Humans have five perceptions of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami, and we have 25 bitter receptors expressed in each taste cell in our mouths. Where a negative reaction to bitterness may have saved our ancestors from accidentally eating toxic plants, some cultures have developed a taste for bitter flavours. For those who haven't acquired a taste for the bitter, researchers are at work on bitter blockers for use with foods and medicines. If you do not plan to celebrate the bitter in your diet or at your next dinner party, consider these steps to eliminate or mask the flavour in your dish.
Adjust your method of preparation during cooking. The Maillard reaction is a chemical process that occurs during cooking as a reaction between a sugar and an amino acid. The process, responsible for caramelization, adds colour and flavour to foods, but it can cause bitterness to develop. Coffee, nuts and vegetables are just a few examples of ingredients that can become bitter through this process. Overcooking and the application of a too-high heat to your dish can lead to bitterness. Cook at a lower heat and remove food items from the heat if they show any signs of scorching or burning.
Prepare your ingredients properly for cooking. With ingredients such as eggplant, soaking the slices in a salt water bath can help to remove the bitterness from the flesh. For garlic, the The Kitchn website suggests removing the green germ from the centre of the clove if it has become bitter due to sprouting.
Choose a different variety of ingredient. For example, some varieties of eggplant contain more bitter flavour than others. Eggplant's bitterness comes from the seeds and some varieties contain more seeds than others.
Select your ingredients at the proper stage for use, and store your ingredients properly. Eggplant will become bitter if stored in the refrigerator, and overmature eggplants can turn bitter. Eggplant must be used within one to two days for its best flavour. Smaller and immature eggplants are generally less bitter. Older garlic may become bitter if it begins to sprout.
Introduce another strong flavour in the dish or along with the meal. Ingredients such as garlic or chilli peppers and strong spice blends or combinations of flavours can mask the bitterness of a single ingredient.
Add sugars. You may remember from childhood how the bitter taste of grapefruit is made more palatable through the addition of a spoonful of sugar on top. Lemonade is another example of pairing sweet with a bitter flavour. Sugars can help mellow and disguise bitterness, taking the edge off the intensity of the flavour.
- Guiding Stars; Comfort Food and Nutrition; Erin Dow; Nov. 5, 2010
- Nature Biotechnology; A Taste of the Future; Cormac Sheridan; 2004
- The Kitchn; Food Science: Understanding the Maillard Reaction; Emma Christensen; May 13, 2008
- The Kitchn; Bitter Garlic? Just Remove the Germ; Emma Christensen; Mar. 16, 2011
- University of Illinois Extension: Watch Your Garden Grow -- Eggplant
- University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County; The Elegant Eggplant; Linda Trujillo; Jan. 25, 2003