Why are they so good for us?
Bitter is healthy, really? When it comes to bitter flavours, most people think of medicine. Bitter substances are always healthy. We can confirm this by looking at foods that are naturally bitter. Healthy bitters can be found in endives, rocket, radicchio and chicory. Many vegetables that can be grown in Germany also contain bitter substances, such as Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, broccoli, artichokes and Swiss chard.
Other plants which contain bitter substances include nettles, sea buckthorn, mugwort, angelica (angelica root), yellow gentian, hops, yarrow, centaury, wormwood, zedory, fennel, dandelion and ground grass, as well as aromatics and spices such as thyme, tarragon, basil, rosemary, cinnamon and mustard seeds.
Aubergines, olives and ginger are also rich in bitter substances. Some drinks also contain bitters, including grapefruit juice, green tea, coffee and sage tea, as well as hot chocolate made with the highest possible cocoa content. Artichokes, for example, contain the bitter substance cynarin, rapeseed oil contains glucosinolates, and iceberg lettuce gets its bitter flavour from lactucin.
In fact it’s nearly impossible to avoid bitters, and that’s a good thing. Bitters occur naturally in almost all plants. For some plants, such as bitter almonds or bitter oranges, they are even included in the name. They often protect plants against predators, which find their bitter taste unpleasant.
How bitters work
What do bitter substances do? First and foremost, they promote healthy bowel function. Secondly, they promote blood circulation and digestion, strengthen our immune systems, promote salivation and stimulate fat metabolism in the liver and gallbladder. They stimulate the production of gastric juices, bile and pancreatic secretions in order to break down food into usable components. So if you want to do your liver and gallbladder a favour, you should consume bitters several times a week. In addition, bitters strengthen the immune system and can help reduce fever.
The fact that legumes can hinder the growth of cancer cells is particularly noteworthy. The legume group include lentils, chickpeas, peas, beans, soybeans, lupins, and peanuts.
Our taste buds aren’t used to bitter flavours
There’s a small problem, however, because we have gradually removed the majority of bitters from our everyday diet. In addition, instead of drinking our coffee black, we add milk and sugar. We add sugar to asparagus water to stop the asparagus tasting bitter, and most people prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate. Salad leaves such as chicory, endive and rocket, which used to taste really bitter, are much less so today. Even herbs which contain bitter substances end up less frequently on our tables today. We only really continue to tolerate bitter flavours in beer or coffee. These days, only wild plants or older vegetable varieties often still have a high bitter content.
We need our bitters to be bitter
But we need our bitters to be bitter. Recipes by authors such as Hippocrates, Hildegard von Bingen and Leonhart Fuchs recommended native bitter herbs to counteract various internal ailments. So it’s time we started including bitters in our diet again. We can only achieve a balanced diet through the interaction of all the flavours. When your tongue comes into contact with bitter substances, a signal is immediately sent to all your digestive organs. As a result, the stomach, gallbladder, liver and pancreas begin to work and produce more digestive juices.
Bitters cleanse the mucous membranes in our intestines and other digestive organs, killing harmful parasites and bacteria. This helps to counteract heartburn, wind and the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Foods which contain bitters ensure balanced acid/base levels, regulate blood sugar and detoxify the body and the liver, thus helping to prevent metabolic diseases such as diabetes, gout, rheumatism and allergies. Bitters are also very important for the gallbladder, as they prevent gallstones and stimulate the creation of bile and thus also fat digestion. Bitters even increase our brain power, helping us to feel more energetic and less prone to stress.
Bitters aren’t our favourite
Despite the fact that bitter substances are really good for us, they’re not our favourite. People simply prefer sweet flavours, as the food industry is all too aware. That’s why ready meals are all pepped up with sugar. Sugar can even hide in savoury foods that don’t taste sweet at all. You can find ketchup that is 20 percent sugar, jars of red cabbage with 11 percent sugar or packaged soups that are 13 percent sugar. There is also lots of sugar in baby food, muesli, fruit yoghurt, smoothies, etc. Sugar is added because it serves as a cheap binding agent or as a flavour carrier. Let’s not fall for it any more.
Bitters as appetite suppressants?
Bitters can help you to reach your target weight. Bitters can even indirectly help you to lose weight by reducing your craving for sweet substances. Bitters are compatible with most diets and act as natural appetite suppressants. According to a study, people who are sensitive to bitter flavours are around 20 percent thinner than those who only perceive bitter flavours weakly. The flavour of bitterness can really help you to lose weight if you eat enough of it.
Bitters stimulate the production of digestive juices, thus suppressing our feeling of hunger more quickly, making us feel full sooner and meaning that we eat significantly less. If we consume bitters frequently, we can slowly wean ourselves off sugar, with the result that we resort to high-calorie sweet treats less often. Bitters promote digestion and help us to convert nutrients into energy, with the result that we accumulate significantly less fat on our stomach and hips. As a rule, foods which contain bitters are also lower in calories than sweet foods. We don’t have to cut back on calories if we don’t consume them in the first place. We all know that salty and sweet foods make us want more, however bitters don’t.
But be careful: sufferers of stomach ulcers, duodenal ulcers, gallstones and acid reflux should avoid bitters, as they stimulate the production of gastric acid which could make their symptoms worse. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should keep away from alcoholic bitters.
Our conclusion: you can sweeten your life with bitters.