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gfron1

Bitter herbal element to a dish

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One of the courses I am preparing for the 12 course tasting menu for next weeks Hatch Chile Fest event is going to have a bitter element. I've been consulting with our local herbalists to find an indigenous plant that is, of course, edible, and might pair with some of my other planned flavors. Here are their recommendations:

gallery_41282_4708_7011.jpg

I'll be testing them tomorrow, first in oil, then as a tea. I'll be sure to report back. Has anyone played with bitters before in your food (v. drinks)?

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Bitter melon is used in Asia as a food plant - especially in summer.

Generally, salting, frying or soaking in oil, and adding sugar will ameliorate bitterness - sharp/sour flavors will emphasize it.

Combining bitter foods with "heavy" meats such as pork works well - the bitterness lightens the pork, the fattiness lessens the bitterness.

Gentian root would be incredibly bitter...are gentians still in flower where you live, because if so, you might consider making a "jam" or candied petal conserve to provide a visual as well as a taste accent to something rich.

Hops are so beautiful...suspended in a beer jelly?

Silk tassel (Garrya elliptica) - it wouldn't be Garrya fremonti your herbalist friends had in mind? Doesn't flower until winter, though you could perhaps use the rather hard and shiny fresh leaves to serve something on - giving them a sharp slap or bang to release some of the aromatic elements before using them.

Mahonia (oregon grape) - that powder is presumably inner bark or root? Can you get dried berries or blossoms? I don't know if the dried blossoms would be as fragrant as the fresh flowers are, though.

Note: Bitter foods often affect the body in dramatic ways...best to use in very small quantities unless you are very familiar with them.

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Thanks for the feedback. I'm going to share your comments with my herbalist and talk through it with her again. And as for the Passover comment...well, it is I guess :) My rationale is 1) I feel like my dish needs it, and 2) I want to play with the traditional use of bitters to stimulate digestion. My hope is to get this incorporated 20 minutes before the entree.

********

Here is my first trial:

Purple Gentian

Smell - very faint, almost sweet

Directly in mouth - I refrained from spitting it out! Bitter with a slant toward acidic. It reminded me of chewing on licorice root. The flavor is somewhat "roundish" and is concentrating on the back of my tongue, as expected by the outdated map of the tongue.

As a tea - More smooth, but still quite bitter. More of the sensation was experienced on the tip of my tongue.

Silk Tassel

Smell - virtually none

Directly in mouth - Flavorless

As a tea - Has the smell of a good green tea. A very nice taste with just a tinge of bitterness on the tip of my tongue. I would drink this as a tea happily.

Oregon Grape

Smell - dusty, non-distinct

Directly in mouth - Similar to putting cream of tartar in your mouth with a slight earthy flavor.

As a tea - Not good nor bad. So non-distinct that I won't be using this.

Hops

Smell - Fresh and green

Directly in mouth - Almost citrus-y, but mainly mild

As a tea - Not pleasantly bitter - how did this stuff end up in beer?! Nothing unique about it.

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....

Hops

Smell - Fresh and green

Directly in mouth - Almost citrus-y, but mainly mild

As a tea - Not pleasantly bitter - how did this stuff end up in beer?!  Nothing unique about it.

Not to sidetrack you, but if you're curious about the use of hops in beer, there's a few theories on why hops replaced the use of gruit on the Wikipedia page for gruit.


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Quinine the primary ingredient in tonic water (notable for its use in treating malaria) is quite bitter. The bitter taste led to the invention of the gin and tonic, using the gin to cover up the taste of the quinine in the tonic water (the quinine concentration was once much higher - modern stuff would have little therapeutic properties). You might also be able to source some Cinchona tree bark from which quinine is isolated.

As the previous poster mentioned bitter melon is extremely bitter, personally I can't stand it but maybe I don't prepare it well, even with a good amount of fatty pork.

edit: cocoa/chocolate is also quite bitter when unsweeted

wikipedia has a link to various bitter compounds here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Bitter_compounds


Edited by s0rce (log)

Professional Scientist (in training)

Amateur Cook

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Related to bitter tasting things I thought I would mention Phenylthiocarbamide.

see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenylthiocarbamide

interesting to see the genetics effecting how different people taste things entirely differently.

edit: I keep thinking of more bitter things. One bitter ingredient I love in a dish is the white pith in lime peel. I add small pieces of diced limes with the skin to mieng kham. The sour of the lime with the bitter of the pith are great together - along with the many other salty and sweet flavors in the dish.


Edited by s0rce (log)

Professional Scientist (in training)

Amateur Cook

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I don't do real well with bitter. I think I may be among that group that gets slapped over the head hard by certain bitter tastes. I seem to recall it being briefly talked about by Ferran Adria in the "Decoding" show and by Heston Blumenthal in one of his "Perfection" episodes.

Acceptable or even pleasant (to others) levels of certain types of bitterness don't work for me. Alginate spheres that haven't been very well rinsed or reverse spheres done with calcium chloride renders the ingredients inedible for me. Even when others around me are raving about how good it is, all I get is a nasty, overpowering, medicinal bitterness. When I did Sam Mason's grapefruit tart with edamame ice cream recipe it called for leaving a small amount of pith on the grapefruit peel for the marmalade. It gets several blanchings and then the cooking in sugar syrup. After all of that, it was much too bitter for me to enjoy. I did it over without the pith. Ironically, your basic aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) is not overly bitter to me. I can chew them without water and it's just a hair away from being pleasant... and of course everybody else is making their "bleh, bitter" face. I guess I am weird.

I know this isn't much use to your topic, I just thought I'd mention that you may not want to take it personally if you accentuate the bitter and somebody looks like they just got a mouthfull of green persimmon concentrate. There are a few of us weirdos out there that have been genetically deprived of the ability to enjoy certain types of bitterness.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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It is helpful. While I don't mind having some misses in a 12 course menu, I do want to improve the odds. Silk Tassel seems my best bet. I can't imagine it offending anyone, but it would give me what I need. I also will relook at my use of citrus. I have some in there already and maybe it needs to come more into play earlier in the menu. Thanks all.

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HERE'S the final result. Tuna Tempura was the course and I ended up using chuchupate. After way too much tasting of bitters and bitter herbs, I re-routed the dish and headed for indigenous. Chuchupate was a nice herb, especially infused into honey. It's also called Osha. www.herbs2000.com describes it like this:

As Echinacea is the antibacterial herb from the American Great Plains, osha is the antibacterial herb of the American Rocky Mountains. Osha is a perennial herb bearing glossy, toothed compound leaves and greenish yellow flowers. It has a camphor like scent due to its essential oil, which is responsible for much of its healing properties. The root of the plant is the part used in herbal medicine.

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