When You Can't Eat Any More, Drink a Digestif

November 12, 2015

You’ve been sitting for the last four hours, gleefully tucking into the parade of heavy, gravy-bathed foods crowding the table. Festive spirit and general mirth abound, but your stomach, well, it’s starting to cry uncle. The last thing in the world you want at such a moment is to pour one more thing into your strained digestive system.

But, consider taking a page from the playbook of merrymakers through the ages, and instead of giving up, reaching for a digestif.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

A digestif is a drink traditionally taken at the end of a meal to stimulate your digestion, “cut the fat” (as my Norwegian family says), and restore your confidence that you will someday wish to eat again. They are a balm for an aching stomach, a pair of stretchy pants in liquid form. Digestifs are usually taken in a small amount, just an ounce or two.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by Alpha Smoot

And, while people sometimes refer to any drink at the end of a meal as a digestif, this winds up lumping drinks that are really dessert drinks like Irish Cream or Kahlua into the category. Real digestifs, however—the drinks that are true digestive aids—are only a little sweet, often assertively bitter, and packed with spices and herbs that ease indigestion, like fennel, caraway, lemon verbena, or artichoke.

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Put a digestif or two out on the table with a bunch of small glasses and end your holiday party on a high note instead of a fizzle.

Keep these digestifs at the table so you can continue the conversation instead of collapsing on the couch:

Photo by Emily Vikre


In my family, this Scandinavian spirit is the go-to for “cutting the fat” of holiday meals. The dominant spice in aquavit is caraway, giving it a flavor that may remind you of rye bread. Aquavit frequently contains spices like fennel and cardamom in addition to caraway, all of which are good for your digestive system.

Photo by Emily Vikre


You can choose Green or Yellow Chartreuse, but I recommend Green because it's less sweet and more intense—just the thing to shake you back awake after an indulgent supper. Both varieties of Chartreuse are made by French monks and are deeply spicy and herbal. Green Chartreuse has well over 100 types of herbs in it, so I think it’s safe to bet that at least some of them aid digestion.

Photo by Emily Vikre


Strega is an Italian herbal liqueur that could be considered a delicate Roman cousin of Chartreuse. While complexly herbal, it's less intense than Chartreuse. Strega is brilliantly yellow from saffron, but it also tastes of fennel, mint, anise, cloves, and nutmeg. In short, all sorts of spices that are good for your stomach.

Photo by Emily Vikre


This is a type of Italian Amaro, which is a group of bitter, herbal Italian liqueurs ranging from caramel-y sweet (like Averna Amaro) to viciously bitter and menthol-y (like Fernet Branca).

Cynar is on the intense side, but not insurmountably so. It has a lightness from herbal flavors and notes of dark roast coffee on the finish. Artichokes are among the flavoring agents (Cynar does not, however, taste a thing like artichokes), and artichokes (along with some other types of thistles that are used in liqueurs) have long been prized as an ingredient in digestive tonics, as they stimulate bile production and even protect the liver (glory be!).

What do you drink after a big meal? Share with us in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bevi
  • ingefaer
I like to say I'm a lazy iron chef (I just cook with what I have around), renegade nutritionist, food policy wonk, and inveterate butter and cream enthusiast! My husband and I own a craft distillery in Northern Minnesota called Vikre Distillery (, where I claimed the title, "arbiter of taste." I also have a doctorate in food policy, for which I studied the changes in diet and health of new immigrants after they come to the United States. I myself am a Norwegian-American dual citizen. So I have a lot of Scandinavian pride, which especially shines through in my cooking on special holidays. Beyond loving all facets of food, I'm a Renaissance woman (translation: bad at focusing), dabbling in a variety of artistic and scientific endeavors.


Bevi November 13, 2015
Since the early 90's, once in a while, we have been drinking Becherovka, a Czech digestif made in Karlovy Vary. It has a mildly spicy flavor with a hint of peach. In the Czechlands, a shot of Becherovka might be the first thing imbibed in the morning after a hard night of drinking. For more robust occasions we drink Slivovitz, a plum brandy.
ingefaer November 12, 2015
I like to drink Gammel Dansk ( translated Old Danish ). It's a bitter containing "30 different herbs and fruits" and it has a wonderful ability to settle my stomach