Eating more vegetables is one of the best ways to add nutrition and flavor to a meal with a minimum of calories. Unfortunately, some vegetables can taste bitter and unappetizing, and this makes people less willing to add them to their plates. Plus, some people are more sensitive to the bitterness in vegetables genetically.
There’s also evidence that the calcium content of vegetables makes them taste more bitter. For example, collard greens have a high calcium content and many people find them to be bitter. Still, vegetables are an abundant source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, don’t cast them aside because of their bitterness.
Luckily, there are tips and tricks to make bitter vegetables taste better, so you can enjoy adding more of them to your plate and reaping the health rewards. Plus, there’s evidence you can “train” your taste buds to accept vegetables. Let’s look at some ways to make bitter vegetables taste more appetizing.
Add a source of fat
It’s a fact that the bitterest vegetables have a reputation for being hard to swallow, but it’s not their fault. Alkaloids and phenolics, compounds that have potential health benefits, in vegetables produce bitter flavors. These chemicals are in certain plants that humans eat. Check out this list of common foods that contain bitterness:
- Brussels sprouts
- mustard greens
- collard greens
Fats, such as olive oil, butter, cheese, and nuts, can help balance the flavors of bitter green vegetables such as kale and Brussels sprouts. The fat coats the tongue, which helps diminish the bitter taste and create a pleasing texture. Furthermore, fats bring out the savory and earthy flavors of even the most bitter veggies.
For example, sautéing kale in olive oil and garlic enhances the savory flavor and mitigates the bitterness. Choose healthy sources of fat for cooking, like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil, but you also have other options. Why not sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on top of roasted Brussels sprouts for a savory and slightly salty flavor? You’ll also get more protein and calcium.
Roasting is a brilliant way to bring out the natural sweetness of bitter vegetables. You can do this in the oven or on the stovetop. Be sure to use a source of fat (such as oil or butter) to caramelize whatever you’re roasting. Otherwise, your vegetables will be dry and bland.
If you’re cooking on the stovetop, do this in a pan with a lid so steam gets trapped inside. When roasting vegetables in an oven, keep your eyes peeled for burning spots–these dark brown areas will taste bitter when you put them on your plate.
Add other flavors to balance out the bitterness
You can add salt, sugar, and sweet vegetables to neutralize bitter ones (such as broccoli or spinach) to make them taste better. Herbs, spices, or other seasonings help take the edge off a vegetable’s bitterness, and many are high in antioxidants. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, so they’re beneficial for your health.
Here are some suggestions:
- Lemon juice or other acidic ingredients: Acid balances bitterness and adds a bright, refreshing flavor to vegetables.
- Sweeteners: A little sugar, honey, or maple syrup helps balance out the bitterness of some vegetables, particularly leafy greens.
- Herbs and spices: Strong flavors like garlic, ginger, and herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme mask the bitterness of vegetables.
- Nutritional yeast: This seasoning has a nutty, cheese-like flavor that can mask the bitterness of some vegetables, particularly cruciferous ones like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
- Creamy sauces or dressings: A rich, creamy sauce or dressing can help balance the bitterness of some vegetables, especially if you pair it with acidic or sweet ingredients.
Soak veggies in salt first
Before adding veggies to a dish, take a few extra minutes to give them a salty soak. Simply fill a bowl with some cool water and add a sprinkle of salt. Then add the vegetables and let them sit for five minutes.
This technique helps break down the bitterness of the vegetables while also reducing their volume. Like sugar, salt helps counteract bitterness.
After the soak, rinse them before cooking them with other ingredients that provide flavor and texture, such as onions or garlic. This small step can make a big difference in the outcome of your dish, so take the time to properly prepare your vegetables for maximal eating pleasure.
Pair bitter vegetables with sweet ones
One way to make bitter vegetables more palatable is to pair them with sweet vegetables. Sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets help balance the bitterness of vegetables like collard greens, mustard greens, and kale. Consider the texture of each vegetable when pairing them. Ultimately, the goal is to find a balance between sweet and bitter flavors to create a dish that is both flavorful and enjoyable.
Don’t be afraid of bitter vegetables! Bitter often means they’re more nutritious due to the extra phytonutrients they contain. Fortunately, there are many ways to make bitter vegetables taste better. Roasting, blanching, adding spices, acid, fat, or sweetness, and pairing with complementary flavors are all effective methods.
As a bonus, you can use these techniques to enhance the flavor of all vegetables, not just bitter ones. Experiment with these preparations to find the perfect combinations for your palate, so you can create delicious meals with more vegetables!
- Sharafi M, Hayes JE, Duffy VB. Masking Vegetable Bitterness to Improve Palatability Depends on Vegetable Type and Taste Phenotype. Chemosens Percept. 2013 Mar 1;6(1):8-19. doi: 10.1007/s12078-012-9137-5. PMID: 23682306; PMCID: PMC3652488.
- “Bitterness: Perception, Chemistry and Food Processing, First Edition”. 2023. Onlinelibrary.Wiley.Com. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118590263.ch4.
- “Vegetable bitterness is related to calcium content.” 01 Apr. 2009, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666309000051.
- “Vegetable Bitterness is Related to Calcium Content”. 2023. Www.Researchgate.Net. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/24176263_Vegetable_Bitterness_is_Related_to_Calcium_Content.
- “Masking Vegetable Bitterness to Improve Palatability Depends on ….” 28 Dec. 2012, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12078-012-9137-5.
- “Bitter Becomes Better: Study Finds You Can ‘Train’ Your Taste Buds To ….” 06 May. 2020, https://studyfinds.org/bitter-becomes-better-study-finds-you-can-train-your-taste-buds-to-like-vegetables/.
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