Don’t be bitter! (Although bitter foods may actually be good for you)January 14, 2016
Although we may shy away from bitterness, developing a taste for bitter foods can actually be good for you.
My dear friend’s father is a true character. The only son of a French mother and an Italian father, he is an undoubtedly Australian figure, eager to talk federal politics late into the night, happiest in his enviable backyard garden, Akubra hatted and sat under a hills hoist. Paradoxically (or perhaps not), he’s also utterly European. He insists on proper coffee from a percolator at all major milestones; breakfast, afternoon tea, before and after dinner. His earnest voice twangs with the sounds of a Sydney boy’s school while he ponders the origins of Descartes’ philosophy. Their beautiful home is adorned with 19th century Italian prints. Cookbooks from the Amalfi coast and histories of post-war Rome jostle for position in crowded bookshelves. The old country looms large in their Federation era home in a leafy suburb, one of the last that still has simple 50s red brick homes with well-tended rose gardens.
Above all, he eats. In the European sense. Proper bread with proper butter to sop up every meal. Fresh produce from the market. Humble soups in Winter, charcoaled octopus in Summer, and proper home cooked food no matter where he is. On a recent holiday at the beach he arrived hours late, a tupperware container filled with cooked bitter greens in tow, prepared at home to be enjoyed on sandwiches at the beach. The lure of soggy coastal fish and chips was nothing to him!
His innate sense of food as community, as medicine, as wild and cultivated, as nutritional and a digestive aid always inspires me; fills me with envy that I don’t have the same exoticism seamlessly woven into my life. Recently I’ve tried to emulate it, and I think I’ve had some measure of success. Embracing the humble bitter green is one of my attempts at continental eating. I must admit, the taste was at first anathemic (remember your first cup of coffee?). But then, as if by magic, I began to see the appeal. Bitters felt wholesome, perfect for cutting through richness in a meal. It was exciting too, to not ‘pander’ to my own tastes. Like the bittersweet shock of a really spicy curry, I was hooked on a feeling.
The wholesome feeling was justified as well. It turns out, bitterness is essential in our diets.
Benefits of bitter foods
- Bitter foods stimulate digestive juices and support food digestion.
- They detoxify our livers (more tips on detoxifying here).
- They’re high in vitamins and nutrients, and can help our bodies absorb these essentials.
- Bitterness creates a counterpoint to sweetness in your diet, which reduces sugar cravings.
- Cultivating your taste to include more bitter food opens up a whole new world of delicious foods! Endive salad, dandelion greens, even unsweetened coffee will become your friends.
Although it may take a while to acclimatise, introducing bitter foods into your diet will have you feeling better, and open up a world of taste sensations to you. Embrace your inner European sophisticate and take a walk on the dark side. And if you’re still in doubt, remember: beer, coffee and chocolate all count!