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Listen—your taste buds are talking – Is Bitter Better?

December 9, 2013

By Joan McDaniel                   December 9, 2013 Updated March 22, 2014

In Review; I ate myself back to health

    mGowSM3qnH_ei7w3pW_7S6gBitter taste in Food

This Web-site tells the story of my being very sick. The Doctors had sent me home for there was nothing more they could do except hand out pills and make doctor appointments. I did not want to be an invalid so I learned how to get well by what I ate. I am much better and my strength is slowly returning.  I now climb stairs in my house almost like I was a new homeowner again.

The healing process takes time especially if it has years of abuse to recover from.  This has been a learning process on my part it has taken me from learning nutrition to finding ancient traditional medicines and remedies. I am also remembering and using what my grandparents use to say.

Following my “gut-instinct”, I used myself as a Guinea-pig, and began research using the writings from the list of names in the reference section of this blog. It was sort of a hunt, peck and seek and find venture.  I spent hours in stores of all kinds looking for different foods and asking a lot of questions.

Addiction to sugar overpowered my ability to hear my taste buds or feel my own body

Sugar Addiction   gg53764066

Eating from the Standard American fat-free high calorie and high processed carb diet you are eating processed sugar by the tons.  You may not even know it but you have a sugar addiction. When you eat sugar, it triggers production of your brain’s natural opioids. Opioids are a key ingredient in the addiction process. Your brain essentially becomes addicted to stimulating the release of its own opioids as it would with morphine or heroin.  In many cases the addicted has been since childhood.


A repeating cycle

I Regained Control of my Body and Health.

As, I slowly broke my sugar addiction, I suddenly became very aware of my sense of taste. Previously the only taste I use to know was Sweet.  Oh maybe, I would eat a sour pickle or use vinegar on my occasional salad but all I knew was sweet.  That’s all I knew how to eat.  Was there anything else? If there was — I DIDN’T LIKE IT —

My sugar addiction was replaced with a craving for taste sensations

To my normal meal, I found I wanted something more – something with a unique taste – something with a little ZING. The first taste I began to crave was sour. I learned how to ferment my own vegetables. I would eat something fermented with every meal, and add lemon to my drinking water.  But just as suddenly, I loss the demand for sour and began to crave bitter foods. I learn to eat bitter greens using Kale and having a regular cup of coffee or two plus I added sprinkles of Cacao to my meal.  And then I harvested my hot peppers and started a whole new world of pungent taste.

My body was talking to me using my taste buds.

I was overwhelmed and kind of scared by these sudden cravings.  In time it became sort of fun and became a hobby.  I was becoming more in-tune to my body for it would tell me automatically what it needed and what it didn’t.

Our bodies are constantly maintaining a delegate balance. It is a 24-7 activity.  It is called homeostasis. It maintains this balance by what it has on hand.  If you eat it, it uses it.  If your body needs something to maintain this balance it uses your taste buds to tell you.

Your body’s blood supply has what is called a pH which should be around 7.35 – 7.45 or slightly alkaline. If the pH drops below 7.0, you will go into a coma and die.

My Grandmother use to tell me —

The more I found myself craving different food the more research I did.  I was telling this to my Jamaican friends and one of them said this familiar phrase — “Yes, my Grandmother use to say…”  “If you were not feeling well eat something bitter.”   When she said that, bells went off.  The next day off, I started doing serious search engine work and found. –

Use Bitter to cleanse the body Bitter is for healing

If your body needs something to reduce acid and become more alkaline your taste buds crave something bitter.  If your body needs something to increase the acid and reduce alkaline you crave something bitter.  Craving sugar does nothing but drive up your blood sugar which doesn’t do anyone any good. By the way acid loves sugar and so does cancer.  An acid balance chases away Oxygen also. See Detoxing later in article.

Our ancestors knew this, our grandparents knew this and most traditional nutritional medicines know this. Traditional Medicine like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), The American Indian (Witch Doctor), and Ayuryedic Indian Nutrition all use taste to help heal.

Ayuryedic Nutrition 

ETH_pic-6tastesAyuryedic Nutrition Picture Credit

Much of Ayuryedic nutrition rests on the tip of your tongue; it identifies 6 Tastes by which food can be categorized. Each taste leads to healthy food types and digestion that helps keep the body in balance. The body craves and is constantly trying to achieve balance. As we learn to listen to our body, we can tap into its innate wisdom and keep us strong and healthy and free of disease.

We   normally have five taste perceptions: salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umam (A meaty   taste),  Ayuryedic nutrition has   dropped Umami and added Pungent and Astringent.Astringent   – Absorbs   water, tightens tissues, dries fats. Herbs, raw fruits, legumes, and some   vegetables. The taste found in popcornBitter   – Bitterness has a sharp, disagreeable and unpleasant taste especially to us   Americans.  Bitter reminds us of   toxicity or a “bitter medicine”. The bitter taste is essential component in   maintain balance and health.  Bitter   foods and herbs serve functions such as detoxification of the liver and   digestion.  It helps maintain a healthy   Immune system. Bitter is the most sensitive of the tastes. More about bitters later.

Pungent   –   This taste is added by the Asian country mainly Indian and Chinese. It is the   hottest of all 6 tastes.  The taste   stimulated circulation, digestion and metabolism, clears the sinuses,   promotes sweating and detoxification. The Pungent taste includes Black   Pepper, Chili peppers (cayenne), garlic, ginger, and the red onion.

Saltiness   is a taste produced primarily by the presence of sodium. It improves the   taste of food, lubricates tissues and stimulates digestion. Salt comes from   natural sea salt and sea vegetables.

Sourness   –   This taste maintains the body’s acidity.    The most common food group is citrus fruits (like lemon and lime),   sour milk products (like sour cream, cheese and yogurt), and fermented foods   (like pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar, wine and soy sauce), Wine can be very   sour. The Sour taste cleanses tissues and stimulates digestion, circulation   and elimination. It helps increase the absorption of minerals such as iron.

Sweetness   –The Sweet tastes is usually regarded as a pleasurable and comforting   sensation.  The warmth and comfort I   grew to love as a baby. The Sweet taste corresponds to the earth   element.  There are two general   categories of sweets, empty and full.    Empty sweets are composed of simple sugars and have no nutritional   value (like processed sugar HFCS).    They cause the blood sugar to rise rapidly and then drop, which can   lead to fatigue.  Full sweets, on the   other hand, consist of complex carbohydrates that have a strengthening and   nourishing action. Nourishing sweets include cinnamon, ginseng, natural   honey, licorice, marshmallow, natural sugar, sugar cane.

Traditional Nutrition and the Taste Bud 


Sometimes I find it hard to tell the difference between sour and bitter taste.  Generally, I have found things that taste sour have to do with citrus fruits, fermented foods, and something salty.  (By fermented foods, I mean something like sauerkraut; I’m not talking about alcoholic drinks or beer).  Fermenting food helps restore your gut with the good bacteria that has been killed by antibiotics and or toxins.  This is also called probiotics or good gut bacteria. Fermented foods add back the good bacteria your system needs to stay healthy. More on that in another article.


Taste and Tradition

Not only did the Jamaican tradition nutrition use food tastes as guide as to stay healthy, with their bitter roots and tea, but Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), American Indian (Witch Doctor), and Ayuryedic Indian Nutrition and many others do also.

And as it turns out, I too remember eating rhubarb pie that my grandmother made.  “It is good for you” she would said.  I don’t care how much sugar she put in the pie it was eatable but extremely bitter. I do remember eating it followed by the promised slice of the sweeter apple pie.  I did sort of get use to eating rhubarb at least once a year.  It kept me “regular” and helped stop a cold. But I was a kid what did I know?

The American Diet

I have already gone to great lengths explaining why the Standard American Low-Fat diet is harmful but the American diet is also unbalanced.  It consists of predominantly sweet and sour foods according to MAPI, the Ayurveda health center in Iowa.  As a result our bodies are unbalanced and we often feel sluggish, unwell and foggy headed, if not zombie like. No wonder the amount of people with dementia and or anxiety is on the rise.

Americans would never think of eating something bitter they would rather choice a more friendly taste like sweet or salty.  They will reach first for the Ketchup and never ever think of reaching for a bottle of bitters.

Just how do Bitters help to detox.

Do Bitter Tasting foods have more nutrients?

Bitter and pungent foods and herbs are very important for the functions of the body, especially to the liver for it helps it detox or rid itself of toxins (poisons). The bitter taste is a powerful detoxifying agent. It has antibiotic, anti-parasitic, antiviral, and antiseptic qualities. It and tightens skin and muscle tissue and helps bring the bodies pH into balance. It is helpful in digestion, reducing fevers, relieves itching, intestinal gas, nausea, body rashes, burning sensations, water retention and weight. While the Bitter taste is not appealing alone, it stimulates the appetite and helps bring of the flavor of other tastes.

Bitter foods promote a natural cleansing of the body.  By including some of the bitter taste in our diet, whether in specific foods or herbs like turmeric we are cleansing our bodies each day.


The Subject of Detoxing is complex and way beyond my pay grade to even attempt to explain.

If you look at the web, or visit your local health food store you will be inundated with detoxing products.  I cannot recommend any product or procedure you are on your own.  I do know that there isn’t a magic pill to take to make it all better.  In fact, your body may need detoxing because of the toxic medications you have taken throughout your life.

One thing to keep in mind is your body naturally detoxes on its own. Unfortunately it sometimes gets overwhelmed and needs additional help.  If you are on a high sugar high calorie carb diet, your blood, cells, and organs are covered in a gooie sugary syrup.  This creates an acidosis balance and your cells become devoid of oxygen.Your body’s cells literally cry out in pain because they cannot breath.

You are in charge and it is all up to you. Without oxygen your cells dye.  Your body needs to detox to return to an oxidized alkaline balance and health.

I have been slowly detoxing and using natural food to do it. I firmly believe in doing things naturally, slowly with as much natural food as possible. Your body needs dietary changes to be implemented slowly.  It simply doesn’t know what to do with something new and will throw it away.  Implement dietary changes slowly and let your body adjust accordingly.

As normal in nature, if you consume too much of something natural your body’s reaction is to get rid of it.  You will experience abdominal pain, diarrhea and maybe a headache but it will pass and is quite harmless. Excess intake of bitter melon seeds for example can also result in headache and fever. Pregnant women or a wishful mother-to-be are also advised against having it. Any supplement or medication should be taken only after a doctor’s consultation.

Bitter Food List

I have provided a partial bitter food list.  Eating food bitter to the taste, helps your body to detox.  The list is not complete but I am still overwhelmed by what I found.  It seems that if the food is naturally bitter it is also ranked as either a superfood or very healthy.

Angustuna Aromatic Bitters or just Bitters – Ask for Bitters in a salon or bar and you will get an Alcoholic drink from Trinidad and Tobago.  It is used for a bitter stomach.

Brassicaceae Plants – See Bitter Greens and Horseradish.

Clover-Brand-Cerasee-Tea-48-20-Tea-Bags-of-1_5g-each-Cerasee Jamaican Tee – (pronounced sir-see in the Jamaican dialect. Its color is red) this tea is available in the US market although I haven’t found it yet.  It contains 100% pure and natural Herb Tea.  Most Herbal Teas are caffeine free for herbs normally do not contain caffeine.  The plant is native to Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.  Maybe its color being red is a warning for it is extremely bitter but has extra ordinary healing powers. It is used in Jamaican according to my friend to heal.  It is used to “clean out the system” or as blood purifier and much more.


Cacao – Cacao bean or Chocolate.  It is considered a superfood, for it has over 300 nutrients.  It contains eight times the number of antioxidants found in strawberries.  The bean is extremely bitter but if filled with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. See my article on the Cacao bean.

cherries_115389Cherry – Tart 1 cup 4.0 g Fructose Sour. This is not the normal sweet cherry (contains 9.3 g of fructose), but both are known for the antioxidant powers.  a 2012  study reporting that the tart cherry has “the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.” Both sweet and tart cherries and cherry juice have long been used by traditional healers as a folk remedy for gout, because cherries are thought to lower urate levels in the body.

Be careful of cherry juice because producers load it with sugar defeating the purpose of the healing power of the fruit. In fact most bitter foods can only be found in its natural form for manufactures want people coming back for more and sugar is a winner.

The Tart cherry is known to be a Natural Painkiller.  I know I used it.  The fruit is hard to find for it is only available early in the summer and most people favor the sweet not Tart.  The good news is – you can put them in a mason jar and freeze them – making them available all year long.

thCAJ10R56Citrus Peel – Citrus Fruit like Lemons, Lime, and Orange. What’s astonishing is that most people throw away the peel without any idea of its potential. The fruit of citrus fruit is normally considered sour but the peel is bitter giving it health benefits.  Both the fruit and the peel are extremely good for your health. The fruit and peel is also great for cleaning and odors for it is free of chemicals.

There’s more – you can also beautify using lemon peel. From skin brightening rub and elbow skin softener to nail whitener… the usefulness goes on and on.

Here, then, is the link to the full list of 31 ways to use lemon peel:

Coffee –   coffeetreeCoffee Tree

Coffee – Coffee is slightly acidic (pH 5.0-5.1) and is bitter to the taste buds.  The bitter taste in coffee comes from the stimulate caffeine.  Caffeine can worsen conditions such as anxiety and cause lack of sleep. I wonder if some people are driven to a cup of coffee for its bitter taste, not just the stimulation of caffeine.  I know I am.


I love this fruit.  It is seasonal but I when it is available I buy a bunch, put them in mason jars and freeze them.  I eat them all year long.  They are available starting Labor Day then into December.  What I like about them is they are low in fructose (1 cup 0.7 g Fructose) and high in antioxidant power.  Research has found that the whole fresh raw cranberry supports health the best. I do sprinkle a smidgen of stevia or cinnamon to help with some of the bitterness. The cranberry has a reputation for helping to prevent UTI’s by preventing the bacteria in urine to adhere to the cell walls.  It has cardiovascular benefits, by lowering blood pressure, and inflammation and anti-cancer. Again avoid the juice for it is loaded with sugar.

Cumin – Spice see turmeric


Fenugreek or Greek Hay –is an herb and spice seasoning that is commonly found growing in the Mediterranean region of the world. While the seeds and leaves are primarily used as a culinary spice, as a supplement it is can be used to help lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and fever. You may also find in in some topical skin treatments.

bitter-greens-saladBitter Greens – There are many leafy greens that are bitter to the taste but are high in antioxidant and health benefits. Some of the bitter greens are; arugula, broccoli raab. chicory, collards, dandelion, endive, escarole, kale, mustard, radicchio, and turnip greens

horseradishHorse Radish –  (Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family (which includes broccoli, cabbage, mustard and wasabi). The plant is cultivated for its large white tapered root. I am still learning about this root.  I will continue to buy already prepared in a jar from the Grocery Store.

Its health benefits date back to ancient times.  The ancient Egyptians cultivated and used it for its health benefits mainly pressing it into oil that was used to fry.  All or part of the Horse Radish Plant can to keep you very health.  From tea to the spicy condiment sold in the grocery store.

The complete horseradish plant has medicinal value.  Tea is made from the flowers, leaves and root. A poultice is made of its roots, and the raw leaves can be eaten in a salad. It is a natural analgesic and its health benefits range from helping a cold, flu, pain, and recent studies show it is also anti-cancer.

The intact horseradish root has hardly any aroma. When cut or grated, however, its enzymes produce (mustard oil) which irritates the mucous membranes of the sinuses and eyes.  Once exposed to air the grated root loses it pungency and becomes unpleasantly bitter-tasting.

A friend of mine from Haiti said her “… Grandmother had a mixture which contained horseradish, and at the first sign of a cold she would make me eat the whole thing …”  “…I didn’t stay sick very long and that the mixture tasted absolutely horrible”.

Kale Red RussianKale

For more information see my article on Kale. Kale has been referred to as not only a superfood but one of the seven most nutrient dense foods on Earth. It packs more nutrients or antioxidants per bite than most other foods. It is used in major detox and anti-cancer programs. It is a main support for the immune system.

Lemon and Lime – I have found out the Lemon is considered a bitter when digested and can also be very effective to us in detoxing See Blog post

Oh the bitter lemon how sweet it is!

bittermelonBitter melon – Also called bitter gourd or squash.  This vegetable belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and is known by different names.  It is used in Asian cooking.  The plant is a climber having dark green leaves and yellow or green fruits.  The Plant is extremely bitter.  The melon cannot be consumed in its raw form because of its bitterness. I have found some who boil the leaves for tea and the melon for many hours to make soups or stews. It is available in tincture form.  Needless to say its fruit and seeds are of a great nutritional value, it contains almost all the essential nutrients needed by humans.  It is used as anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, cancer fighter, lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, cleansing and detoxing, and HIV,

OlivesGreen Olive – Olives can be eaten right off the tree but are extremely bitter.  I was on vacation in Europe when I ran into an Olive tree.  I eagerly picked an olive off the tree and into my mouth and was shocked at it bitterness.  I could not swallow it. They have to be cured with lye or brine and exposed to the air to be oxidized to be eaten.  A olive turns black when fully ripe. Olive are high in healthy Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids.  It is a powerful anti-oxidant cancer fighter, detoxing agent and essential for heart health and general health.


Rhubarb – Often referred to as the “pie plant”. It is highly bitter and tart. It is often cooked with sugar or honey to make it edible.  The stalks are edible but the leaves are toxic. Its health benefits are high in dietary fiber, anti-cancer properties, help menopausal symptoms, helps reduce cholesterol and hypertension, Anti-bacterial, enhances metabolic rate, and can be used for constipation.  I used to eat it as a child and still remember how bitter it was.

turmic2Turmeric, Curcumin – Turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin.  It is an anti-inflammatory, blood-purifying, cancer-fighter, and natural detoxifier. It is normally used to make the Indian curry sauce. See my article on Turmeric.

thCA8PGP02Tonic WaterPeruvian Bark, or Cinchona is the historical remedy for all forms of malaria.  The powered bark of these South American Andes tree is the source of quinine.  Quinine is used to treat malaria, fever and pain.  The current tonic water contains a very small amount of quinine.  Tonic Water is currently used as a mix for the mixed drink called “Tonic and Gin”.  Tonic Water is very bitter.


Tierra, Leslie. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Crossing Press, 2003.

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