Dark chocolate. Arugula. Espresso. Citrus rinds. Bitter foods are hotter than ever. Bitter is a surprising flavor that resides on the palate somewhere in the nether region between sour, salty, pungent, savory, and sweet. Today the flavor is enjoying a revival, as adventurous eaters welcome new tastes and textures onto their table. Is there enough bitter in your life?
If you have children, you’ll probably want to save the bitter experiments for grown-up meals only. Kids don’t like bitter foods because they have actually evolved not to. Many poisonous plants and other toxic substances are bitter, and if children went around chowing them down – the human race might not have made it this far. Kids are picky eaters because they evolved to be that way out of protection.
But for adults, the bitter flavor brings a whole new dimension to dinner, not to mention cocktails. Bitter balances rich flavors, and go surprisingly well with sweet. Do you like your pie crusts browned on the edges? That’s because browning produces ever-increasing amounts of bitter – which pairs perfectly with the sweet pie filling inside.
Check out some of our favorite bitter foods below, and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
Dark Chocolate – Go for a bar with at least 70 percent cocoa solids, which indicates a high level of antioxidants. Dark chocolate is packed with potassium, copper, magnesium and iron – so you can indulge without reservation. Eat a small piece alone as slowly as you possibly can, savoring the heavenly combination of bitter and sweet.
Arugula – The darling of healthy eaters everywhere, this bitter green is now a menu staple. Toss arugula with a light vinaigrette in a green salad with Gorgonzola, pear and cinnamon roasted pecans. Add it to a home-baked pizza right after it comes out of the oven, or use it in your favorite soup or stew.
Espresso – If you’re a coffee drinker, then you’re already converted to the wonderful world of bitter flavors. Now it’s time to bring bitter out of the cup and onto your plate. Bitter balances out fatty dishes, like pork chops, beef chili, and burgers. And don’t forget about tiramisu – the classic Italian dessert bursting with cream and coffee flavors.
From the Organic Authority Files
Grapefruit – This breakfast favorite is a classic bitter masterpiece. If you don’t want to eat it alone (with one of those clever grapefruit spoons), try the juice and slices of its rind in cocktails for a punchy twist. It also pairs well with sparkling wine and ginger liqueur.
Turmeric – Used in yellow curries, this bright gold root vegetable tastes delicious. Even better, it contains curcumin, which has been linked to a number of health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, arthritis and cancer. Add turmeric to egg scrambles and frittatas, sprinkle it on roasted vegetables, or add it to rice for color and flavor.
Bitter Melon – This potent fruit contains active substances with anti-diabetic properties that tend to lower the body’s blood glucose levels. Blanch it before cooking, or you may find it too bitter to swallow. It’s traditionally pickled, stuffed or curried, but you can use it in any dish with other strong flavors. Try it in a stir-fry with garlic, chilies, fermented black beans and coconut milk.
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Photo by Dan Zen