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Old 04-22-2015, 01:37 PM   #1
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The dreaded bitterness...

Hello everyone. I found this forum looking for a couple of culinary pointers and decided I very much like the premise of it! Now onto the problem...

I cook a lot of Indian food and I have constantly improved my skills since I started over two years ago. However, there is one thing I cannot crack. Sometimes, when I finish coking a meal, I notice there is an underlying bitterness to it. Usually, it's very subtle, but it's prevalent enough that it puts me off of enjoying it. I have not been able to figure out why until I stopped and thought about it. Here are some ideas:

1. Onions - is this due to using onion pures at times (the only two recipes I can think of right now where I have the problem are both onion pure-based with no tomatoes)? My (youtube) Indian mentor, Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi mentions cutting out the centre of the onion to reduce bitterness. However, I'm not sure this is the problem as I do not cut the centre out of onion when I chop them.

2. Not cooking the spices enough; when I add spice powders to the mix, am I not cooking them through enough to cook out the raw flavours? (again, mentioned by Chef Harpal!)

3. Not using enough oil - this is the one I think is most likely to be the problem. I always thought "let's be healthier and use less oil!" but I think this means that the onion/ginger/garlic absorbs all the oil and the spice powders burn against the oil-less saucepan. I've noticed Indian chefs use a lot of oil (three tablespoons is more like three litres to them!)

What do you all think? Can you help me crack the problem? Other than this (thankfully, infrequent) problem, my Indian food tastes great!

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Old 04-22-2015, 03:32 PM   #2
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I don't know, but I would guess that something is getting slightly burnt.
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Old 04-22-2015, 07:11 PM   #3
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I don't know, but I would guess that something is getting slightly burnt.
My thoughts also. And I am inclined to think it might be the spices. The only part of the onion that may be bitter would be the core at the bottom where all the sulfur is stored. And it could be the kind of onion you are using. Here in the States we have several kinds of sweet onions we can choose from.
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Old 04-22-2015, 10:09 PM   #4
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I hope someone else has some ideas. I sometimes get that subtle bitter flavour in Indian cooking too. I haven't paid enough attention to say what I was making.
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Old 04-23-2015, 12:48 AM   #5
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The times when I use tomatoes, I always fry the tomatoes until mashed and then add the powdered spices and it turns out fine, so I am leaning towards the spice-burning due to lack of something (oil or moisture). I am leaning even more towards it now that I have seen your feedback :) I suppose that the tomatoes provide some extra bulk to take some of the heat away from the spices and some greater surface area to reduce contact of the spice powders with the hot metal. I'll have a go with a bit more oil and see what happens! I shall let you know whenever I get round to it :)
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Old 04-23-2015, 02:01 AM   #6
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Suthseaxa, I forgot to welcome you to Discuss Cooking, so welcome. I hope you stick around. It's a fun and interesting forum.
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Old 04-23-2015, 03:05 AM   #7
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I think its a burning problem . Have you tried using whole spices , dry frying them and then grinding them to a powder ?
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Old 04-23-2015, 03:41 AM   #8
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It's a spice problem, I agree! There are evidences in all you wrote in your first post here Add oil, a bit of water or use tomatoes' ragu, I don't think onions will ever cause you problems of bitterness!
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Old 04-23-2015, 09:24 AM   #9
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It's a spice problem, I agree! There are evidences in all you wrote in your first post here Add oil, a bit of water or use tomatoes' ragu, I don't think onions will ever cause you problems of bitterness!
They will if you burn them.
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Old 04-23-2015, 10:50 AM   #10
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I always dry-fry spices before grinding them to a powder in my large, granite mortar These powders are quite possibly burning, so I'll use a bit more oil or some water next time and hopefully this will solve it! Thanks all!
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Old 04-23-2015, 11:37 AM   #11
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My thoughts also. And I am inclined to think it might be the spices. The only part of the onion that may be bitter would be the core at the bottom where all the sulfur is stored. And it could be the kind of onion you are using. Here in the States we have several kinds of sweet onions we can choose from.
Actually, sulfur is found throughout the onion. That's what stings your eyes when you cut into one. In culinary school, after 20 students practiced dicing onions, someone in the hall outside the classroom thought there was a gas leak
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Old 04-24-2015, 11:15 AM   #12
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Actually, sulfur is found throughout the onion. That's what stings your eyes when you cut into one. In culinary school, after 20 students practiced dicing onions, someone in the hall outside the classroom thought there was a gas leak
When ever Pirate (a plumber) or Spike (Contractor) get a complaint, they first thing they ask is where are the onions. When onions are rotting, they give off the smell of leaking gas.
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Old 04-24-2015, 05:02 PM   #13
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Actually, sulfur is found throughout the onion. That's what stings your eyes when you cut into one. In culinary school, after 20 students practiced dicing onions, someone in the hall outside the classroom thought there was a gas leak
Great minds! I was just chopping veg for soup and as I was cutting up the onions It struck me that the bitterness could come from the sulphur, particularly if they had been left to stand after chopping.
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Old 04-24-2015, 05:05 PM   #14
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When ever Pirate (a plumber) or Spike (Contractor) get a complaint, they first thing they ask is where are the onions. When onions are rotting, they give off the smell of leaking gas.
When I worked on the emergency service at the gas company I often sent an engineer to a gas escape only for him to report back that it was onions!
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Old 04-24-2015, 08:54 PM   #15
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Great minds! I was just chopping veg for soup and as I was cutting up the onions It struck me that the bitterness could come from the sulphur, particularly if they had been left to stand after chopping.
I never cry from working with onions. I never cut into the core. I never buy huge onions. I know I will never use a whole one. And I hate to put a cut one in the fridge. No matter how tight you wrap it. Some of the odor will escape.
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:04 PM   #16
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I chop up leftover onion and freeze it for soups and casseroles, etc.
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:40 PM   #17
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I chop up leftover onion and freeze it for soups and casseroles, etc.
I used to do that. I had a friend that used to work at Haymarket open air stalls. One time he brought me a 50# bag of restaurant size onions. I cut up about five or six, and gave the rest to my neighbors. Then there was the 50# bag of potatoes, a carton full of celery, far too many tomatoes, snow pea pods. We sure lived good that summer. And so did my neighbors. Every Saturday all summer long, there was far more food than any of us could use up. I could have sold it I suppose, but I can't do things like that to my neighbors. Charge someone for something I got for free. I am not a greedy person by nature. I am the one who causes havoc when there are about 100 people in line and I will let someone get in ahead of me.

He stopped working there when the cold weather came. And he didn't go back the next summer.

This was not food that he was stealing. It was food that was being tossed away for the garbage truck to come and take it all away. Now that food all goes to the Food Bank.
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Old 04-25-2015, 10:17 AM   #18
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Onions are very high in sugar - that's why they caramelize, but burning their sugar means an instant bitterness that won't go away!
Using any oil other than good quality olive oil could lead to bitterness. Vegetable oils are particularly prone to being made by plants that are either too young or too old giving the oil an "off" taste.
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Old 04-26-2015, 11:59 AM   #19
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I have just had another thought as to what may have caused the bitterness...I was cooking a dopiaza and it may have been the crispy fried onions! I must learn how to do this properly.
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Old 04-26-2015, 02:38 PM   #20
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I have just had another thought as to what may have caused the bitterness...I was cooking a dopiaza and it may have been the crispy fried onions! I must learn how to do this properly.
The sugars in onions require a lower heat. Lower the heat and let them cook slowly. When they are done, remove from the heat immediately to stop the cooking.
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