From arugula to kale to radicchio, some of the healthiest foods tend to be the most bitter. That’s why many people won’t eat them. Well, it turns out the secret to eating more bitter-tasting foods may be—wait for it—simply eating more bitter foods.

In research presented at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in August 2018, scientists from Purdue University reported that the secret to this phenomenon lies in human saliva. The researchers discovered a change in the saliva of people who drank unsweetened chocolate almond milk three times a day for a week (pure cocoa is naturally bitter, which is why it’s often paired with sugar). Essentially, the composition of their saliva changed; there was an increase in the proteins that bind to astringent compounds, which made the milk taste less bitter.

Because saliva influences our perception of flavor, the more raw broccoli we eat, the less distasteful it may seem. Or, in the case of black coffee and dark chocolate, consuming more means you’ll need less sugar to mask their natural bitter edge.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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