Bitter Taste Food helps steady your Fire Energy

Dandelion greens - the bitter taste
Photo by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash

The bitter taste is important, not just to alert us to the presence of poison, but in food to provide a cooling and descending function.

By descending it means that the food helps move the contents of your digestion in a downwards direction. That reduces reflux, eructations, nausea, burping, hiccups,  all of which act in an upwards or yang direction. So bitter taste foods have a yin action. By descending, it means they also help your bowel movements to consolidate and regulate. In fact, many laxatives like senna are bitter-tasting. Their action clears out pockets of stagnation in the bowels and stimulates peristalsis.

Yin things are nutritious and moistening, cooling and consolidating.

Yang action foods are spicy, warming, aromatic, exciting. In excess they heat and inflame. Bitter taste foods balance this, and have another function in that they are often cleansing. clearing out poison. (Even though the bitter taste when strong indicates poison.) For more on yin and yang, click here.

They particularly help where you have excess Stomach Fire symptoms, with burping, reflux, nausea, hiccups, unpleasant eructations or uncontrollable hunger, for example.

The bitter taste also neutralises stomach acid and breaks up fats. It is a yin energy, so usually cooling in action. Too much bitter food, even if cooked and eaten warm, will tend to be cooling. If you tend to get cold easily, make sure that when eating bitter taste foods you also take warming herbs to counteract the cooling action. For ideas, see below.


What is meant by ‘Bitter’

Your taste-buds quickly alert you to the taste of bitterness in food, for very good reasons! It might be a poison!

But knowing what typical bitter tasting foods do, the Chinese also described some other foods as ‘bitter’, meaning that even if they didn’t taste bitter, their action was the same as the action of bitter foods. So that’s why, in the following lists, you may encounter foods that don’t really taste bitter. On the other hand, if you allow your taste-buds to mature, you may begin to appreciate bitterness in foods where formerly you hadn’t expected it.

Your body already produces a very bitter substance, called bile. It’s made by your Liver and is used to neutralise any remaining acids in your small intestine (because your stomach coats food in strong acid to break it down before passing the food down into your small intestine) and to break up fats.

Bear in Mind: foods can have different qualities at the same time. Mustard Greens are bitter, but also spicy, both of which help move your bowels.


The Bitter taste is essential for health

Believe it or not, most of us like the bitter taste. Some of us crave and need it daily.

How Come? Coffee and Chocolate!


Expresso coffee

Of course, often we submerge the bitter taste with sugar or the blander taste of milk solids, so we don’t think of chocolate as being bitter. But taste raw chocolate powder and you’ll be in no doubt.

In coffee, the bitter taste also alerts us to the stimulant quality of caffeine, another poison that many of us really like. Its action is stimulates peristalsis, so we like it because it gets our bowels moving. But coffee is unusual among bitter foods in that it is mildly warming and yang, so it wakes us up and speeds our metabolism. However, that yang action comes with a cost! Read more about that cost here!

Chocolate is less warming in its raw state, but with milk solids it is comfortable and comforting. These are more yin-like actions.


Some Bitter taste foods

  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Bitter melon
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Chicory lettuce
  • Chinese greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Escarole
  • Endive
  • Italian greens
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Mustard greens
  • Olives
  • Olives have a bitter taste
    Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

  • Rapini or Broccoli rabe
  • Snap peas
  • Snow peas
  • Spinach


Below are some foods that aren’t necessarily bitter but help the bitter function in food.

Spices that prevent or move food stagnation:

  • Caraway
  • Cardamom
  • Coriander seed
  • Cumin
  • Fennel seed
  • Ginger


Kitchen herbs that help stagnation

  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Coriander leaf
  • Dill
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme


Sprouts help to descend

  • Bean sprouts (but take them stir=fried and hot to prevent their cold quality overwhelming your Stomach yang energy)
  • Mung bean sprouts
Bitter taste type food
Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

Seeds that are gelatinous (after soaking) help move stagnation

  • Chia
  • Flax (can be sued ground
  • Sesame


Small Beans tend to cause less bloating than large beans

All beans should be soaked overnight before rinsing then cooking them in fresh water.

  • Split pea
  • Lentil
  • Mung
  • Adzuki

The water adzuki beans are cooked in is diuretic.

Here’s a list of bitter taste foods … BUT!

.. the list is incomplete because we haven’t decided about all modern foods and, as you’ll have read above, some foods help the ‘bitter’ action in different ways.

alfalfa sprout
chamomile tea
chrysanthermum tea
cinnamon bark

dandelion leaf

dandelion leaves have the bitter taste
Bitter taste dandelion leaf tea
dandelion root tea
elderflower tea
fennugreek seed
ginseng (american)
liver (pork)
liver (sheep)
pepper (white)
pumpkin seed
tea (Indian or Chinese or green)


Red wine, is warming, and also sometimes pungent and sweet, even bitter taste
Wine varies in how bitter it is, also sweet and pungent. Red wine warms more than white wine, usually.

Other pages to read:


Books on Chinese dietary therapy:

Jonathan Brand colours

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