Bitter foods . . . you don’t necessarily come running when I say that bitter foods are on the menu. But chocolate, coffee, beer, olives and olive oil are are foods that are bitter and we love them. Why is that? Because we don’t usually eat or drink them as as. They are balanced with other flavors to make them taste better.
Combining and balancing one flavor with another is what makes food taste great. Sweet + salty+ bitter + sour together is one bite is what makes us want more. Check out my blog post How to Make Food Taste Better for the basics of flavor. Here’s how to balance bitterness in some of your favorite foods.
On it’s own, chocolate is quite bitter. Add sugar, milk and cream and something magical happens. The sweetness of sugar and dairy (yes most dairy is mildly sweet) balances the bitterness and makes us crave chocolate.
Everyone’s taste buds are different so the level of sweetness we prefer is different. Bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk chocolate . . . all different balances of sweet and bitter. Have you ever had salted chocolate? You should try it! Salt is another flavor that can balance bitterness and by combining 3 flavors, salt, sweet and bitter, our taste buds call out for more. For more info on using salt to this is my post on using salt in cooking.
Black coffee lovers may not know it, but they have a preference for bitterness. Others like to tame that bitterness with sugar and cream or milk. And just like as in chocolate the balance is crave worthy.
Straight off the tree olives can be bitter. But most of us eat prepared olives that come in a brine (salty) that also balances bitterness. Olive oil is often combined with sweet, salty and sour ingredients (like in salad dressing).
Beer gets its bitter flavor from hops but the mild sweetness of malt is the balancing factor.
When you eat an orange or tangerine you rip off the peel and throw it away. When you juice a lemon, you throw away the peel, right? But orange marmalade takes that super bitter peel and tuns it into a yummy bitter-sweet topping. Another bitter food that was made crave-worthy by adding sweetness.
So the lesson is that bitterness can be tamed by adding salt or salty ingredients and/or sweet ingredients like sugar, dairy, agave and honey.
See my videos in my series on balancing flavors and making food taste better.