your gut is ultra-sensitive or you’re prone to reflux. Also, if you’re in the midst of unpleasant digestive symptoms or a flare-up, it’s best to avoid.

When it comes to alcohol, you can mix any of your favorite spirits with the herbal bitters I mentioned above. If I were to personally mix anything with the first option, it would likely be Gin.

Typically though my (alcoholic) apéritifs of choice would be:

1) A glass of white wine (something on the drier side)

2) A coupe of champagne (or let’s be honest, sparkling wine such as prosecco or cava – I’m definitely not cracking open the Veuve every night ;))

3) Lillet Blanc with a splash of sparkling water (a more recent discovery)

Keep in mind these are just small servings –  enough to stimulate the digestive process and NOT blunt the appetite. Also, don’t confuse the apéritif with “Happy Hour” or getting sloshed before dinner.

There you have it!

Do you have a favorite apéritif or digestive concoction that you enjoy pre-dinner? Or perhaps just a favorite way to separate your work day from your evening meal?

Let me know in the comments below. I always love hearing from you!

xo Elaine