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Many Bitters Beverages: We Have To Be Careful

It appears the beverage industry has started witnessing a new surge of products across all categories – wine, whisky, bitters, ready-to-drink (RTD), carbonated soft drinks etc.

But my article will dwell more on the bitters market. This market has become fertile for massive growth as more consumers look out to drink an alcoholic beverage that is believed to have health benefits to the human body. The market has also seen more growth in terms of expansions, investments and technology as well as revenue generation. The industry’s contribution to the Ghanaian economy cannot be overlook.

Creating a new market in the Ghanaian economy has never come easy. Most indigenous market created by indigenes who out of passion and innovation, come up with various alcoholic products but the question remains, can they stand the test of time?

At first, bitters were produced at garages on a small scale until the commercial production start of Alomo Bitters which was scientifically formulated and meticulously researched by the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine, a World Health Organization affiliate. Alomo Bitters is also the first commercially-produced bitters product in West Africa.

In recent times, we have seen the influx of new bitters flooding the market and these products have grown increasingly popular in many households with massive advertising spend on TV and radio. These adverts seems to appeal to the “sexual conscience” of consumers as been the magic to their super sexual performance.

But the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine (CSRPM) has asked consumers of herbal products especially alcoholic beverages to look out for the mark of efficacy on such products which has been given by scientific institutions before consuming them.

According to the Executive Director of the Centre, Dr Augustine Ocloo, it is not enough for consumers to depend on what advertisers say about a product in the media but what state institutions mandated to carry out research on such products have stated.

Established by the Government of Ghana in 1975, the Centre is one key institution mandated to among other things, to conduct scientific research into all medical herbs that is used in the country.

The bitters market has seen a plethora of brands passing through the system. Names like Pusher Gin Bitters, Captains Bitters, Cargo Bitters, Ogidigidi, Target Bitters and others all passed through the system but today when mentioned are nowhere to be found on the market. It is either consumers lost interest in those brands or might be due to certain reasons best known to manufacturers of those brands.

Nowadays, a new crop of bitters have entered the market. Notable ones include “Adonko” Bitters, Chairman Bitters, “Kakai” Bitters and “Biegya” Bitters not forgetting Origin Bitters, Joy Dadi, Pashew Bitters, Don Papa Ginseng Bitters, Agya Appiah Bitters among others.

With all these products, it has become very difficult for consumers to differentiate the good and bad.

In an interaction with the Deputy Commercial Director for Kasapreko, Mr. Gerald Bonsu about this subject, he took note of the fact that some of the bitters that are on the market are usually not prepared under hygienic conditions since the market became ripe and the demands for bitters grow day-in day-out.

He noted that there is currently a massive influx of alcoholic beverages on the Ghanaian market and as such is difficult for consumers to now distinguish between the good and the bad.

According to market players, some herbalists have now shifted to the production of alcoholic beverages without license from the Ghana Standards Authority.

Mr. Bonsu explained that Kasapreko has been in business for a long time (over two decades) and as such ensures that whatever is produced is good for consumption. It is the reason why the company invested over $70 million into new machines to produce top quality product that meets international safety standards.

In the quest to make quick money, it is very clear that many ‘small manufacturers’ produce bitters under unhygienic conditions which adversely affect consumers’ health.

According to a study conducted by Ghanaian researchers and published by the International Research Publication House in 2013, the rate at which herb-based products are flooding the Ghanaian market without regulation is a big worry for health experts and other stakeholders.

Generally, herbal medicines are believed to be benign and not to cause severe toxicity or have any side effects. This belief coupled with lower costs as compared with conventional medications is a major reason for the wide patronage of herbal medicinal products in Ghana.

The report titled “Quantitative Analysis of Chemical Contaminants in Ghanaian Herbal Alcoholic Bitters” stated that despite the importance of herbal medicines, they can cause severe toxicity or complications and even death.

The study revealed that there are no specific chemical entities to which many of the desirable effects attributed to the intake of Ghanaian herbal alcoholic bitters can be assigned.

Rather, the routine presence of phthalates can be considered as harmful since these compounds are known to cause carcinogenic, teratogenic and endocrine effects, the report said.

It added that some phthalates have even shown reproductive and developmental toxicity in animal experiments and are known to affect semen production in men.

In women, the researchers found out that phthalates are known to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The report concluded that despite the perceived benefits, it is evident that patrons of alcoholic bitters may be ingesting contaminants which may have some health implications.

Sadly, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) don’t have enough resources to fight these fake products in our system. It can do what its resources can afford i.e. that is regulating the big companies that produces bitters in large production numbers are easily located.

But as well-known, bitters products are mostly consumed in small “kiosk”, pub and chop bars in rural areas. Production of these products are also done at unknown places hence making it difficult for the FDA to track these manufacturers.

As consumers of bitters, we have to be careful with the intake of bitters. Let’s not be swayed by the media hype. We must take our lives serious.

By Ekow Quandzie


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