The Origins of Bitterness
Bitterness is a taste experience that has evolutionary implications. Before humans developed complex language and record-keeping systems to help us classify and remember which plants and animals were harmful if ingested, we relied on the experience of bitterness, among other clues, to help us decide. A bitter taste often indicates a toxic substance that could make you sick (at the very least) or kill you (at the very worst). So, those humans who found poisonous substances to taste bad, and therefore avoided them, had a much better chance of surviving long enough to have offspring that shared their genes and therefore the same adaptive aversion to such tastes.
But there is a catch.
In his book, “Bitterman’s Field Guide to Bitters and Amari,” Mark Bitterman explains, “by avoiding bitter-tasting foods, we miss out on all the nutrients they hold. Bitter foods are often very high in minerals, antioxidants, and other complex nutritive compounds.” So, the bitter sword cuts both ways. Some parts of us know instinctually to steer clear of bitter tastes, but other parts of us intrinsically crave the hard-to-find nutrients hidden away in those bitter roots and herbs.