What is Campari made of?

Campari is a popular Italian alcoholic liqueur that has a distinct bitter taste. It is often used in cocktails and offers a bold, complex flavor profile. But what ingredients give Campari its signature taste? Here is an in-depth look at what goes into making this iconic red liqueur.

The History of Campari

Campari was invented in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in Novara, Italy. Gaspare was an inventor and experimented with various herbs, spices, and fruit to create unique liqueurs. He wanted to develop a drink with a balancing bitterness that would serve as an aperitif before dining. His recipe was a closely guarded secret.

In 1904, Gaspare’s son, Davide Campari, took over the business and formed Gruppo Campari. Under his leadership, Campari began to be exported internationally and the brand grew. Production was moved to Milan and Sesto San Giovanni.

The signature red color came from the addition of carmine dye, which was used until 2006. The alcohol content was initially around 30-32%. Over the years, the company has played with the recipe, decreasing the alcohol content. The current Campari sold in Italy contains 25% alcohol.

Main Ingredients

While the exact proportions and components of Campari are a secret, the primary flavor ingredients are:

  • Bitter orange – Gives Campari a distinct citrus aroma and bitter taste
  • Chinotto – A type of myrtle-leaved orange native to Italy, provides a bitter, zesty flavor
  • Rhubarb – Adds tart, fruity notes
  • Gentian – A bitter root that grows in the mountains, adds earthiness
  • Cinchona bark – Contains quinine, which gives a bitter, medicinal taste
  • Cassia bark – Imparts hints of cinnamon
  • Licorice root – Provides some sweetness to balance the bitterness
  • Coriander seeds – Give subtle spicy notes
  • Anise – Contributes a faint aniseed flavor
  • Bitter oranges from Sicily and Calabria

In addition to the herbal ingredients, Campari gets its rich red color from carmine dye derived from cochineal insects. It uses a neutral grain spirit for the alcohol base. The exact combination, proportions, and preparation method of the botanicals and spices used are proprietary information.

The Infusion Process

Campari uses an infusion process to draw out the flavors, essential oils, and colors from the herbs, spices, fruits and barks used in its recipe. The ingredients are combined with alcohol and water and left to infuse in large tanks.

The infusion may take place in multiple stages to best extract desired elements from each component. Gentian root and chinotto likely require lengthier infusions than citrus peels. The blend then undergoes filtration.

While the full infusion time is unknown, it likely takes at least several days for all the ingredients to impart their distinct notes into the alcohol base. This long infusion results in a complex, layered flavor profile.

Sugar Content

In addition to the herbal infusion, sugar is added to Campari to balance and round out the drink. The amount of sugar helps tame down the intense bitterness and makes Campari pleasant and drinkable.

Campari has a total sugar content around 20-30 grams per liter. It is lower in sugar than many liqueurs, which may contain 200-300 grams per liter. The sugar content helps add a subtle sweetness to offset the potent bitterness from the herbs and spices.

Nutritional Value

Here is the nutritional value for a 1.5 ounce (44ml) serving of Campari:

Nutrient Per Serving
Calories 97
Carbohydrates 10 g
Sugars 9 g
Protein 0 g

As shown, a serving of Campari contains minimal protein and nutrients. The calories come predominantly from the alcohol and sugar content.

Alcohol Content

Campari has an alcohol content of 24-25% ABV (alcohol by volume). This amount provides the proper balance to allow the herbal flavors to come through while maintaining enough alcoholic punch. The standard serving size of Campari is 1.5 oz, which contains around 0.6 oz of pure alcohol.

The alcohol base of Campari is a neutral grain spirit. It does not use wine or juice alcohols, which could impart additional flavors and take away from the botanical infusion itself.


In addition to alcohol and sugar, Campari uses water in its production, which helps extract flavors during infusion and dilutes the liqueur down to the desired proof after infusion. Purified or distilled water allows the herbal and spice flavors to take center stage.

The amount of added water varies based on the recipe and desired final alcohol content. More water results in a lower ABV. Campari likely uses a ratio of at least 2 parts water to 1 part neutral alcohol as the base of the infusion.


Campari gets its vivid dark red color from natural dyes, traditionally carmine dye. Carmine dye comes from the cochineal insect and produces a red pigment when processed. It imparts a rich, crimson color with just a small amount.

The carmine is added to the herbal Campari infusion, dying the liquid a signature red. Other natural colorants may also be used to achieve the desired hue.

Artificial colorants are generally not used in Campari. The red color is part of Campari’s image and using natural dyes like cochineal helps maintain its authenticity and quality.

Flavors Over Time

While the core components of Campari have likely remained relatively similar over time, some adjustments have been made to the recipe through the years. For example, the alcohol content used to be higher in the early 20th century at around 32% ABV.

Slight tweaks may have been made to the relative amounts of herbs, spices, and sweeteners. Production improvements also allow for more consistency in flavors between batches.

However, the overall flavor profile of Campari remains unchanged. Drinkers can still expect to experience its characteristic bitter, herbal taste that is somewhat medicinal but balanced by citrus and fruity notes.

How Campari’s Flavor Compares to Other Liqueurs

Unlike creamy, sugary liqueurs like Baileys Irish cream or Frangelico, Campari makes no attempt to hide the alcohol. The full proof spirit provides the backdrop for the herbs and spices to shine.

Campari stands out from sweet, aromatic amaros like Averna or Ramazzotti by delivering significantly more bitterness. The chinotto is responsible for its vibrant, tart citrus bitterness.

The complexity of Campari’s flavor comes from the layers of bitterness from the multiple herbs and barks used in the recipe. Gentian root, rhubarb, and cinchona bark each add their own unique flavor dimensions.

Finally, Campari is lower in sugar content compared to many herbal liqueurs on the market today. This allows the flavors to come through rather than being masked by sweetness.

Geographic Influences on Flavor

Campari uses ingredients native to Italy and the Mediterranean, which lends it a distinct regional flavor profile. Bitter oranges and chinotto are citrus fruits that grow well in Italy’s climate and soil.

The use of locally grown herbs like gentian root also provides terroir. Gentian grows wild in certain mountain regions of Italy. Campari likely sources regional gentian to support Italian farmers and preserve the taste of the land.

Licorice root, coriander seeds, and anise also have a long history of use in Italian liqueurs. Featuring these ingredients gives Campari an authentic Italian essence.

Production Process Innovations

While the Campari recipe has stayed substantially the same, modern production methods allow for improved consistency and efficiency. Campari is made on a much larger scale today than in Gaspare Campari’s small shop in Novara.

Advancements in extraction methods allow Campari to better control the infusion times and temperatures to optimize the flavor. This helps achieve the desired balance of bitterness and aromatics.

Filtration and bottling technologies minimize oxygen exposure and spoilage, giving Campari a longer shelf life. Automated bottling allows for higher volume production runs.

Quality control testing ensures each batch meets specifications for color, aroma, and taste. Campari likely uses gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyze chemical components.

These innovations in production quality allow Campari to make enough liqueur to satisfy worldwide demand while maintaining the same iconic flavor profile.

Types of Campari

While Campari’s classic red iteration reigns supreme, there are a few variants produced:

Campari Soda

This pre-mixed version combines Campari with soda water for a ready-to-drink option.

Campari Cask Tales

This takes standard Campari and finishes it in barrels, such as bourbon casks, for added smoothness and wood notes.

Campari Fruit

Fruit flavors like pomegranate and blood orange are added to the classic recipe for fruit-infused options.

Campari ZERO

A zero sugar version keeps the flavor profile but cuts out added sugars.

The core Campari recipe endures as the prevailing product. Fans love the original for its balanced bitterness, herbal complexity, and history.

Cocktails Made with Campari

Campari shines when used as an ingredient in cocktails. The Negroni and Americano are classic Campari cocktails. Here are a few other popular drinks made with Campari:

Cocktail Ingredients
Boulevardier Campari, bourbon, sweet vermouth
Negroni Sbagliato Campari, sweet vermouth, sparkling wine
Jasmine Campari, gin, lemon juice, Cointreau
Milano Torino Campari, sweet vermouth

Campari is extremely versatile in cocktails. Its bold flavor allows it to stand up against spirits like gin or whiskey. The bitterness works well with citrus juice and herbal liqueurs. Next time you mix a drink, consider adding a splash of Campari!

Is Campari Gluten Free?

Most Campari products are considered gluten-free, meaning they do not contain wheat, rye, barley, or other gluten-containing grains. The main ingredients in Campari are distilled alcohol, herbs, spices, and fruit.

Some gluten grains may be used in the production of the neutral spirit base. However, the distilling process removes the gluten proteins, and the finished spirit is tested to ensure gluten levels test below 20ppm.

The Campari brand states that its liqueurs contain no detectable gluten. However, there is a small risk of cross-contamination at the factory where grain alcohol is present. Anyone with celiac disease or extreme gluten sensitivity should exercise caution.

Certified Gluten-Free Campari Products

The following Campari products are certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group:

  • Red Campari
  • Campari Orange Passion
  • Campari Soda
  • Campari Cask Tales

Individuals who must follow a strict gluten-free diet can feel comfortable consuming these certified options. They are produced separately from other products and undergo thorough cleaning procedures to prevent cross-contact.


Campari’s signature flavor comes from its secret blend of herbs, spices, fruits, and other botanicals like bitter orange, gentian root, chinotto, and rhubarb. These ingredients are combined with alcohol and water and allowed to infuse to extract the flavors and aromas.

Added sugar helps balance the bitterness and round out the profile. The carmine dye provides Campari’s crimson red color that is recognized worldwide. While production methods have improved over the decades, Campari maintains the same traditional recipe.

Drinking Campari is an authentic Italian experience. It provides a bold, complex bitterness that is perfectly balanced. Sipped straight or mixed in cocktails, this vibrant red liqueur transports you to the cafés of Italy. Salute!

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