A stroll through the produce section of your local grocery store is one of abundance. This bounty provided via mass-produced industrial farming is great for selection and availability, but we have paid for it in terms of a decline in bitter foods, rich in naturally vibrant flavors. While we are accustomed to a wide variety of readily available fruits and vegetables, most have had the bitter flavors bred out of them. So you may be wondering, what foods are bitter?
We’ve compiled a short list of what foods are bitter, as well as some health benefits of bitter foods and digestive bitter supplements.
What Foods are Bitter?
Today, we’re used to eating mild tasting foods. As a result, vegetables with the most favorable market appeal are mild-flavored varieties. As agricultural supply meets this consumer demand, the next generation of people accustomed to these mild flavors is born.
The trend toward avoiding bitter tasting foods in favor of mild, savory, and sweet flavors has wider implications. The lack of bitter fruits and vegetables in the modern diet means that many of us suffer from digestive weakness, heartburn, bloating, and metabolic conditions. Many more of us are finding the blessing of this abundance of food to be a curse in the form of over-eating or other dietary imbalances. Incorporating bitter foods or digestive bitter into your diet can bring your digestive health – and thus overall health back into balance.
Setting the Stage of Flavor
Determining what foods are bitter is not as simple as it used to be. It used to be different. Common vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and carrots possessed powerful aromatic and bitter flavors. They were full of bitter substances that would help stimulate digestion. Unfortunately, most industrial farms produce varieties that no longer possess these bitter substances. Anyone who has a garden knows the difference between the heirloom varieties they plant and those they can get off the shelves at the market. Despite this trend in mild foods, there are still many modern sources of bitter flavors.
Natural sources of bitter flavor
- Vegetables: radicchio, chicory, arugula, endive, cauliflower, artichokes, broccoli
- Fruits: Citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes
- Cereals: Amaranth, Millet
- Spices: ginger, pepper, cardamom
- Culinary herbs: thyme, marjoram, lovage, rosemary, tarragon, bay leaves, sorrel, sage
Find our list of 17 bitter foods here.
Bitters – the ancient remedy
As early as Hildegard of Bingen and later with Paracelsus, bitter elixirs were recommended as staples for healthy living and nutritional treatment. In those days, the primary constituents of elixirs were bitter flavored herbs such as angelica root, yellow gentian, ginger, and milk thistle. The phrase “a bitter pill” refers to the health benefits of bitter substances, which were used widely as natural medicines.
Despite the long history of bitter foods and flavors being used in health and medicine, the role of bitter flavors are just starting to be understood for their importance across different functions within our bodies. But while modern science continues to categorize the corresponding nutritive and digestive benefits of bitter foods, we can rely on time-tested remedies to help supplement our health.
What foods are bitter – and remedies?
In addition to the culinary herbs listed above, there are a number of bitter medicinal herbs, which may be used in combination or in isolation to create traditional teas, tinctures, and extractions to address many different health issues.
- Mugwort: to treat indigestion
- Blessed Thistle: to relieve heartburn, gall bladder problems, and bloating
- Buckbean: to treat gallbladder ailments and stomach cramps
- Ginger / Galanga: to stimulate appetite, reduce stomach cramps and nausea
- Gentian: for indigestion, flatulence, and bloating. Yellow gentian is one of the highest bitter plans that exists in nature.
- Hop cones: in bladder and kidney problems and sleep disorders
- Milk thistle: to strengthen the liver and against irritable stomach
- Centaury: liver ailments
- Sage: at menopause induced sweating, sore throat, and cough
Find the complete list of bitter healing plants here.
Digestive system will thank you
Instead of wondering what foods are bitter or struggling to find bitter foods you can enjoy regularly, you can supplement your diet with digestive bitters. Bitter tasting foods have immense health benefits, particularly when it comes to our digestive health, so they are still your best bet in terms of overall health. But digestive bitters are a great way to supplement your diet with the active bitter flavors you might not get on a regular basis. And they are very easy to administer. It only takes a small amount to provide the healthy benefits. Some of the notable benefits include the following.
- They serve as an effective appetite suppressant by satisfying an absent flavor profile.
- The aromatic flavor initiates and accelerates the onset of digestive activity, including the release of digestive enzymes and bile acids to prepare for digestion.
- They stimulate motor activity of the stomach and small intestines, which improves digestion.
- They can improve vitamin and nutrient absorption.
Bitters as an appetite suppressant
Most people today don’t eat a lot of bitter tasting foods. In fact, most people don’t know what foods are bitter in order to even include them in their diet. Biologically, our bitter flavor sensors trigger suspicion about the integrity of our food. However, to forego bitter flavors altogether means giving up a lot more than a unique taste.
Those of us who fail to satisfy our bitter flavor profile also compromise a natural governor of eating behavior. Specifically, bitter substances serve as a “counterweight” to the sweet, mild dishes that we crave (at the expense of our waistline).
Bitter substances reduce our appetite for sweets and curb a vicious cycle. Namely, sweet flavors prompt the body to distribute more insulin and whet the appetite for more sweets.
For more about how we detect bitter tasting foods and bitters.
Bitters work on the gut
Our body’s digestive tract and intestines are made up of sensitive mucous membranes, which contain 80% of our entire body’s immune cells.
If the digestive system is overloaded and our intestinal flora fall out of balance, threatening ailments can arise, such as inflammatory bowels, diarrhea and irritable bowels; or, even more serious intestinal conditions that seem to be happening with greater frequency in modern society.
Bitters give your digestive tract a work-out
Bitter herbs and vegetables act as natural fat burners. Bitters stimulate the entire digestive system, giving our intestines a healthy work-out.
Gastrointestinal movements increase and gastric emptying accelerates. Bitters also stimulate the secretion of bile and pancreatic juices, improving the digestion of fats and proteins, which can be difficult to digest for many people.
The intrinsic factor of digestion
Bitters help stimulate the release of stomach acid, which in turn triggers the release of intrinsic factor, an essential glycoprotein produced by our digestive system. Intrinsic factor helps your body to absorb and make use of vitamin B12, and thereby avoid vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia or, pernicious anemia. Bitters also promote the absorption of valuable fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as iron.
Bitter and hyperacidity
Too much acidity in our bodily fluids (metabolic acidosis) is a common metabolic disorder, and a reflection of the poor diet associated with modern living. Metabolic acidosis manifests in several physical ailments including rheumatism, gout, fatigue, nervousness, weakened immune system, poor circulation, eczema and allergies.
Achieving greater Ph balance with bitters and bitter tasting foods
Bitters help ensure any excess acid contained in our body tissue breaks down and gets excreted. The fact that bitter herbs are alkaline makes them even more valuable.
Bitters help restore our body’s homeostatic acid-alkaline balance. In addition, bitters stimulate the body to produce more of its own digestive juices, to help to achieve healthy and complete digestion.
Bitters as a detoxifying agent
Bitters promote a gentle way to cleanse our bodies of toxins, waste products, and other obstructions. If you’re involved in one of Hildegard’s three healthy fasts lasting days or weeks, bitter substances help to cleanse and regenerate your digestive organs.
A healthy digestive system is paramount
In a healthy digestive environment, toxins, metabolic waste, viruses, bacteria, and fungi are easily removed and excreted. Only a healthy digestive system effectively absorbs nutrients and vital substances.
Intestinal health is central to our overall well-being, so next time you reach for those mild vegetables out of habit, take a bit of time to consider some of the bitter substances that may help replace what has been lost to convenience. Your body will thank you.