Plain language summary
Many known healthy foods have a distinctively bitter taste, which can discourage people from eating them. This literature review looked at the biochemical aspects and consumers’ perceptions and preferences toward foods with a strong bitter taste, in particular extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and Brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussel sprouts. The review included 99 articles. The authors found that, although many people dislike a strong bitter taste, there are some exceptions such as: niches of consumers (e.g., innovators and organic buyers) and foods consumed with specific purposes (e.g., coffee, chocolate, and alcoholic beverages). The level of perceived bitterness can be reduced through repeated exposure to bitter foods, information on health benefits, and pairing with foods that reduce bitterness. These insights can be used to develop campaigns aimed at promoting healthy bitter foods.
The presence of some healthy phytochemicals in food can be paired with high bitterness, and consumers have a widespread avoidance toward bitter-tasting food. This causes a gap between preferences and healthy needs of consumers. Therefore, this review collected insights from literature belonging to different discipline domains in order to have a broad view of the current state-of-the-art about biochemical aspects and consumers' perceptions and preferences toward foods with an enhanced bitter taste. In detail, we focused on two core products of the Mediterranean diet: Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) and Brassicaceae, both characterized by specific phytochemicals having strong healthy properties and bitter-pungent taste. Results suggested that, although bitter taste is a general driver of dislike, some exceptions can be represented by: niches of consumers (e.g., innovators and organic buyers), foods consumed with specific purposes (e.g., coffee, chocolate, and alcoholic beverages). The level of bitterness perceived by the consumers can be modulated through exposure, information on benefits, and elements within the environment (e.g., music). Thus, these insights can be used to develop specific campaigns aimed at promoting bitter (healthy) food, considering also the key role that could be played by food pairings.