Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saliva, what have you done for me lately? The Bitter Truth

As a 7 year old, I suggested that my parched cousin “make saliva” to quench her thirst: “Haz saliva”, I demonstrated. She didn’t speak Spanish, but she got the idea. I was already displaying a tendency to troubleshoot other people’s physical discomfort.

Saliva doesn’t just make your mouth wet, it is the first step in digestion, providing amylase, the enzyme that digests starch. Chewing food thoroughly insalivates it and skipping this step by wolfing food down can cheat you out of vitamins, minerals and other co-factors which are the cosmic purpose for chewing and swallowing in the first place.

Chronic heartburn and indigestion, headaches and bloating after a meal, can often be traced back to hurried eating with improper insalivation of food. Insufficient saliva production can also be a consequence of age or genetics, but whatever the cause, Bitters can help.

Bitters prepare the body for digestion. Within seconds of tasting bitter there is an increase of saliva production, bile production, and secretion of bile from the gall bladder into the small intestine. Your digestive system is prepped to derive the maximum nutrition from your meal and the chances of indigestion, bloating, and discomfort during what science writer Natalie Angier calls “the festival of mandatory gratitude”, are diminished.

What’s bitter? Salad greens like endive, escarole, and radicchio; cooked greens like kale, chard, rapini and dandelion; and to bridge the gap, Herbal Bitters like dandelion root and leaves, turmeric root, burdock root, and sarsaparilla root. The herbal bitter liqueurs Chartreuse and Benedictine, originally medicinal formulas created in monasteries, include artichoke leaves and orange peel. Including a Punt è Mes aperitif or a Fernet Branca after dinner drink is a great way to ease digestion while bringing some historical herbal context to the holiday table. After all, given that any meal has its genesis at the basis of the food chain, it’s always the plants we have to be thankful for! Happy Thanksgiving!

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