Looking for superfoods? Read what MindBodyGreen.com says about bitter-flavored foods.
“Imagine if you could eat something that would help your liver, act as a gentle diuretic to purify your blood, cleanse your system, assist in weight reduction; cleanse your skin, eliminate acne, improve your bowel function, prevent or lower high blood pressure, prevent anemia, lower your serum cholesterol by as much as half, eliminate or drastically reduce acid indigestion and gas buildup by cutting the heaviness of fatty foods, and, at the same time, have no negative side effects and selectively act on only what ails you.”
“If I also told you that this wonder food also tasted good in salads, teas, and soups, what would you do to get your hands on this treasure? Well, thankfully you have nature at on your side, providing these miracle plants in abundance during spring!”
“I'm talking about bitter greens.” (MindBodyGreen.com)
In December, 2017, Farmer Lee Jones unveiled his predictions for 2018 – and one of them was a continuation in the rise in bitter flavors. As a follow up to this prediction, Executive Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute shares his thoughts about the beauty of bitter flavors.
“Overall,” Jamie says, “bitter flavors have not been classically appreciated in European culture and Western culture, overall. So, this flavor can seem alarming at first. To get the benefits of bitter foods, though, you simply need to apply the right cooking techniques. This includes barbecuing and otherwise cooking over high heat, charring and searing and the like. It manages the bitter edge, which is nice.”
In Eastern cultures, he shares, bitter flavors are actually embraced as a form of balance, so these flavors are often found in Korean, Indian, Japanese and Chinese cuisine, as just four examples. “We’re starting to see a rise in bitter ingredients in the United States, though,” he adds, echoing the thoughts of Farmer Lee, “and perhaps that stems from the wood cooking culture. As bitter foods are burnt and blistered, they work especially well with sweet, spicy and acidic flavors, such as when eggplant is grilled with tomato sauce, a bitter centerpiece covered with sweet and acidic flavoring.”
And, as you look around the web, you’ll see that numerous sources are predicting Filipino cuisine to be hot in 2018, with the Specialty Food Association partially crediting this culinary trend to bitter flavors, saying the following: “American palates have become more sophisticated and attuned to the complex flavors and bitter or sour notes of Filipino dishes.” Restaurant/food consultants Baum + Whiteman agrees that we’ll see Filipino flavoring in dishes in 2018.
Here are just some of the things that have been said about bitter foods and flavors over the past couple of years:
As you know, Brussels sprouts are finally getting some of the love they’ve long deserved, with Food52.com noting in December 2017 that they’re “having something of a renaissance these days,” tasting delicious when crisped, roasted and even while still raw. (Over this past holiday season, they even noted that Brussels sprouts were being used to decorate Christmas wreaths!) And, we’ve noticed how an elegantly simple recipe for smashed Brussels sprouts has become increasingly popular on social media lately.
Plus, as Farmer Lee likes to say, whenever someone says that he or she doesn’t like the taste of Brussels sprouts, he wonders if they’ve ever eaten them when harvested at the peak of their season. Brussels sprouts can be harvested early, and the vegetable already looks good to the eye. But, when you wait until the first frost before harvesting, the sugar levels and flavor explode. Ready to taste the difference? Brussels sprouts are sustainably grown at The Chef’s Garden in green, red and a mixture of the two during the growing season.
If you like a touch of bitter without it being overwhelming, dandelion leaves are ideal with their mildly delicious flavor. The name of this herbaceous plant means “tooth of the lion” in French, and dandelions were thought to be so indispensable by the Puritans that they brought them with them when they left England to settle in the American colonies.
Columbia University notes how dandelions were used by early settlers for medicine, food and wine, being especially prized for health benefits. “Though they did not understand why, the leaf, root and flower were believed to have significant results in alleviating ailments. Dandelion was also cultivated because it was a plant they were familiar with and could trust in this foreign land. Thus, the woman planted dandelion seeds for its medicinal benefits and to spread a flower that reminded them of home.”
And, surely the Puritans appreciated the mouthwateringly bitter flavor of this green, one followed by a robust chicory-like, peppery finish. Today, chefs and diners appreciate the flavor of dandelion in pork, bacon and ham dishes, as well as enjoying how this green adds extra layers of flavor to dishes containing eggs or pasta – and in soups, salads and sandwiches.
Then there is arugula, the crunchy green that has – according to Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables by Elizabeth Schneider – “one of those tastes that you crave once you’ve adopted it – or it, you.” She calls arugula “one of the most vervy and attractive leaves . . . that you can add to your repertoire. It really makes a salad.” It’s the ideal foil for creamy goat cheese, she points out, “whether marinated, fried or baked, warm or cold.” It perfectly complements ingredients that feature citrusy sweetness, especially blood oranges, while contrasting brilliantly with avocado that’s sweetened with a touch of balsamic vinegar. You can choose from multiple varieties of arugula, using it whenever you need nutty-sweet-peppery goodness at first bite.
Farmer Lee hesitates to include kalettes in this post because this hybrid cross serves him well whenever he wants to play “Stump the Chef” during farm tours. The stalks are as thick and tall as Brussels sprouts, but ruffled leaves in shades of purple and mauve, gathered in tiny bunches, replace the sprouts. This cross between Brussels sprouts and kale is super crunchy and intricately textured, chock full of vitamin C and other vitamins. Nevertheless, Lee reluctantly agreed to spread the word about luscious kalettes in this post. That’s because they are so delicious and nutritious that he’s willing to come up with brand new Stump the Chef ideas (so stay tuned!). You can find more information about Brussels sprouts and kalettes here.
Other bitter flavors to be used and appreciated, whether in springtime and/or during other seasons of the year, include:
Health professionals warn about the dangers of too much salt in the diet, with studies showing that even modest reductions in salt intake can lower blood pressure, and reduce the number of strokes and heart attacks. But, Americans long for salty snacks, with manufacturers stating that whenever they reduce sodium in their products by more than 40 to 50%, sales fall off. To compensate, manufacturers have added sweetness to their products, but there are also health consequences when too much sugar is consumed.
Fortunately, there’s good news. Bitter flavors.
According to a food and beverage analyst with Mintel, “Bitter flavors offer a big mouthfeel and may provide enough flavor boost that consumers no longer need a salty taste as well.” She adds the following: “Salty/sweet used to be cutting edge, and now it’s so routine.” Consumers want to be “challenged” by new flavors, and the huge variety of bitter tastes are an excellent solution.
Bitter vegetables that she has noted as trends include greens such as kale and broccoli, plus those that are intentionally burned to bring out a bitter profile. Bitter fruits and vegetables are appearing more often in marmalades, juices are being made with bitter greens and so forth. Overall, she concludes that “bitter can replace salty as a flavor horizon, at least in some categories.”
“Emerging evidence suggests that bitter foods, such as apple cider vinegar, ginger and leafy greens can be seriously good for our gut health. And most of us are a few centuries late to the game. ‘For thousands of years, people have used bitters as digestive tonics . . . to improve digestion after a large meal . . . [Far from being] ancient wives’ tales, there may be some science to support it after all.’” (NBCNews.com)
The NBC News article goes on to quote a doctor and integrative health expert about how bitters improve food absorption and otherwise aid in digestion. And, if the thought of getting in your bitters by drinking apple cider vinegar doesn’t appeal to you, the article suggests you eat the following foods:
OneGreenPlanet.org lists additional bitter vegetables and herbs (not mentioned above) that are also ideal to add to meals:
Yet another article about bitter foods quotes dieticians and studies that list these benefits of bitter foods:
This article also quotes a wonderful passage from Marc David from the Psychology of Eating. Here’s a snippet.
“In terms of dietary balance, most Westerners severely neglect the bitter flavor/taste element in favor of more appealing and ‘friendly’ choices like sweet or salty. However, this is inherently problematic as the bitter flavor is an essential component of maintaining balance and health. Bitter foods and herbs have many important functions in the body, specifically in regards to the liver, detoxification and digestion . . . What’s more is that bitter foods usually make you feel great.”
At the heart of the food as medicine movement is this saying: you can pay the farmer or you can pay the doctor. The reality is that eating nutritional foods is a crucial foundation for health and well-being – and what’s beautiful is how the concept of farmacy dovetails with this conversation. The notion of farmacy means you can have flavor and nutrition – and even beautiful plate presentation – with vegetables, greens and herbs with bitter flavors.
Your diners can satiate their minds, bodies and spirits when you provide them with dishes that contain produce that is flavorful, nutritious and visually appealing – and that’s just what you can provide with produce from the Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden™. Here is what is currently available among our more than 600 crops grown sustainably at The Chef’s Garden, including deliciously bitter vegetables, greens and herbs.