It’s been sneaking up on American taste buds for some years now. Bitter was the flavor that used to be so anathema to Americans, food manufacturers would do everything they could to bury it with sweetness or saltiness.
But guess what? Americans are breaking up with overpowering sweetness. They are moving away from overly salty snacks. Americans want something exciting and strong to wake up their taste buds with a flavor explosion, and that new flavor is bitter!
It turns out, bitter flavors are really good for your digestion and thus your health. You can retrain your taste buds to enjoy them too. Let’s look at the health reasons and easy ways to jump onto the bitter taste love train!
The Role of Bitter In Digestion
Finding balance to create good health starts in your mouth. If you’re unbalanced in the way you eat, consuming too much sugar and/or salt, it will show up in your body with unhealthy skin, liver and gallbladder congestion, high blood pressure and digestion problems. Keep it up and finally a chronic condition like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease will arise.
Bitter, the flavor that is sneaking back into America’s diet, is the missing balance to sweet and salt. OK, sour is important too as all the flavors play an essential role to stimulate our digestion. But bitter is the one flavor we’ve been suppressing for years and at a great cost to our health. Here are some of the important functions that bitter serves:
- Stimulates gastric acid production in the stomach
- Helps control appetite (sweet does the opposite – we’re programmed to want more!)
- Stimulates the production of bile to metabolize fats and increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
- Signals the presence of antioxidant compounds in foods such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids which fight free radicals
- Increases the efficiency of the detoxification pathways in the liver
Retraining Your Taste Buds To Enjoy Bitter
You may have run into bitter first with the rise in popularity of dark chocolate. It’s a great place to start retraining your taste buds to appreciate bitter! Some years ago, I realized that I had to give up milk chocolate. When I was a little girl, my father ate “bittersweet” chocolate and I thought it was quite horrible. But as an adult, I decided to get off of milk chocolate so I could enjoy the health benefits of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.
At first, I could only enjoy bars marked 55% cacao. Then I progressed to 65%. Now I’m at 72 – 75% but I have to confess, I don’t yet love 85%. I still want some sweetness to contrast with that dark cacao bitterness!
Or maybe your first enjoyment of bitter came through bitter chicory greens in your salad? Radicchio and endive, both bitter varieties of chicory leaves, have become popular additions to salad mixes. Arugula leaves mix bitter flavors accented by spiciness. America’s new love affair with kale has introduced many people to the enjoyment of bitter greens although we notice that many kale chip manufacturers haven’t gotten it yet. They’re smothering their kale chips with salty, cheesy sauces so kale’s true flavor can’t shine through!
The Bitter Notes of Roasted Coffee and Chicory
Of course, coffee might have been your first exposure to bitter flavors. But most people’s first taste of bitter dark coffee makes them turn to the sugar bowl.
When I first created Teeccino, I sweetened my Mediterranean flavors with dates and figs to offset the bitterness of roasted chicory. They are still the perfect way many Teeccino fans forego adding sugar and enjoy more bitterness in their cup accented by a gentle sweetness. But I noticed that there was a distinct group of coffee drinkers who wouldn’t drink my Mediterranean flavors because they were too sweet. For them, I developed our Maya flavors without any sweetness and with additional bitter notes coming from dark roasted ramón seeds.
When we introduced Teeccino’s Dandelion flavors, I worried that they might be too bitter for people. To my surprise, people love that increased bitterness that roasted dandelion roots bring. I myself, had to get used to it. Now, I drink them frequently which goes to show that if you persist in exposing yourself to bitter flavors, the next thing you know, you find them very attractive.
Bitter Flavors Hit Cold Beverages
Many a millennial has broken through to the enjoyment of bitter with IPA beers, those hoppy brews with pronounced bitterness. I couldn’t believe it when I first tasted the craft beers that Galen, my home-brewing son, brought home. Wow, they are bitter!
In the realm of cold beverages, sweetness has ruled ever since Coca Cola addicted Americans to the combination of sugar and caffeine. But now the sales of sweet sodas are declining precipitously. Tea, another source of bitter flavors in America’s diet, was always served super sweet whether hot or iced. Honest Tea® made their splash with the tagline “Just a tad sweet”. At the time, Seth and Barry, the founders of Honest Tea®, had to sweeten their teas more than they originally wanted to in order to get Americans drinking them. Now, their teas are sweeter than newly introduced brands and most bottled tea brands are introducing “unsweetened” flavors.
Introducing Nitrogen-Infused Beverages Without Added Sweeteners
Just recently, we served samples of Teeccino’s Dandelion Nitro to hundreds of people at Bhakti Fest. It was our first time to get broad exposure to our new brew and listen to people’s responses. Would they love it like we do? I fell in love with infusing nitrogen into Teeccino upon my first taste of the foaming brew! It turns out that nitrogen takes the edge off bitter flavors and caramelizes the sugars in the brew.
Thank you Guinness® for leading the way by introducing nitrogenated beer to Americans! All we had to say was, “Teeccino is a roasted herbal beverage that’s been brewed like coffee and infused with nitrogen like a Guinness®”. Bravely, we decided to introduce completely unsweetened Dandelion Nitro and let people enjoy the creamy, smooth flavor with its bitter notes.
Here’s what we found. Some people were shocked by its bitterness. But more people loved it! Coffee and beer drinkers particularly found Dandelion Nitro to be absolutely delicious. OK, of the two flavors we served, Dark Roast and Caramel Nut, the latter was slightly more popular. That touch of sweetness from dates and figs is awfully appealing against the dark roasted background of organic dandelion and chicory roots. But Dandelion Nitro Dark Roast was especially a hit with people who love dark coffee and those hoppy beers!
Eat Bitter With Every Meal
Mix in bitter flavors in every meal and you’ll find your digestion improves, your appetite stays in better control, and you’ll feel stimulated without relying on stimulants like caffeine and sugar. Don’t let the 25 receptors for bitter flavors in your taste buds go to waste. Stimulate them with a variety of bitter foods and beverages and your body will feel healthier and better than ever!