Bitter and Slow: part 1 bitter greens

No not my personality!

Recently, my morning paper, read “Adult taste buds in a bitter retreat” subtitled “Sweet tooth overindulgence exacerbating picky palates”. (National Post, Sat. Oct. 13, 2012. Unfortunately this particular article is not available online.) In it Elizabeth Hames examines the apparent trend of adults reverting to  more childish tastes for sweets, as evidenced by the milky sweet concoctions available at Starbucks such as Frappuccino. Even beer is getting sweeter. And in Britain, it is now possible to buy Supersweet Broccoli, a Scottish- grown variant, touted by one chain store as benefitting pregnant women. The consumption of bitter leafy greens has declined there by 11%. In the U.S. grapefruit growers are going out of business.

Children, as you may remember from your own experience, have to develop a taste for bitter. It used to happen in the natural order of things that our tastes buds grew more refined, so that as adults we might have come to like the taste of olives, black coffee, hops in beer and martiniis as well as broccoli and its ilk. Apparently, this trend can be traced to the declining cost of sugar, due in part to the U.S. subsidies for corn growers and cheap availability of high fructose corn syrup.

“By abandoning refined tastes we eaters may actually be exacerbating the pickiness of our palates. Eating fewer flavourful foods, including certain types of produce, is believed to be creating a widespread deficiency in zinc, a flavour-enhancing mineral… That means it takes us longer to satisfy our flavour threshold which is when our brains determine we’ve had enough to eat.”

I was converted to bitter, leafy greens during a spell of bad health 25 years ago. One of the stories that convinced me was this one: newly trained doctors looking for a place to set up practice in Germany in the 19th century would go from town to town and they never chose to settle in a town where people were growing kale in their gardens. I believe that the health I enjoy today is in part of the result of eating kale and other bitter leafy greens almost every day since I heard that.

Not all bitter greens need to be cooked and even some that need to be cooked can be eaten in salads when young. Recipes from older cookbooks may advise long periods of boiling, I suppose, to make them more palatable to unrefined palates, but I just steam mine for a few minutes, more or less, more for more mature leaves, especially if I am also cooking the ribs. The longest I steam them would be 5 min., usually less. I serve them with a little olive oil and salt, or sometimes balsamic vinegar, oil and salt. Sauteeing in oil at the end or throughout also works. Some people roast kale to make chips.

Here is a partial list of bitter, leafy greens: argula, Belgian endive, beet greens, chard,chicory, cress, collard greens, endive, dandelion, kale, black kale, dinosaur kale, mustard greens, radicchio, rapini, spinach, watercress, rocket.

Of course, we are all already eating some of them and we know that oil and salt or salt substitute make them tasty and vinegar doesn’t hurt. In general, the hardier the leaf the more nutrients it provides. Many of us, who are  lactose intolerant, rely on them for calcium as do vegans.

I add kale to stews for the last few minutes, adding new leaves when I heat up the leftovers, a particularly good way to eat it as the days grow colder. And of course I can add it or chard to my green soup. (See Green Soup posted July 28.)

Next I will consider the slow cooking I like to do especially at this time of the year. It fills the house with delicious smells that banish negativity and suit weak digestions.