Over the last year, I’ve learned a lot about my own likes and dislikes when it comes to food. I’m much more aware of what flavor combinations I enjoy and how food makes me feel. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is a relatively simple one: I feel much more satisfied, physically and psychologically, when I make an effort to incorporate a variety of flavors and textures into my diet. College food (like most mass produced food) is heavy on sweet, salt, and fat, but lacks much else in the flavor department. I’ve now had a year to explore a wider variety of flavors and textures in home cooking, and I’m still amazed how much more satisfying real food is.
One flavor that I’ve really grown to love is bitterness. I know that many people don’t enjoy bitter foods, but I think that they can be really delicious and add a level of interest and dimension to food. Bitter foods are not foods that you can eat mindlessly…they demand your attention. If you can acquire a taste for bitter food, you’ll really expand your culinary horizons and will probably learn to like a number of foods that are extremely good for you. So this post is a celebration of some of my favorite bitter foods.
First on the list for me has to be coffee. I do not under any circumstances put sugar in my coffee. I like it dark, strong and rich (preferably French roast) with a splash of cream to mellow the bitterness slightly. I do also enjoy the occasional latte. Oddly enough, now that I eat relatively little sugar, I can really taste the natural sweetness of the steamed milk, which is a really tasty foil to the bitterness of the espresso. To me, sugar hides the natural flavor.
Another favorite bitter food is extra dark chocolate. Most milk chocolate has well under 50% cocoa solids. My latest chocolate of choice is Lindt Excellence with 85% cocoa solids. I had to work my way up to liking chocolate this dark, but now it is my very favorite. Lighter chocolates still taste good, but to me, nothing tastes as chocolatey as the dark stuff. The flavor is so intense that a single square leaves me perfectly satisfied. And oddly enough, when I crave chocolate, I crave the bitterness more than I crave the sweetness. When chocolate is not available to me, a cup of strong decaf often satisfies my craving much better than a piece of sweet fruit.
Many herbs also have a pleasantly bitter flavor. I love using herbs in cooking or in fresh, unsweetened herbal teas. The farmers market across from my summer job used to sell the strongest, most delicious unsweetened mint tea.
Bitter greens like collards and kale were an acquired taste for me. I had no idea how to cook them before this year. While I have no idea if my method is “correct,” I’ve found that I love to steam them with a little red wine vinegar. The slight sweetness and sourness of the vinegar tastes very good with the dark greens. My body and my grocery bill were both happy when I learned to like these greens…there are few foods that are as healthy and cheap as dark leafy greens.
I have loved grapefruit since I was a kid. While I love all varieties, I prefer the less sweet, lighter varieties to the ruby reds. White grapefruit tastes delicious with a sprinkling of brown sugar, but I like the other kinds straight.
While there are many drinks that are far too bitter for my tastes, I have always been partial to the slight bitterness a Bombay and tonic with lime. The herbal smell, the bitter-sweet tonic and the slight bitterness of the lime peel are, to me, amazingly refreshing on a hot summer day.
I’m very curious how other people feel about bitter foods. Do you like them? Hate them? Do you like pairing them with other flavors?