There are also psychological issues here that hide the fact that most people find the raw greens bitter.
First, people who like the "prepared" dandelions they've eaten all their lives tend to sing their praises. So even though dandelions are quite changed by the time most people are eating them, they praise the plant. People who consume the leaves fresh hear these praises and wonder what they are missing.
Third, there are many people today that believe that bitter is good for the liver and proper digestion and that dandelions are a healing food. So they learn over time to tolerate much more bitter than the rest of us. For many of these people bitter becomes an enjoyable flavor. They often describe dandelions as not being bitter....
...Okay, so enough about what I've seen and experienced, let's get on to the basic principles I've come up with that will help you enjoy dandelion greens.
Understanding the "bitter"Dandelions are bitter because of a class of water soluble chemicals called sesquiterpenes. The key to enjoying dandelions is understanding how to work with these chemicals to minimize their impact on your taste buds.
Sesquiterpenes are part of the milky juice that runs throughout the dandelion plant. They are everywhere except for the non-green flower parts. Sesquiterpenes are less concentrated in rapidly growing leaves, hence the thinking that young leaves are not bitter. Well, in fact they are bitter, just less bitter than they could be.
There are great differences in people regarding the sensation of bitter. People like me, endowed with lots of extra taste buds in the bitter sensitive zones of the tongue, are super tasters for bitter. We can taste bitter a mile away and that taste lingers miserably for some time after the food has been swallowed. ....
1. Dilution: This is where you mix your dandelions with something that dilutes the bitterness. This could include mixing it with milder greens (like miner's lettuce or chickweed) or putting in some dish with other ingredients so that the proportion of dandelion leaf is reduced relative to the overall food. One of the best ways to use fresh dandelions in a salad is to chop them into small pieces and sprinkle them over a mixed salad. The bitterness of the dandelions is lost, but the overall flavor of the salad is enhanced. The key to this is not making dandelions more than one-fifth the mass of the total salad and having the pieces be small enough so that they do not overwhelm the taste buds.
2. Masking: This is a taste bud thing. Fat is the main ingredient for doing this. This is why many of the old-timers (like the farmers mentioned earlier) poured bacon grease over their dandelions. My understanding is that fat, in the form of oils, butter, bacon grease, etc., cover taste bud receptors and reduce their sensitivity to the harshest forms of the bitterness. Fat also enhances the flavor of the greens.
4. Leaching: This is the process mentioned earlier of boiling out the water soluble sesquiterpenes, leaving a wonderfully rich flavor. In my experience, using fresh, rapidly growing greens, you only have to boil them once for three to five minutes for them to release most of their bitterness. I typically just adorn them with a little olive oil and I'm a happy camper. The technique of leaching goes like this: Start a pot of rapidly boiling water, chop up the greens to about one inch pieces, put them in the water, stir to keep them submerged. After 3 minutes, sample a small piece. If not bitter, remove the greens from the water and serve hot. If still bitter, leave the greens in the boiling water. Sample again after five minutes. If still bitter, consider transferring them into a second pot of boiling water for three to five minutes. In my opinion, if they need more cooking than that, they are too bitter.
Some people prefer diluting, masking, and distracting to leaching because they can still eat fresh uncooked leaves.
Dr. John Kallas is the owner of Wild Food Adventures, Institute for the Study of Edible Wild Plants and Other Foragables. He has been researching, teaching, and writing about wild foods for more than 25 years. For more information go to: www.wildfoodadventures.com
I'm going to try method one and combine two and four by adding butter at the end.
Turned out great! A lot like spinach. Had to do the extra 5 minutes of leaching, still has a bit of a mild bitter flavor as you chew. Worth the nutrition for sure!