Updated: Jan 10
By: Pam Smith, RDN
Many of the veggies that are most colorful and most packed with nutrients are the same ones that cause many of us (and not just 5 year olds) to shudder at the sight of steamed greens. In fact, as many as 30% of Americans are extra sensitive to the bitter taste of the chemicals in these vegetables – they are called “super-tasters."
For others, it isn’t the taste but the lack thereof that makes them turn up their noses at vegetables. Many veggies pack a lot less flavor than they could. Sadly, many American growers have focused on varieties that ship well and spoil slowly, and there’s been so little emphasis on taste.
The good news is that with a little extra know-how when buying and cooking veggies, you can not only make this essential food group less boring, you may fall in love anew!
Spice Cabinet Musts
P.S. Flavor!™ Spice Blends, pure vanilla extract or paste, cinnamon or cinnamon sticks, coarse ground black pepper, black peppercorns, Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, and Sugar in the Raw.
Use These Tips to "Revamp Your Veggies" Starting with Dinner Tonight:
Buy the Babies
In some vegetables, flavors intensify as the plant matures, which is why the socalled baby versions have wider taste appeal with just as many health benefits. Experiment with baby artichokes, turnips, squash, and carrots (the ones sold in bunches, with greens still attached – not those sold in plastic bags, which are simply regular carrots, trimmed down).
You can find the babies at larger supermarkets, specialty grocers, and farmers’ markets; some, such as younger Brussels sprouts and green beans, can even be bought frozen. Not only do many people find baby vegetables more flavorful and less bitter, but they prefer the texture too: Younger vegetables are more tender and require less cooking, and they’re fun!
A Little Oil?
Years of fat phobia have conditioned us to shun oils whenever possible. But judiciously using fats – especially heart-healthy ones like olive oil – can go far in helping you love your veggies. When fat binds with seasonings and spices, it can transform vegetables to something downright yummy. And the link between vegetable avoidance and certain cancers is strong enough to justify the extra calories if it gets you closer to your recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Try it: Drizzle olive oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet of broccoli and bake in the oven at around 375º F about 40 minutes – it’s delicious!
Moderate amounts of cheese sauce – not 1950s style smothering – can make broccoli or cauliflower rich and satisfying. Or toss bits of your favorite cheeses (including a little Parmesan, light cream cheese, or feta) in with green beans, asparagus, spinach, or kale.
Ever wonder why the Chinese tend to consume so many more vegetables than Americans, including the strong tasting crucifers such as broccoli? The secret is blanching.
Steam vegetables for 30 to 60 seconds, then remove them from the heat and drop them in cold water. That stops the strong flavors from developing. Stirfrying also preserves flavor by cooking quickly.
The onion family, which includes leeks, shallots, and garlic, is rich in compounds suspected to fight cancer, but for onion and garlic haters, the sharp flavors and strong smells can be overpowering.
Try slow-roasting onions and garlic, which brings out the sweetness and cuts the sharpness. Brush leeks or sliced onions with a little olive oil, wrap in foil packets, and toss on the grill to take the sting out.
Here's one of my favorite ways to roast any veggie using P.S. Flavor!™ spice blends:
Take 1 lb. of your vegetable of choice, cut into large dice (such as sweet potatoes, redskin potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, red peppers, etc.).
Heat a large sheet pan in a 375º degree oven. When pan is hot, spread seasoned vegetables evenly across pan. Roast until fork tender and serve.
Store Produce Away from Fruit
Many vegetables, like parsnips and beets, which have a strong flavor to start with, can become bitter when stored near apples and other fruits, which produce ethylene gas, according to research from Pennsylvania State University. The flavor of carrots, squash, and some herbs will also suffer in the presence of fruit, while crucifers such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage may turn limp and yellow more quickly.
The best way to store vegetables: in a closed paper or Ziploc bag, with ethylene producers (which also include apricots, avocados, peaches, cantaloupes, peppers, and tomatoes) in a separate crisper from ethylene vulnerable produce. Tomatoes are best NOT refrigerated.
Avoid Bitter Eggplants
Everyone knows that too-mature eggplants are bitter, but the size of this fiber and potassium-packed vegetable isn’t your best clue: If your thumb leaves an indent that doesn’t bounce back, the eggplant will be spongy, tough, and bad tasting, even if it’s a little one. To further improve taste, check out its “belly button”: At the blossom end, eggplants have either an oval or round dimple. Buy only the ovals – the round ones tend to have more seeds and less “meat.”
To reduce eggplant’s bitter tendencies even more, after you slice it, sprinkle it with salt, then wait a half hour, rinse, and proceed with your recipe. The salt draws out water, which contains the bitter tasting compounds. Eggplants are worth the trouble: The insides of these veggies are high in cancer fighting polyphenols – the same chemicals that make Asian pears and apples so good for you.
Shop the Farmers' Market
The flavor in cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage, intensifies the longer they’re on the shelf, particularly if they’re wrapped. Freshly-picked tastes SO much better! In Winter, look for broccoli that’s sold in bunches, rather than shrinkwrapped to styrofoam.
If you don’t like the taste of many vegetables, soup may be your best solution: Most soups cook for so long that the vegetable flavors mellow and weaken, while the seasonings become more pronounced.
You can also sneak grated carrots or zucchini into muffins and breads – and even meat loaf. Next time you make a meat loaf, after you add your usual 1 cup of bread crumbs or oatmeal, throw in 1 cup of grated vegetables: Onions, zucchini, mushrooms, or even green beans will be virtually undetectable, even to you. While the longer baking time breaks down some nutritive value, minerals and vitamins stay in the casserole, and veggies make for a more moist meat loaf.
Learn About the Health Perks
A study at Monell Chemical Senses Center found that understanding why something that tastes foul is good for you – combined with repeated, regular exposure to that particular food – actually makes it easier for you to stomach it. If you knew that kale could help protect you from cancer, you might be more willing to forget the taste and eat more of it.
Add a Touch of Sweetness
All babies are born with a natural aversion to bitter foods and a preference for sweets. While this fades over time, many people still maintain a penchant for sweet tasting food.
Scientists have long speculated that’s because so many poisonous plants are bitter. What we do know is that sweet tastes better to us. So indulge in sweeter vegetables – yams, squash, peas, and carrots – which still pack plenty of nutritional advantages. Or add a touch of sweetness to your vegetable dishes with fruit like navel oranges in spinach salad, or dried cranberries with Brussels sprouts.
May these tips help you fall in love with veggies you already enjoy – and maybe even give you the courage to try something new!