What does it mean when a food is bitter?
Why do some people hate to eat bitter foods? While some of us may hail the kale salad, many others would rather eat dirt than the leafy greens that grow there.
Now they can blame heredity. A taste for leafy greens may be in our genes, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Sure, we know veggies are good for us — they defend against cancer, heart disease, and a host of other ills. But around 75 percent of people say dark leafy greens like broccoli and Brussels sprouts just don’t pass the taste bud test.
We’ll explain why, based on the science. Then we’ll tell you how to make the best of the bitter taste, including how to mask it, modify it, or make it fun.
What science says about bitter foods and the gene connection
Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center looked at how genetic variants of a taste gene called propylthiouracil (PROP) might explain our differences in taste. Turns out some people are sensitive to the bitter taste of PROP while others are not.
One group in the study couldn’t taste PROP at all, a second group tasted the bitter flavor in moderate amounts, and a third group detected a strong bitter taste even from the tiniest amount given.
Mothers and children in the study didn’t always fall into the same group. Only 43 percent of the mothers but 64 percent of the children were sensitive to the lowest concentrations of PROP.
That’s good news, the researchers speculate: it shows that veggie haters may outgrow their sensitivity to bitter flavors over time.
But what if you want your bitter-hating kids to eat nutritious foods now?
What can you do to make bitter foods taste better?
If you don’t like bitter foods, here are two ways to make sure you and your family get your nutrients.
- Make bitter foods taste better with savvy cooking strategies.
- Get more of your nutrients from fruit.
Yes it’s true, one way people who hate bitter vegetables can meet their vitamin and mineral requirements is by eating extra servings of fruit. For example, you can:
- Sprinkle berries over breakfast cereals or snack on apples and oranges.
- Add papaya or pineapple in place of vegetables at mealtime.
- For desert, feast on chocolate-covered strawberries and honeyed bananas.
Not surprisingly, bitter-sensitive children in the study mentioned above preferred sweet foods to yucky bitter foods like spinach. In fact, they said they usually ate more sweets than other children.
They were also more likely to pass on milk and water in favor of sweet carbonated beverages. This can make it difficult for parents to get their kids to head healthy meals.
The researchers said some adults balked at bitter foods as well, but they didn’t make up for it with a sweet tooth. Adults’ taste preferences were more likely to be influenced by cultural forces. Bitter foods just taste better tucked inside favorite family recipes.
how to make bitter Veggies Taste better
To reap the full benefit of the hundreds of phytochemicals found only in vegetables, here are six tweaks to bust the bitter.
1. Stir fry broccoli, snow peas, carrots, and green beans Asian style with noodles, nuts and savory sauces. Lightly cooking vegetables can dull the bite.
2. Grate, mince, or puree carrots, zucchini, and spinach into pasta sauces, soups, and quiches. The better you blend them, the less you’ll recognize them.
3. Add something salty like soy sauce or Parmesan cheese to block the bitterness and bring out other flavors.
4. Sweeten zucchini, winter squashes and other root vegetables with honey, syrup, brown sugar, or marmalade.
5. Neutralize the taste of bitter salad greens with a little olive oil or avocado. Some bitter compounds literally dissolve when mixed with fats.
6. Sprinkle raw veggies with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
Looking for a new greens recipe?
- A Girl and Her Greens: Hearty Meals from the Garden, by April Bloomfield and Goode, JJ, EdD
- Green Kitchen Travels: Healthy Vegetarian Food Inspired by Our Adventures, by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl
- Greens 24/7, by Jessica Nadel
- The Best Green Smoothies on the Planet, by Tracy Russell