Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenol compounds that play an important role in the growth and health of many plants.
If you are a wine or a tea consumer, chances are you have heard of tannins and maybe even discussed their presence in your beverage of choice.
It took me a while to understand what I was tasting for when I searched various foods for a tannic experience. My mind was looking for flavor rather than mouthfeel experience. Once I realized it was a feel rather than a flavor I can now more readily pick out the tannic quality in foods. Tannins are astringent and can be bitter, they’re most noted for their ability to take the moisture from the tissue in your mouth and tongue. It’s this process that can also enhance the perception of bitterness.
Want to find out if you are tasting for tannins? Prepare two cups of black tea, steep one for two minutes and the other for four minutes. Taste and feel the difference. What do you notice about each cup? Want to neutralize the impact of the tannins? Add some fat. This is why tannin rich wines pair well with cheese and cream can ‘smooth’ a cup of coffee or tea.
Tannins play a fascinating role in the plant world. They regulate growth hormones; sending the vital signals to do things like pollinating and ripening. They are also a deterrent to predators, with the bitter astringent quality acting like a toxin in some cases. They are responsible for some of the brighter colors, like the red in a pomegranate skin, and act as sunscreen. Tannins are also antimicrobial; they protect the plant from ‘infection’ and help it to heal more quickly.
For humans, tannins have a mixed review. Originally, tannins were viewed as an “anti-nutrient”; in fact, it was assumed they were carcinogenic. However, lately research is demonstrating that assumption is not accurate and tannins can play a vital role in health and wellness. Humans can benefit from their antimicrobial and antifungal qualities. Other studies suggest that tannins can help balance blood lipid levels, decrease blood pressure, aid in blood clotting, and regulate auto- immune response. Depending on the type of tannin, they also have amazing antioxidant properties, helping to decrease oxidative stress and the potential for cell mutation.