A Chef’s task in cooking is to capture their intent flavour profile by balancing the different flavours of ingredients they have.
Of course, Chefs have the prerogative to be aggressive with their predominant flavour if that is what they truly want, but a delectable dish needs a balanced play of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.
Among the five senses of taste, we tend to be more sensitive to sourness and bitterness. Bitter flavour particularly does not have as much a fan base as salty or sour in the realm of taste gratification. We have been hard-wired to be doubtful of bitter foods as our ancestors of long ago needed to survive. They learned to identify which plants are inedible or even poisonous as solid bitterness is a typical marker for toxins, and we evolved from that.
Here are reasons why we should look at the bitter flavour in a different light:
Bitter foods provide valuable health benefits.
Bitterness in food and drink is getting more attention, and it is a good thing.
Unless contraindicated, many bitter foods (sometimes referred to simply as “bitters”) can also be good, particularly for our gut health. Examples of bitter foods include dark chocolate, apple cider vinegar, kale, arugula, artichokes, green tea, coffee, and more.
When we eat bitter flavours, our mouth increases the production of saliva, which helps improve mouth hydration and stimulates the movement of the digestive system, known as peristalsis. When ingested, bitter flavours stimulate the production of gastric acids and other digestive enzymes, which help process the food and further food absorption.
Research studies also help regulate hunger and curb cravings for sweets. Research has found that bitter foods, when consumed, shut down the receptors in our brains that drive us to consume sugar. Bitter foods and plants can help slow the absorption of sugar and regulate blood sugar levels.
Bitters help regulate liver function by stimulating bile production. Bile helps in the breakdown of fats that we eat to be absorbed by our bodies and fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, the secretion of bile by the liver also enables it to excrete toxins in the bile. When bile is regularly expulsed from the gallbladder, gallstones can be prevented.
In this linked study, bitters can even help in managing dyspepsia.
Various forms of holistic medicine value bitter foods for their powerful medicinal properties. In Ayurveda, bitter foods detoxify the body, and in traditional Chinese medicine, bitters support the circulatory and nervous systems.
Bitterness helps to balance the sweetness.
When too much of the same ingredient profile is emphasised, it has an intense flavour. In the case of excessively sweet and rich taste, this can be balanced by adding something bitter.
Chefs know how to contrast flavours that do not seemingly go together.
Some sauces that accidentally become too sweet or rich can be balanced by adding dark or unsweetened cocoa powder increments.
Chefs can also use leafy ingredients such as kale or arugula in dishes.
As more members of the younger generation develop a better appreciation of bitter foods and drinks for their health benefits, Chefs are more inclined to incorporate them into dishes. But using bitter flavours as the prevalent taste is not the only way Chefs use them. Chefs use bitters to cancel out other excessive dominant flavours to achieve a more balanced one,
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That’s it for this week.
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Ciao for now,