What exactly does this phrase mean? It pairs well with “tough to swallow”, which is interesting since swallow has a little something to do with taste (there are taste buds on the epiglottis, which is part of your swallowing mechanism). As a taste, bitter is usually a warning to the body that something isn't quite right. Many natural toxins have a bitter flavor, just a little something to let you know maybe to go easy with whatever it is. It doesn't taste that good at the start, and it is likely to lead to something not so pleasant later on, such as gastric distress or nausea.
Be careful with this one, though. Because this sensation can be unpleasant, it can be used as a defense mechanism by a lot of plants. Plants so packed with nutrients you may otherwise be tempted to consume a lot of it, effectively eradicating it and ruining its chances for survival. This includes a lot of salad greens, such as dandelion and radicchio.
Bitter is a highly personal choice for food items. Naturally, today, we aren’t so concerned with a bitter taste being toxic, as in the case of chocolate or coffee. Food availability doesn’t make toxins a priority with foods we consume (since, in general, we trust our grocers to not get us sick when we purchase the products they sell). Some people genuinely do not like chocolate or enjoy that morning cup of coffee. The flavor profile of these foods simply doesn’t appeal to them.
So, what’s the take-away?
My guess would be while we may enjoy that bitterness in certain places, if you decide to sample an unknown plant on your next nature walk, just go ahead and pass that one by. Especially if it’s bitter.
- Les, MS RD