by Sean Clougherty
According the Garden Media Group’s annual Garden Trends Report, purple foods and plants are going to be on the rise on your plates and in your landscape.
Purple cauliflower, potatoes, berries and corn are projected to be favorites amongst discerning grocery store shoppers, Whole Foods added in its annual trends survey.
Why? Purple packs a punch when it comes to health and wellness.
According to USDA, purple antioxidants, or anthocyanins, help fight cancer, have anti-aging benefits, reduce obesity and protect the heart. Purple food also promotes mental strength.
The Garden Trends Report also said to expect to see more pops of purple herbs and vegetables in ornamental beds next year. Use lavender, catmint and rosemary in landscape borders or pots. Blueberry and blackberry plants are two other good options.
This new power player on the food scene includes some old favorites — black raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and eggplant — but also some you may not be as familiar with. The three main types of purple flesh sweet potatoes consumed in the United States are Stokes Purple sweet potatoes, Okinawan sweet potatoes, and Ube.
Stokes Purple sweet potatoes originated in Stokes County, N.C. These sweet potatoes have purple-tinted skin with bold purple flesh that intensifies when cooked and are known to have a drier, denser texture, and better-balanced sweetness than their orange counterparts.
A good source of vitamin C, Stokes Purple has the most anthocyanins, the antioxidant compound in the purple pigments, of all three purple sweet potatoes.
The origin of the Okinawan sweet potato reads like an adventure novel. Believed to have come from Aztec South America with the Spaniards to the Philippines and China in the 1490s, the plant did not reach Japan until the 1600s. The initial planting was in Okinawa, the southern island of Japan, before they were cultivated all over Japan. Eventually, these purple tubers ended up in Hawaii and became a part of the native menu, where they are also known as “Hawaiian sweet potatoes.”
Beige on the outside and lavender-purple on the inside, these purple sweet potatoes are grown in Hawaii for the U.S. market. Blue-ish purple once cooked, they have a delicate, slightly sweet taste and a creamy texture that is on the starchy side.
Also known as a purple yam, ube is a staple of the Filipino kitchen and is well loved all over Asia as a dessert ingredient for its sweet and nutty flavor.
With all the attention on ube comes the confusion about this elusive yam. Ube is rarely available fresh in the United States.
Beets are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and essential minerals like potassium (essential for healthy nerve and muscle function) and manganese (which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas). Beets also contain the B vitamin folate, which helps reduce the risk of birth defects.
Purple carrots have more beta carotene than their orange cousins and get their pigment from anthocyanins, these pigments act as powerful antioxidants that protect key cell components, grabbing and holding on to harmful free radicals in the body.
Purple carrots contain high doses of Vitamin A, which helps to prevent clogging of the arteries and thus helps to prevent strokes. Along with that, they also contain vitamin B, C and E as well as calcium pectate, which is a very good source of fiber, and they help to lower cholesterol levels.
On the lesser-known end of the purple food spectrum, aronia berries, which are native to the eastern United States, have perhaps the most antioxidants of all the purple group. Researchers in Maryland have been promoting aronia — also known as a black chokeberry — for organic fruit production for more than 10 years.
Victoria Volkis, an associate professor at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, has been working with a team of students to research the fruit’s potential for an array of markets from food and nutritional supplements to less obvious applications such as the marine industry.
“You know why you eat tomato, right? Tomato has lycopene, which is also an antioxidant, and it’s considered to be a very valuable antioxidant,” Volkis said. “So, berries of aronia have 40 times more antioxidants than tomatoes. So, basically it means when you eat a couple of berries of aronia, it’s equivalent of eating a pound of tomatoes.”
Aronia fruit is the size of a large blueberry and grows in clusters of 10 to 20, according to the university. A mature plant between seven and eight years old can yield more than 15 pounds of fruit, and they start fruiting within two growing seasons after planting.
More than two million aronia plants grow on nearly 2,500 acres across the country, mostly in the Midwest and eastern United States.
Though research on the fruit’s health benefits is limited, studies have shown that it could be beneficial to coronary and gastrointestinal health and may have cancer-fighting properties, among other potential health benefits. But processing of the fruit is necessary to mask its astringent taste.
Volkis said she believes the berry is rich enough in antioxidants to topple the increasingly popular acai berry, which has spurred a massive international market thanks to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz, who champion the berry as a so-called super fruit. Aronia is even better, Volkis said. Acai berries are grown in the South American rainforest, so they must be imported. Aronia can grow from northern Georgia to Canada, she said and they’re cultivated across the United States, including Maryland.
Goji berries contain all eight essential amino acids. A single 4 ounce serving provides nearly 10 percent of your daily value for protein. For fruit, this is a surprising amount of protein.
The carbohydrates in goji berries are also complex carbs. This means your blood sugar will raise slowly, reducing your risk of a sugar crash afterwards.
Health officials urge caution with eating goji berries as they can react with certain medications. They should be avoided if you have low blood sugar, are using blood thinners, have low or high blood pressure, are breastfeeding or pregnant or are allergic to the fruit.