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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Digestif: Do France’s after-dinner drinks actually help digestion?

Drinks like Cognac, Calvados and Armagnac are popular in France and thought to aid digestion after a big meal - but does any actual science back this up?

Cognac is among the digestifs popular in France. But its health benefits are pretty much non-existant.
Cognac is among the digestifs popular in France. But its health benefits are pretty much non-existant. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

Alcoholic beverages thought to help with digestion have existed since the middle ages – or perhaps even earlier. 

Monks and alchemists in Europe used herbs and spices to make drinks like Hippocras which were thought not only to have medicinal properties but also to be aphrodisiacs. King Louis XIV of France was known to be a fan. 

READ ALSO 17 of the best digestif drinks in France

Digestifs remain highly popular in France today. A tipple of calvados, cognac or armagnac after a hearty meal is seen as a luxurious way to help the digestive system. 

At the other end are apéritifs (apéro) such as kir, white wine or pastis that are thought to sharpen the appetite before a meal.

But the science suggests that digestifs do little to aid digestion. 

A 2010 scientific paper titled, ‘Effect on gastric function and symptoms of drinking wine, black tea, or schnapps with a Swiss cheese fondue’, found that consuming alcohol after a meal actually slows down the digestive system by up to 50 percent. 

READ MORE Cigarettes and alcohol: How young French people differ from older generations

The reason for this is that alcohol blocks the secretion of gastrin – a hormone that that stimulates the release of gastric acid, which is a key component of the digestive process. The stronger the alcohol, the greater this blocking effect is. 

Alcohol is also highly calorific. In consuming it, drinkers are adding to the overall amount of calories that the body has to digest.  

The only physiological benefit of drinking a digestif after a meal is that alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it opens up blood vessels and prevents muscles from tightening. This allows the stomach to expand and can bring a short-term feeling of relief if you have eaten too much food. 

Whatever the science says, French people seem unlikely to stop drinking digestifs anytime soon. 

Digestifs maybe don’t have the digestive qualities that we attribute to them but the ritual means that they have a place. They allow us to stretch an evening on and have conversations, to relax, to chat, to laugh and to take our time,” writes sommelier Véronique Rivest

Member comments

  1. A shot of kiwi eau de vie, not the shop bought stuff, after a large meal always helps. Also, a shot in coffee keeps one alive.😛🙃

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FOOD & DRINK

Paris bakers bounce back with sharp rise in number of city boulangeries

If you’ve convinced yourself that the delicious and tempting aroma of baking bread seems a little more pronounced in Paris then your scent suspicions are accurate, according to new figures showing a strong growth in the number of boulangeries in the capital.

Paris bakers bounce back with sharp rise in number of city boulangeries

You might think that the busy pace of big city life would put paid to the tradition of going to a traditional boulangerie to buy your daily bread.

But after several years in which number of boulangeries in and around the capital did indeed decline, 110 new bakeries were listed by the Chambre des métiers et de l’artisanat (CMA) d’Île-de-France in 2022.

In the 20 arrondissements of Paris, there are now 1,360 bakeries – a jump of nine percent in the past five years. Twenty years ago, there were only 1,000 boulangeries in the capital.

Moving out into the greater Paris Île de France region, the number of boulangeries has jumped an average of 20 percent – and as much as 35 percent in the département of Seine-Saint-Denis. 

READ ALSO MAPS: How many Parisians live more than 5 minutes from a boulangerie?

They’re busy, too. According to CMA figures, Parisian boulangeries bake between 500 and 800 baguettes a day, compared to an average of 300 across France, and sell a variety of artisan-made breads and pastries.

That’s in spite of repeated crises – from the yellow vest protests and pandemic confinement, to the rising cost-of-living and soaring energy bills.

The CMA has said it has contacted every one of the bakers in Paris to find out how they are coping with rising bills, while an estimated 50 advisers are conducting energy audits to find ways for individual bakers to save money.

The secret of modern boulangers’ survival is not much of a secret – diversification.

“The profile of the artisan is not the same as it was fifty years ago, when making good bread was enough,” Jean-Yves Bourgois, secretary general of the CMA of Île-de-France, told Le Parisien. “They are much more dynamic: the offer is much wider, and they have been able to keep up with customers’ demand.”

READ ALSO

Bakeries have increasingly established themselves as an alternative to the fast-food kebab houses and burger bars by developing their product lines to include salads, sandwiches and warm meals for takeaway. Many also have an attached café or terrace for customers to while away their time.

As well as diversifying, bakers are consolidating. “Networks of artisanal bakeries (Kayser, Landemaine, Sevin, etc.) are expanding, and more and more Parisian artisans are managing several stores,” the Professional Association of Bakers in Greater Paris said.

“There have been other crises and we have held on. The bakery industry still has a lot of good years ahead of it,” Franck Thomasse, president of the professional association, said.

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