Bitter Is Better: Wild Greens Used in the Blue Zone of Ikaria, Greece

Nutrients. 2023 Jul 21;15(14):3242. doi: 10.3390/nu15143242.


The current study reports an ethnobotanical field investigation of traditionally gathered and consumed wild greens (Chorta) in one of the five so-called Blue Zones in the world: Ikaria Isle, Greece. Through 31 semi-structured interviews, a total of 56 wild green plants were documented along with their culinary uses, linguistic labels, and locally perceived tastes. Most of the gathered greens were described as bitter and associated with members of Asteraceae and Brassicaceae botanical families (31%), while among the top-quoted wild greens, species belonging to these two plant families accounted for 50% of the wild vegetables, which were consumed mostly cooked. Cross-cultural comparison with foraging in other areas of the central-eastern Mediterranean and the Near East demonstrated a remarkable overlapping of Ikarian greens with Cretan and Sicilian, as well as in the prevalence of bitter-tasting botanical genera. Important differences with other wild greens-related food heritage were found, most notably with the Armenian and Kurdish ones, which do not commonly feature many bitter greens. The proven role of extra-oral bitter taste receptors in the modulation of gastric emptying, glucose absorption and crosstalk with microbiota opens new ways of looking at these differences, in particular with regard to possible health implications. The present study is also an important attempt to preserve and document the bio-cultural gastronomic heritage of Chorta as a quintessential part of the Mediterranean diet. The study recommends that nutritionists, food scientists, and historians, as well as policymakers and practitioners, pay the required attention to traditional rural dietary systems as models of sustainable health.

Keywords: Chorta; Ikaria; Mediterranean diet; ethnobiology; extra-oral taste receptors; food culture; taste perception.

MeSH terms

  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Greece
  • Plants, Edible
  • Taste*
  • Vegetables

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italy, and by the Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics of the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy.