As a flavour, bitter often gets a bad rap. A taste to grimace at instead of embrace. Evolutionarily, this is understandable: as a natural defence system, our taste buds adapted to detect a modicum of bitterness since many poisons are, well, bitter.
But while most people historically have been ardent avoiders of bitterness —more simplistic sweet and salty have largely edged bitter out of the kitchen—foods such as arugula, frisée, rapini, and their respective bitter edges are increasingly colonizing restaurant menus and the vegetable aisles of supermarkets.
The booming craft beer industry is relying heavily on the bitterness of hops. Artisanal chocolate makers are offering up their wares with higher and higher cacao percentages.
Why the surging interest? Long overdue, people are waking up to the fact that bitterness adds complexity to dishes and can balance out other tastes in the flavour spectrum. Without bitterness, cooking can lack harmony and dimension.
Beyond elevating a meal to elegant, we should also consider bitterness the taste of health, as bitter foods are often rich in compounds that have a positive impact on our health. So, when it comes to bitter, it’s time to push the prejudice off your palate with these recipes that open up all the possibilities of the flavour spectrum.
A bitter pill might be hard to swallow, but these bitter delights can wake up your taste buds and help to up the health ante of any meal.
In many cases, the nutritional benefits of bitter foods put others to shame. That’s because the compounds that make foods come off as bitter to our taste buds—think polyphenols in cacao, curcumin in turmeric, tannins in walnuts, terpenes in citrus peel, and glucosinolates in Brussels sprouts and kale—also happen to be powerfully good-for-you antioxidants that may help lower the risk for certain deadly diseases such as cancer. Not to mention that medicinal bitter delights such as radicchio and walnuts contain an arsenal of micronutrients necessary for lasting health. And developing a bigger appetite for bitter-tasting foods could help in the battle of the bulge. A study published in the journal Appetite found that individuals who frowned upon bitter-tasting fare were more likely to be overweight. This makes sense if people replace bitter foods on their plate with sugary or salty processed foods and need to tame the bitterness of items such as coffee and chocolate with higher amounts of sugar. Plus, many bitter foods also tend to be low in caloric density.
Dumping a bunch of bitter greens on your kid’s plate is very likely to not go over well. Children naturally have an aversion to bitter-tasting foods (think of your failed attempts to get them to eat Brussels sprouts), so a better approach is needed to ease them into the world of bitter. This means being stealthy and sneaking smaller amounts of bitter foods into dishes they already like. That could involve stirring a handful of arugula into mac and cheese or a spoonful of cacao powder into oatmeal. Repeat exposure is a key way for all generations of a household to learn to enjoy the bitter side of foods.
Inspired by its creamy Italian cousin, this vegetarian take on panna cotta swaps out the cream and gelatin for coconut milk and agar agar. Odourless and tasteless, agar-agar is a plant-based thickener derived from seaweed. It’s also a wonderful source of iron, fibre, and magnesium. If you plan on transporting these desserts, pour panna cotta into small jam jars. Once set, screw lids on top and place garnish in separate container. Once you reach your destination, simply garnish and serve.
This happy jumble of vegetables is not only beautiful to look at but also scrumptious. Try to use a rainbow of different colours for the most striking salad presentation. Feel free to replace the dried apricots in the dressing with another dried fruit you may have on hand. Dried cranberries, dried cherries, or golden raisins are all delicious alternatives.
In ancient China, black rice was called “forbidden rice” because only nobles were allowed to eat it. Luckily, today we mere mortals can harness its salad-perfect, slightly sweet, and nutty taste. Bright and fresh, this salad isn’t only flavourful with a winning mix of textures; it’s packed with nutrients, too. Mango tango If possible, use Ataulfo mango for this salad. Its honeylike flavour and custardy texture can’t be beaten. You’re looking for a bit of softness when pressed to indicate ripeness.
Your #mealprepgoals just got easier to nail. Quinoa, black beans, and tempeh provide a triple threat of plant-based protein in this large taco-style salad that holds up remarkably well. The quinoa will absorb the vibrant, flavourful dressing and still be perfectly tender by the time your next meal rolls around. You can toss on some cubed avocado, queso fresco, and/or broken baked tortilla chips for crunch just before serving. Raise a toast To add a deeper flavour to quinoa, consider toasting the grains before boiling in water. Simply heat a couple teaspoons of oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan, add dry quinoa, and heat, stirring often, until the grains are a couple shades darker and emit a nutty, toasted smell; then add your water. Plant-based redo For a plant-based option, you can top salad with slices of grilled tempeh or navy beans instead of chicken. To infuse dressing with savoury, cheesy flavour, minus the dairy, you could use nutritional yeast.