The forgotten flavor

When I was attending school in Vancouver and I came across a tightly bound bunch of dandelion greens at the farmers market. When I told my dad that dandelions were selling for five fifty he said he wouldn’t mow the grass that week so I could come home, do some picking, and make a killing. Eating a bunch of weeds might seem like a cruel joke but bitters are a key player in stimulating digestion.

What is the Bitter Reflux?

Bitters basically let the digestive system know that food is coming. When our tongue tastes bitter foods a feed forward mechanism begins. When the bitter receptors on our tongue are stimulated a chain of events cascade through the endocrine system. It start with saliva which contains an enzyme called salivary amylase which begins to break down carbohydrates. The digestive chain of events is in full swing as the liver increases the production of bile and the gallbladder excretes it. Bitters also help the overall digestive process by increasing enzymatic secretions which ultimately help break food particles down into absorbable units.

The idea of putting something that exceeds the classification of sour in my salad makes me uninterested. Working bitters into your daily diet is less intimidating than you might think (think dark chocolate). If you are hardcore feel free to place a couple of drops of Swedish bitters right on your tongue fifteen minutes before you eat. Or you can just toss some arugula in your pasta. Remember that it’s the actual taste of bitters that stimulates this feed forward mechanism. Try not to drown it in creme bechamel sauce. Intimidated? Try one of these methods, or all three, whatever floats your boat.

Steam It:

Raw broccoli rabe is a pretty chewy and bitter bite. If you are new to bitter greens try giving them a quick steam or blanch then add a pinch of salt. Blanching them will leach some of the bitter taste into the water. If you are just starting on the bitter train then your taste buds will thank you.

Flavor Balance:

Try adding a squeeze of lemon into your dressing when eating bitter greens. The addition of an acid will help balance out the flavors and brighten the dish.


Add a contrasting flavor like sweet potatoes, dried fruit, spicy peppers, or raw garlic. This will even out the bitterness and add more appetizing element to the bite.

Try a Bitter Food: unsweetened cocoa, coffee, olives, dill, kale, saffron, turmeric, dandelions, arugula, chard, endives, cilantro, and radicchio.

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