Samples of Alomo Bitters
Segun James looks into the proliferation of the sales of bitters in Nigeria and posits that an aphrodisiac may have secretly crept into Nigerian pharmaceutical market
It arrived surreptitiously into the Nigerian alcohol market and ubiquitously, it has taken over as the drink of choice. Today it is everywhere and comes in different names like Alomo Bitters and Kasapreko (from Republic of Ghana), Kerewa, Ibile, Opa Eyin and man Power. And they are very suggestive of what they are for – libidinal efficacy. New brands are entering the market every day, all targeted at the middle aged man, the heaviest drinker in Nigeria according to reports.
These are bitters said to have aphrodisiac properties. Immediately you walked into a bar anywhere in the country and you meet people drinking bitters, you are inundated with news and reports of how one or the other drink has turned the men into tigers on bed and the ladies swooning for more from their newly discovered bull.
Bitters are ingredients in many a local shacks, especially in low income areas, but they never received the attention they now enjoy among the middle class, and surprisingly, among the elites.
Over the years, the drinks and names on the lips of the middle class and the elites are champagne, whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin and beer. At this level, no one mentions bitters except campari, an imported variety.
Bitters or bitter tonic are spirit-based tinctures made from herbs, barks and roots, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Bitters are prepared according to secret recipes by several manufacturers using bitter herbs, leaves, fruits, seeds, or roots and sometimes alcohol or sugar.
“It is any of numerous aromatised and often alcoholic liquids containing bitter substances used as tonics, liqueurs, appetisers, digestives, flavourings, and ingredients to add tang or smoothness to alcoholic drinks.”
Bitters are usually named according to the ingredient giving the predominant flavour, such as orange bitters and peach bitters. The alcoholic strength varies but it’s generally about 40 per cent by volume.
Medicinal bitters, few in number and of minor therapeutic value are also a major draw in the country. It is not surprising that people rush to buy them from sales vehicles, especially at popular bus stops.
At these bus-stops, sales persons who also serve as pharmacists market and prescribe the best of their bitters as remedy for all kinds of ailment.
Among the ilks are Oroki Pokipoki, Yoyo Bitters and Oko Oloyun (the pregnant woman’s spouse) - which enjoys good publicity on radio and television, - Epa Ijebu and the cure all, heal all antidote for any and all ailments called Gbogbonise.
Although now very popular in Nigeria, bitters are not local invention. Its history could be traced to biblical era where early Hebrew history records the addition of sweet-scented or bitter herbs to wine in order to improve and give variety to the flavour.
However, the preparation of aromatic liqueurs originated in France around 1533, and their use spread quickly all over the world.
As it is in Nigeria now, mass production of medicinal bitter boomed in the Americas and Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.
Dozens of new brand proliferated, claiming to be remedies for all sorts of ailments – indigestion, loss of vitality and appetite.
Some even claimed to be cures for gout, malaria, dysentery and erectile dysfunction! But they soon fizzled out as nothing more than an excused to drink alcohol.
But, of all the bitters of those days, one persevered - the Swedish Bitters.
Now, it is still on sale in most countries and in Nigeria as a natural laxative and as a relief for insect bites and skin abrasions.
But sentiments apart, how did the boom in both medicinal and alcoholic bitter suddenly takes over the nation?
Mr. Kola Agaja, a Warri based businessman and an avid bitters drinker, believes that the recent upsurge in ailments such as diabetics have helped contribute to the popularity of bitters.
According to him, “the fear of diabetics is the beginning of wisdom for a lot of people. Most drinkers get in the habit because of fear of diabetes with a sense that it helps to wash away dirty things in the system.”
For Paniebi Joshua, what swayed him towards bitters is the bitterness of its taste. “I love the bitter taste. The mixture with alcohol is the attraction for me.”
Others drink it for its medicinal properties along with its obvious alcoholic content. To them, this is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. But the truth remains, that most people drink bitters because of its advertised ability and as aphrodisiac.
Most men, especially the middle- aged ones who constitute the majority of drinkers of bitters in beer parlours across the country, wanted something to increase their libidinal ability. They constitute the major “advertisers” of the efficacy of the drink as they regal their friends and anyone who cares to listen about their latest conquest and performance since taking one brand of bitters or the other.
Although a lot of people doubt the claims attributed to the bitters and suspect its arrogated power to heal, but surprisingly, most of them carries the NAFDAC seal which is the rubber stamp the drinkers needed to confirm the efficacy and the genuineness of the drink.
While bitters are gaining their place on bar shelves across the country, it remains to be seen if NAFDAC has determined the differences between its medicinal properties and alcoholic use. Perhaps it is important to check whether the medicinal ones are prescriptive medicines which cannot be sold on the street or over the counter, or they are just fake medicine sanctioned by the federal government agency.
But with antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the rise, ogogoro, paraga, shepe, monkey-tail and bitters combination may become the next craze for Nigerians. And all they needed is a NAFDAC seal and number.