Why bitter may be better for you

Chicago TribuneNovember 3, 2012 


Radicchio is an Italian leafy vegetable that is a member of the chicory family. Bitter foods, such as radicchio, can be good for your health.


Bitter foods are usually good-for-you foods; a proverbial pill of truth many people may find hard to swallow.

But Barb Stuckey would like people to give them a try.

Bitter foods can contain many compounds that in small doses can stimulate you, fight colds and even help the battle against aging, said Stuckey, author of “Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good.”

“The taste of bitter is the taste of health,” she said, zeroing in on such foods as greens (think kale, radicchio, collards), coffee and tea, wine and fruit (try citrus, pomegranates, cranberries, blueberries).

Developing a taste for them can be challenging, Stuckey said, because our bodies are wired to reject bitter flavors as poison.

“Most poisons taste bitter,” she explained. “So if we have a choice, we will reject bitter foods. We are built to be suspicious.”

Humans sense bitterness from many things in order to avoid them at harmful levels, she added. Yet, served in the right amount, bitter foods can be both beneficial and even medicinal, Stuckey said, adding that “bitterness is the chemotherapy of taste.”

Genetics plays a role in whether a food tastes too bitter to you.

There are steps you can take to mitigate the bitterness, said Stuckey, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Mattson, a food and beverage developer in Foster City, Calif.

“When you scrunch up your face at bitterness, it’s likely that the bitterness is out of balance,” Stuckey writes in her book. Hate brussels sprouts? Balance the bitter flavor with a little salt, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar. Or mix in other vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots or caramelized onions.

“The next time you make them, use fewer carrots and more sprouts,” Stuckey writes. “Eventually you’ll find yourself craving a bowlful of them – alone – specifically for the energizing, stimulating taste challenge that bitter provides.”

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