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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.