What is Campari?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Campari is an Italian drink developed by Gaspare Campari in 1860. It is made by steeping a secret mixture of herbs in alcoholic spirits, creating a strongly flavored and very alcoholic beverage. It is in the family of drinks known as bitters, because they feature herbs and bark that lend a distinctly bitter flavor to the beverage.

Campari is often used to make cocktails.
Campari is often used to make cocktails.

Originally, bitters were developed for use as health tonics, and they were often made with infusions of aromatic herbs so that they had a distinctive aroma and taste that made consumers feel like they were drinking a healthy beverage. Like other bitters, Campari has a strong aroma and a characteristic flavor, which some consumers find overwhelming when consumed straight. For this reason, it is often mixed with soda or other mixers in cocktails.

A Campari aperitif may accompany a plate of canapes and hors d'oeuvres that is served before dinner.
A Campari aperitif may accompany a plate of canapes and hors d'oeuvres that is served before dinner.

Although the exact ingredients in Campari are not publicly known, the distinctive red color originally came from cochineal dye, which is derived from an insect, Dactylopius coccus. Since 2006, however, an artificial coloring agent has replaced cochineal dye in most of this beverage that is produced worldwide. It also contains cascarilla bark, a botanical product from the Bahamas, which has a characteristic strongly bitter flavor. These and other ingredients are steeped together in an infusion of bitter herbs, which is strained to remove particles of the plants before being bottled.

Campari has a distinctive cherry-red color.
Campari has a distinctive cherry-red color.

There are a number of ways to serve the drink. One of the most traditional is as an aperitif, a small drink served before a meal. Aperitifs are typically offered when guests are still milling, and signal that it is appropriate to begin consuming hors d'oeuvres and other appetizers. In this instance, Campari will be served in very small glasses, so that guests have a small sip. The bitter flavor complements many appetizers, making it highly popular for this usage.

Campari has a distinctive red color, which originally came from cochineal dye.
Campari has a distinctive red color, which originally came from cochineal dye.

A number of cocktails also call specifically for Campari, such as a Negroni, which also includes gin, sweet vermouth, and a twist of lemon. The beverage is used in cocktails both for the distinctive flavor and the rich red color. Bartenders who like to experiment with their drinks sometimes enjoy playing with this bitter, as it can add a fiery kick to a variety of drinks. It also appears in some iced desserts, such as sorbet. Alcohol is added to frozen desserts to change their freezing point, creating a different texture, and it also has an impact on flavor and color, so it is used judiciously.

Before 2006, Campari's red color came from the dye of cochineal insects.
Before 2006, Campari's red color came from the dye of cochineal insects.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Campari and coconut water is really good.


I am a big fan of Campari, but is it gluten free? The ingredients seem to be a mystery.


It's one of my all-time favorite drinks. I just love it the taste when added to orange juice.


Just asking if anybody knows how to produce a campari? i mean what is the process of making campari before they sell it to the market? Thanks,



I have 30 year old campari. can it be drunk?


I think Campari with a sugar coated glass rim sounds not so nice. I like Campati and soda. I used to add a little sweet vermouth. I wish I knew what the ingredients are as far as potassium, phos. and sugar.


Carmine is nasty, and my husband gets hives from it. It is ridiculous to think that we can't come up with a better way to color things red (beets, anyone?) than crushed insect bodies. Carmine is repulsive, and is allergy-producing in some people. I'm so relieved they got rid of carmine so that I can now try it! I'm anxious to see what kind of stunning red concoctions I can create.


good odd taste, like some people I know.


who cares what's really in it? It's damn good stuff! Tastes like grapefruit juice mixed with moonshine!


The person who said that pomegranate juice tastes like campari is confusing it with grenadine. Grenadine is made from pomegranates. Campari tastes nothing like it.


I am trying to find out how much sugar is in Campari. Please help.


can anyone tell me the sugar content of campari?


Campari tastes nothing like pomegranate juice. The musky bitterness and spiciness of Campari are totally absent from pomegranate.


If you are vegetarian and this really bothers you, or if you just feel that paying $20.00 dollars a bottle for bitters is a little bit (or a lot) absurd, try pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice with a wee bit of vodka or everclear will give you what is sold today as "Compari." Don't get me wrong. I like Compari, but pomegranate juice tastes exactly like Compari without the alcohol. Give it a kick, and you won't be disappointed. Voila!


Campari Royale

1/2 oz Campari

3 oz fresh orange juice

5 oz Prosecco



Someone told me that the proper way to serve campari was in a sugar rimmed glass with a lemon wedge. can anyone confirm this?


i drink lots of campari. will it affect my sex drive in anyway?


Shame shame on you for using artficial food coloring in a drink that has such history and longevity. Return to nature! then I will return to Campari.


I would like to know if bootleggers can easily make this. I know some that are interested in Campari.


1) I was just perusing a bottle of Campari at the local wine & spirits store, and the front label read 'artificial color'.

2) All alcohol beverages list the alcohol content. Some wines will list it as a percentage. Spirits will usually specify it as "proof". Example: 80 proof is 40% alcohol, 90 proof is 45% alcohol, 100 proof is 50% alcohol, etc.


Am afraid, being a vegetarian, I have lost some of the attraction/liking for campari. Does purple campari also have dye resourced from insects?

What is the source of alcohol in Campari?


All i can say is...No more martinis for me!!!!!!!!


Can anyone tell me what the alcoholic "strength" of Campari is?


Other drinks contain cochineal dye too...including some Sobe energy drinks and some Ocean Spray juices.


I recently sent an e-mail with my question to campariusa.com. This was their response:

"Campari ingredients use to have carmine. As of 2006 Campari now uses a red dye and not Carmine."

"Campari used to use Carmine (Beetle Blood) as the coloring. They used this recipe for 150 years. Now that Carmine is low, we started using a red dye, typical red dye that is used in liquid or food products."


Campari has re-formulated their Campari to use an artificial dye rather than natural carmine.

If you own a much older bottle of Campari, with "Aperitivo" on the front label, it will say "Artificial Coloring" but it actually uses natural carmine. The label changed in the last few years to say "Bitters" on the front and on the back "Contains Natural Carmine" on the back label when the FDA changed their laws about labeling and artificial colorants.

Now with the new formulation using dyes other than carmine, the label has changed for a third time and so has the bottle shape itself.


Shell and Anon6302 - I don't know if anyone other than the owner/president of Campari knows -- I think it's a secret recipe. Some people report that newer Campari bottles list artificial flavors as an ingredient and think that these bottles don't contain natural carmine because older bottles listed natural carmine outright as an ingredient. Other people say that the label change is just that, a label change, and not a change to the ingredients. I've also heard people report that the Campari in some stores still have natural carmine on the ingredients list. So all that to say that no one seems to really know. The only way to find out for sure is to email Campari I suppose. But if they're keeping their recipe a secret, maybe they won't answer.


I was surprised to read that cochineal dye is used for Campari's red color. I have heard from someone that Campari has discontinued this practice. Can anybody provide clarification?


my new bottle of Campari says it is artificially colored. Does it no longer contain Carmine?

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