From Salads to Sipping… Bitters are in.
Bitters. What are their tastes? How do they make you feel? Having a hard time recalling the last time you tasted a bitter food?
Once upon a time - before refined sugars, boxed food and takeout - bitter flavored foods were pretty prevalent in our diets. Wild diets fruits, nuts, berries, greens all provided not only a well balanced course of fats, vitamins, and minerals but also offered up a bitter flavor that helped trigger the body’s response to aid in digestion by kicking into gear the pancreas, liver, and galbladder. This happens when the taste receptors on the tongue come into contact with the bitter-flavored foods.
Now most Westerners get the bulk of their bitters through foods like coffee, chocolate. A lack of bitters in our overly processed diet of course can be connected to the sluggish digestive issues many of us suffer. That said, given the diet and lifestyle we lead as Westerners, I know few people (if any) that couldn’t benefit from the addition of little bit of bitters in their life.
Of course, one of the best ways to add in nutritional bitter foods is to incorporate more bitter greens like radicchio, endive, dandelion, and arugula into everyday meals.
One of our favorite salads in one gathered from our immediate yard — dandelion greens, new shoots of parsley, tender wild garlic scapes. No need to eat the greens plain - a nice lemon vinagrete complements well the flavors of the bitter in the greens.
This re-wilded salad may take getting used to at first, but we are so used to the flavors now that we are craving the spring bitter greens and can’t wait until the thaw!
Bitters can also be enjoyed as beverages. Classic cocktail ingredients like the liquor of Campari, Aperol, and Angostura bitters are popular commercial bitters that are frequently used in drinks served as aperitifs before meals. Coffee and other anise and mint bitter flavored drinks are commonly served as digestifs post-meal to keep the digestion flowing. One of my own personal favorites is Campari and Soda, or a Negroni (which I prefer Hendricks Gin, Campari, and Lillet Blanc).
Wild plants can be found and foraged making your own bitters. Herbalist Jim McDonald made a FANTASTIC extract of Quaking Aspen whose flavor profile I am finding as complex as a simple as Campari is as an herbal recipe. It’s a beautiful flavor - and good enough to be worked into a cocktail recipe or two. I might try making my Negroni with this delicious ingredient.
Other basic culinary foods like garden mints, orange peel, and fennel can be extracted in vodka or organic grain alcohol to be used as bitters and blended into drinks or recipes to help stimulate a slow digestion. The recipe combos really are endless! Welcome to the world of mixology!
Other fun ways to sneak bitter flavors into the diet include popsicles. I think I may try this citrus-based recipe for Campari popsicles from The Kitchn. I’ll play around with it to make a non-alcoholic version for the kiddos while serving the real deal to the adults on my patio this summer.
I look forward to sharing new recipes and creations and love to hear others’ ideas.
How do you like your bitters?