What is Bitter?

Cyd Converse

Just what is bitter in terms of food and how can you counteract bitterness in your recipes? Here are some ideas

Describing what is bitter, or bitterness, can be quite a challenge.

Out of our five taste senses, we are very sensitive to bitterness, so it can be easily identified in certain foods.

Toaster Oven Roasted Broccoli Image

Bitter foods generally have a sharp flavor that is neither salty or sour, even though these flavors pair well with bitter foods. Some people are more sensitive to bitter flavors than others and may find them disagreeable. 

Bitter Foods

Believe it or not, there are many foods that are bitter, including beer, chocolate and coffee.

Many people find leafy green vegetables bitter, particularly once they have matured. Such greens include things like kale and broccoli.

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Picture

Cocoa also has a bitter flavor and is often used to offset sweet and spicy food. To reduce the bitterness of cocoa, many people add sugar and cream.

Coffee is another beloved bitter food, and much like cocoa, can be mellowed by adding cream or milk and sugar.

The level of bitterness in coffee depends on the way in which the coffee beans were roasted.

The white pith of citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and limes adds a bitterness to the fruits - removing the pith makes them much easier to enjoy.

Many people combine the bitterness of citrus with a sweet flavor as it creates depth. 

Broiled Grapefruit Photo

Here are some other common bitter foods:

  • Artichokes
  • Ginger
  • Broccoli
  • Radicchio
  • Arugula
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Chicory
  • White asparagus
  • Endive
  • Grapefruit
  • Red wine
  • Eggplant
  • Bitter melon

The great thing about bitter foods is that many of them support your digestion and help increase activity in the liver, assisting with the absorption of nutrients.

Eating a bitter food as an appetizer, for example, can help encourage your appetite and create the rhythmic movements needed to support digestion.

Endive Picture

If you find that you are quite sensitive to bitter foods, you may find that cooking them using different methods helps to make them more palatable.

Here are a couple of great recipes that use common bitter foods, but mellow them out to a level you will enjoy...

Brussels sprouts are one of our favorite bitter foods! They get a bad reupation, but when prepared properly they are delicious and a real treat.

This recipe combines Brussels sprouts with pecans, maple syrup and sriarcha chili sauce for a side dish that is savory, sweet and spicy. 

You can prepare this recipe in the oven or even the toaster oven, making it very simple to add to your dinner menu.

These maple roasted Brussels sprouts cook and reheat well so you can even make a large batch and eat them throughout the week. 


Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha Recipe

    2 Servings


  • 3 tablespoons Raw Pecan Pieces
  • 16 ounces Baby Brussels Sprouts, Ends trimmed and halved
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil, Or your favorite cooking oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha Chili Sauce


  1. Preheat toaster oven to 350°F and arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking pan.
  2. Toast nuts for 5 to 7 minutes until golden and fragrant.
  3. Remove nuts from the baking pan and set aside.
  4. Return the empty pan to the toaster oven and increase temperature to 400 F.
  5. Add sprouts to a medium bowl and drizzle with oil, toss to coat veggies evenly. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Carefully remove heated pan and arrange sprouts in a single layer.
  7. Roast for 20 minutes or until browned and fork tender, stirring halfway through.
  8. Combine the maple syrup and sriracha, drizzle over sprouts and stir well to coat evenly.
  9. Return pan to toaster oven for 5 more minutes.
  10. Stir in toasted pecans and serve dish warm. 


  • If your Brussels sprouts are on the large side slice them into quarters or increase the cook time and oil as needed.


Cyd is a native of Upstate New York, born to a family of women who love to cook and host parties. She shares her love of all things food, home and entertaining on her blog, The Sweetest Occasion and on Instagram.

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