That moment when your cheeks cramp together so that your jaw aches, your salivary glands spurt in shock, your face scrunches involuntarily and your whole body focusses on the taste in your mouth.
It doesn’t look like it’s good for you, but it is. Your whole digestive system and it’s complementary functions are being instantaneously kickstarted into action.
We’ve unlearnt the ability to enjoy certain tastes as we have ‘civilised’ our palates. It’s a loss that our digestive system mourns because it was built for it.
Sour and bitter tastes are digestives. Think of the practise of drinking a herb liqueur like Jägermeister or Underberg (Magenbitter aka stomach bitters) after a heavy meal to settle your stomach. It might be a fun social practise, or an excuse to toss another down the hatch, but the principles behind it are solid.
What are the mechanisms?
Sweet and sour foods stimulate your production of enzymes and bile juices so that you digest your food better. That means you break it down more easily into the correct size particles for your body to be able to deal with. This allows you to process your food better, so you have less issues with bloating and digestive smells. It also means you absorb more nutrients from your food.
A recent study adds a new dimension to this. Adding something sour to your food slows down the transit time, so it has less of a spike effect on your blood glucose levels and insulin response. That means less energy spikes and falls. The take-away from that is that we should eat something sour at each meal.
Apple cider vinegar also breaks down in your digestive system in such a way that it alkalises your system.
Think it’s not an option for you because of heartburn? Think again – have a look at Are you making your heartburn worse?
A large-scale manufactured-vinegar will have some of this effect on your digestion, but a good raw vinegar or a naturally fermented foods add a robustness and probiotic extras that by definition make them better quality.
For the bitter edge, try adding rocket, dandelion leaves, grapefruit and juniper berries to your diet. For more sour, try rhubarb or citrus… but no sour worms!!!
Sugar vs sour and bitter
Our taste has adapted from regularly eating bitter and sour foods to preferring sweet and more subtle flavours. We sprinkle sugar on grapefruit and eat rhubarb cooked with it’s equivalent weight in sugar. These are habits we have to teach ourselves to change.
How about a little change to start with? Have a salad before each meal with either rocket or dandelion leaves and have a home-made vinaigrette with that made with raw apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice. That’s an easy tweak. You can start experimenting with other sour and bitter flavours once you’ve got that settled as a new habit?
Before your taste-buds adjust, take some sour and bitter selfies …