Copy

The bitter side of sweet
 
Our palate is driving the trends in plant selection, horticultural practices, and just plain and simply, what we eat. Whether it’s cooked or raw, we are demanding sweeter and less bitter foods.
 
This trend may sound okay at first but underlying this is a darker side. 
Our five taste receptors
 
 The importance of bitter phytonutrients
 
The very chemicals that make our fruit and vegetables bitter also imbue them with health benefits. The bitter flavour is related to phytochemicals. Why we tend to avoid those bitter foods is the presence of phytochemicals within them which suggest toxicity.  Our natural instinct is to avoid them. 
What we are talking about here is the overtly bitter taste in foods like coffee, grapefruit and brussels sprouts. The bitterness of phytonutrients is more subtle in foods like cauliflower and tomatoes, though it is still present in high proportions.
 
Consuming large volumes of phytonutrients can be toxic for our systems, however scientists are also discovering how beneficial they are. This physiological process is called hormesis; a little doesn’t kill you and in fact can make you stronger. A minute dose of arsenic would stimulate the immune system and make us well in an early 20th century medical intervention. Hormesis also underlies homeopathy.  
 
These bitter phytonutrients act as cancer preventing agents exactly because they do kill cells.  One study identified significant lung cancer reducing effects in smokers who drank green tea, red wine and ate lots of broccoli.
 
The list of anti-cancer phytonutrients is growing.  Vegetables high in the bitter phytonutrients that are ascribed to having these benefits are kale, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes and even potatoes.
 
Not surprisingly, raw is best and heirloom varieties beat all the rest for being richer in phytonutrients.  One group of phytonutrients called glucosinolates, found in high quantities in brassicas, are reduced by 30% through cooking.
 
Sweet versus bitter
 
But our taste buds are trending away from these important bitter foods, and today’s fruit and vegetable varieties are being bred to be sweeter, reducing the beneficial phytochemicals within the produce.
 
The taste changes to our fresh food have been dramatic over recent history.
 
The wild version of a tomato has 166 times more tomatine (a phytonutrient) than our modern sweet cultivars; the old fashioned yellow savannah sweet onion has more than 500 times the quercetin than the Contessa variety commonly grown. And for those who like grapefruit, the white varieties have 50% more flavanones than the red or pink varieties that are more popular today.
Not only are modern cultivars inferior but any bitter taste is often extracted by food processing companies. An example is orange juice, which many manufacturers put through a bead filter to extract out the bitter molecules. Some of these de-bittering processes are also stripping beneficial vitamins from foods.  Food scientists are now urging manufacturers and growers to stop de-bittering our juices and vegetables.
 
Bitter is beneficial but it doesn’t have to be unpalatable. The bitter taste of raw cacao comes from the flavanols which enhance gut biology, digestion and immune function. Consuming raw cacao regularly for four weeks purportedly leads to improvements in gastrointestinal health. Bring on the hot chocolate!!!
 
Culinary secrets
 
Not surprisingly, what scientists are now discovering, well credentialed chefs have been saying all along.
“Bitter is vital for the harmony of a recipe and crucial for the consumption of a meal”. 
Chefs know that bitter tastes get the gastric juices flowing. Incorporating both bitter and sweet ingredients into a salad can achieve the right balance so you get the benefits of the phytonutrients without being overwhelmed by the bitterness.  Another secret is to serve a bitter chicory salad on a round plate; it will taste sweeter than if served on a square plate.  Test this for yourself and see if you notice the difference.
 
How to incorporate more phytonutrients
 
Given that bitter is better, how can we help our palates adjust? Starting young is good. And if we are a little older than “young” and have a sweet tooth, just reduce your sugar consumption, then start to mix sweet with a little bitter so the overall taste is neutral for example. Yes it is a matter of acquiring the taste for bitter. Repeated exposure will reduce the sense of bitterness but not the beneficial effects of the phytonutrients from which bitter is sensed.
 
Eating more raw fruit and vegetables is a big step forward to increasing your consumption of bitter phytonutrients.  When combined with eating heirloom veggies straight from the garden you’ll be elevated up into the stratosphere as a phytonutrient consumer.  The heirloom varieties regularly grown in Vital Veggies food gardens suit biological growing, support a thriving industry of seed growers and as we have seen, contain beneficial phytonutrients to enhance your health.
 
So go ahead, sprinkle raw cacao (bitter) over a sweet desert; add extra turmeric (bitter) to a curry; throw a few of chicory leaves and rocket (bitter) into your salad; add more kale to your smoothies; sprinkle dill over pasta; try a raw or steamed Asian salad of broccoli, cauliflower and sesame seeds; a warm drink of water with lemon and honey; and let’s not feel so guilty about our morning bitter espresso, or glass of wine! 
Be creative and take advantage of the wisdom that bitter and sweet are perfect partners for good health. 
Copyright © 2019 Vital Veggies, All rights reserved.