Bitter Vegetables: An Appreciation

Bitter Vegetables: An Appreciation

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Anjali Prasertong
Oct 18, 2010

Bitterness is often a characteristic we try to diminish in our cooking — salting, blanching and roasting away the bitter edge in foods like eggplant and dandelion greens. But in many cultures, bitterness is embraced both for its perceived medicinal properties and its unique place in the flavor spectrum.

We love bitter vegetables for their taste, and now studies are showing that the bitter compounds in certain foods really are good for us.

We've discussed how to avoid bitter eggplant, but it turns out a little bitterness is a good thing. Last week the Washington Post reported that scientists have found the compound responsible for eggplant's bitterness is actually an antioxidant, and that the most bitter eggplants contain the highest levels of healthful compounds.

Read the article: Eggplant Has Its Issues - Washington Post

Bitter melon is another deeply bitter vegetable with health benefits: studies have shown it may help slow the development of cancers. It is also one of the most bitter foods we have ever eaten, so it doesn't surprise us that its love-it-or-hate-it flavor is really good for you.

But for us, eating these vegetables is not just about their medicinal value; it's also about taste. Bitterness is generally downplayed in Western cooking, but we crave the edge that is found in vegetables like radicchio, rapini and dandelion greens. We think bitter has an important place on the plate alongside salty, sour and sweet.

What do you think? Do you crave bitterness? What are your favorite bitter foods?

Related: Eating Well: Tips for Cooking Bitter Greens

(Image: Flickr member Robert Couse-Baker licensed under Creative Commons)

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