Why is Bitter Food Healthy?

Horseradish Root

Photo: Wikipedia

Less than 8% of the calories we consume are from bitter foods. But perhaps we need to increase that percentage. It turns out that the bitter taste is an expression of the antioxidants that are so healthy for us:

  • flavonoids in cranberries and kale
  • polyphenols in red wine
  • catechin in unsweetened cocoa
  • caffeine in coffee and tea

Bitter is the most sensitive of tastes and is definitely acquired. Babies are born craving sweet. And many of us seem to latch on to that craving for life. Thankfully there are many antioxidants found in non-bitter foods, most notably berries.

What are some bitter foods you eat? How do you make them more palatable?

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  • Kelli

    I have no idea how I came to prefer bitter foods but I love my tea strong and unsweetened and my chocolate dark. It might have something to do with my teeth developing a sensitivity to super sugary foods or maybe it’s just exposure. I remember eating a lot of dark leafy greens as a kid and I’ve started to develop a taste for coffee and wine more recently. The more I try them the more palatable they become.

  • Jason

    Hmmm…. I’m going to have to start drinking more beer. Are there antioxidants in the hops used?

     No need to do anything to make it more palatable. 

    • BillMcSweeny

      Hops do have antioxidants!!! Three cheer for beer!!!

  • Dajewel1982

    It took a while for my body to crave bitter, as i have been slowly transitioning to raw, more plant- based eating. It took a while cuz you have to slowly teach your taste buds to like it. Now, I make stong ginger tea (grated ginger steeped in boiling water n fresh lemon juice), steam kale for only 5 minutes, adding an inch of ginger in my green shakes almost everyday

  • Bittermelon

    I think it is natural that as one grows older the taste buds change. I find myself prefering dark chocolate and wine as time goes by. I also seem to like bitter melon more and more lately. I usually like to cook them with sweet soy sauce and sometimes with chilli to make them spicy. If you want to make them less bitter, cut them thinly then sprinkle with salt and let them sit for an hour, then drain the liquid.

  • http://liztagami.wordpress.com/ Liz Tagami

    Many people don’t know that — like coffee, tea, chocolate and wine — there is  a world of diverse and wonderful olive varieties grown and crushed for extra virgin olive oil, and that not all extra virgin olive oils are the same in terms of health benefit.

    Some olive varieties are naturally higher in polyphenols and therefore naturally more robust and bitter. These robust oils, while cough-producing when consumed “straight”, are highly palatable / enjoyable when paired with food.  

    Even milder varieties of olives exhibit high levels of polyphenols when compared to non-olive oils, and a FRESH olive oil, i.e., one consumed soon after harvest, will have a higher level of polyphenols than an oil which is older.  Arbequina is one such mild olive, and fresh arbequina is characterized as having a “slight peppery” finish.  Compare this with flat and relatively flavorless olive oils which have no character due to being refined (the so called “pure” olive oil), or just old olive oil which may be labeled extra virgin, but exhibit none of the bitter and throat-catching characteristics of a true extra virgin.

    One more thing:  earlier harvest oils are higher in polyphenols than late harvest.

    If you are already spending a bit more money on olive oil versus refined seed oils (which have virtually no health benefit vs. olive oil), take the time to purchase extra virgin olive oils which are traceable to the grower and indicate harvest date.  

    In summary the three main determiners of antioxidant activity in olive oil (among many) are 1) olive variety, 2) how green vs ripe the olives were at harvest and 3) the olive oil age relative to harvest date and date of consumption.

    Finally, learn to enjoy the wonderful diversity of olive oils made from different varieties of olives; experience green & grassy, fruity & peppery, etc. We can have sublime culinary experiences and eat healthily, too!

  • Lynn

    So what is the vegetable in the photograph? I can’t seem to find a caption.

    • Spuett

      It looks like horseradish, but I don’t understand why an article about bitter foods would be under a picture of horseradish o-O

  • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea T

    You can go further with your answer:
    If I recall correctly, bitter foods such as bitter herbs and greens are detoxifying. They stimulate the liver and help with digestion. Upon
    tasting something bitter the body sends immediate signals to the
    digestive system to secrete lots of juices in the stomach and liver in
    preparation for the bitter food. 

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