What is Bitter?

The Editors at Food Fanatic | Food Fanatic

Just what is bitter in terms of food and how can you counteract bitterness in your recipes? Here are some ideas

Describing what is bitter, or bitterness, can be quite a challenge.

Out of our five taste senses, we are very sensitive to bitterness, so it can be easily identified in certain foods.

Toaster Oven Roasted Broccoli Image

Bitter foods generally have a sharp flavor that is neither salty or sour, even though these flavors pair well with bitter foods. Some people are more sensitive to bitter flavors than others and may find them disagreeable. 

Bitter foods

Believe it or not, there are many foods that are bitter, including beer, chocolate and coffee.

Many people find leafy green vegetables bitter, particularly once they have matured; these greens include kale and broccoli.

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Picture

Cocoa also has a bitter flavor and is often used to offset sweet and spicy food. To reduce the bitterness of cocoa, many people add sugar and cream.

Coffee is also bitter, and much like cocoa, can be mellowed by adding cream or milk and sugar. The level of bitterness in coffee depends on the way in which the coffee beans were roasted.

The white pith of citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes adds a bitterness to the fruits - removing the pith makes them much easier to enjoy. Many people combine the bitterness of citrus with a sweet flavor as it creates depth. 

Broiled Grapefruit Photo

Here are some other common bitter foods:

- Artichokes

- Ginger

- Broccoli 

- Radicchio

- Arugula

- Brussel sprouts

- Chicory

- White asparagus 

- Endive

- Grapefruit

- Red wine

- Eggplant

- Bitter melon

The great thing about bitter foods is that they support your digestion and help increase activity in the liver, assisting with the absorption of nutrients. Eating a bitter food as an appetizer, for example, can help encourage your appetite and create the rhythmic movements needed to support digestion.

Endive Picture

If you find that you are quite sensitive to bitter foods, you may find that cooking them using different methods helps to make them more palatable. Here are a couple of great recipes that use common bitter foods, but mellow them out to a lvel you will enjoy...

- Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta

Roasted Broccoli with Buttery Breadcrumbs

- Eggplant lasagna

Another great combo is roasted radishes and leeks with thyme. This recipe pairs beautifully with roasted meats:

2 bunches radishes, quartered

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 large leek, halved and sliced 

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place the radishes into a large roasting tray and drizzle with the oil. Season with the salt and pepper and mix well to ensure they are coated.

3. Roast the radishes for 10 minutes before adding the leeks; mix well. 

4. Roast for about 10-15 minutes until the radishes turn light brown in color and are tender.

5. Transfer to a serving dish and stir in butter and thyme.

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