Think You Hate Bitter Foods? Think Again!

Chard leaves in a bowl
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Do you enjoy playing with different flavor profiles? Plenty of diners celebrate their love for sweet, sour, salty and umami flavors, but what about bitter?

Bitter isn't necessarily considered a favorite. The palate is sensitive to bitter flavors and, if not prepared carefully, a bitter food can be overwhelming to the taste buds. But, when executed correctly, bitter has the capability to balance sweetness and create "lightness" in a rich dish.

Not quite sure which food items fall under the "bitter" category? The spectrum ranges from black coffee and dark chocolate to fruits and vegetables to spices and herbs: arugula, dandelion, chicory, sorrel, mint, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, chard, cranberries, dandelion greens, grapefruit, kale, rhubarb, tea, turnip, turmeric and rhubarb.

The wonderful thing about these foods is that the majority boast rich nutritional benefits. Many bitter fruits are good sources of vitamin C, while many bitter vegetables are low in calories and full of antioxidants, vitamin K and fiber.

What Happens When You Combine Two Bitter Foods?

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page cites the function of bitterness as a cooling flavor that stimulates appetites and boosts other tastes. So, when two bitter items are in the same dish, they play off of each other and highlight their differences in flavor instead of their bitterness. Tweet this For instance, a kale salad pairs well with dried cranberries and vinaigrette, and an arugula salad is delicious with toasted walnuts and citrus dressing.

Try these other common combined bitter flavor combinations:

  • Chocolate and coffee
  • Rhubarb and strawberry
  • Broccoli rabe and garlic
  • Chard and sweet potatoes
  • Turmeric and coconut
  • Turnips and carrots

Although many well-known dishes incorporate these flavors together, bitter foods still present ample opportunities for creativity in the kitchen.

Brieanna Casperson on Facebook
Brieanna Casperson
Brieanna Casperson, RDN, is a Connecticut-based dietitian with a focus on plant-based cooking and baking. Read her blog, B.Flavorful, and follow her on Facebook.