It’s the taste that people love to hate, but herbalists know it’s the unsung hero! Bitterness has been utilized throughout history to stimulate digestion. Everyday practices such as beginning meals with bitter liquors, greens, and coffee/tea illustrate this flavors’ influence.
We experience a large variety of plant compounds as bitter. In part, plants developed bitter constituents (some of which are poisonous) as a defense mechanism against being eaten by mammals and insects. And we developed our own defenses via our taste receptors. We only have two taste receptors for sweet, but dozens to detect bitter. When we taste bitter foods, it signals a potential threat, and the body responds by ramping up detoxification and digestion mechanisms.
But as we know, many plants are completely safe and downright nutritious. And, much like our muscles, our digestive systems need stimulation to stay healthy and strong - and bitterness provides. Bitters promote digestion and liver function, while also supporting parasympathetic relaxation, preparing our bodies to rest and digest. The silver lining for those who hate this taste is, the more you consume bitter foods and herbs and experience their amazing benefits, the more your body will crave them.
If you’re looking to “dip your toe” into getting more bitterness in your diet, cooking with digestive bitters is a delicious first step. You probably familiar with bitters as an ingredient in classic cocktails such as the manhattan, old fashioned, and negroni, but they’re a secret weapon in the kitchen too, instantly providing dimension to a dish. They add a unique depth to marinades, salad dressings, syrup or caramel, sprinkled over fruit, and in baked goods in place of typical extracts like vanilla or almond. Give it a try, you’ll thank us later!