When it comes to healthy eating, we all grew up hearing how important it is to eat our greens. But did you know that many of your go-to green veggies come in purple varieties?
Not only do they add some color to your diet, but they’re packed with even more nutrients and vitamins than their regular cousins. Move over green: purple is the color of superfoods in the 21st Century!
What Makes Food Purple?
As with blue foods we looked at in our other article, purple fruits and veggies get their color from the anthocyanin pigments contained within their cells. As well as giving the foods their deep coloration, this pigment acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from the harmful effects of free radicals which can damage tissues and even cause cancer.
Because of these special pigments, purple foods contain a much higher antioxidant concentration than other colored foods. In fact, scientists have demonstrated that weight-for-weight, purple foods have a higher total antioxidant capacity than red, yellow, green or blue foods.
The only thing limiting their impact on our diet, is that we tend not to eat many purple foods. While red onion and eggplant might be common features of a standard healthy diet, other purple foods can also contribute to your daily antioxidant intake.
Let’s take a look at the list, and see how many of these superfoods you can squeeze into your lifestyle.
The List: 25 Purple Foods
1. Acai Berries
The acai berry is the fruit of the acai palm tree, native to the rainforests of South America. The fruit has a deep purple color and a grape-like appearance. This purple berry is considered superfood as it is known for improving skin appearance and may help with weight loss, although this claim has not been scientifically proven.
What has been shown is that the concentration of antioxidants in this humble berry is higher than any of your go-to healthy berries, including cranberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Once limited to the health food shops, acai berries are now available frozen through online retailers, or in powdered form.
You can enjoy them as a smoothie or straight in a bowl, but beware of pre-prepared juices and purees because they may contain added sugars.
2. Baby Purple Artichokes
Commonly known as Fiesole artichokes, taking their name from the city of Fiesole, Italy, this small, palm-sized artichoke has a characteristic dark purple color. Fans claim this variety is even tastier than regular artichoke, due to its powerful fruity and nutty taste. It is also high in fiber and low-calorie, making it a positive addition to any diet. To maximize its flavor, it’s better to slow cook these baby artichokes, by roasting, braising or poaching them.
These hedgerow favorites make the superfood lists for their high antioxidants content, as well as being an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C and manganese. One cup of blackberries can fulfill 50% of your daily vitamin C requirement!
Despite their sweet-tart taste, they are low in carbohydrates, making them suitable to ease your sweet tooth even when you are on a diet. They are said to help with healthy digestion, good brain function, a healthy immune system and reducing inflammation.
4. Black Currant
This deep dark purple fruit is a healthy component of any diet, containing four times as much vitamin C as oranges and double level of antioxidants as blueberries. Native to Europe and Asia, the plant was first cultivated in Russian monasteries.
For a long time, the fruit was banned in the United States, amidst fears that it was spreading a fungus that threatened the timber industry, earning these little berries the name “forbidden fruit”. Now, this purple berry is used to add flavor, color and vitamins to lot of foods including jams, syrups, alcoholic beverages or in sweet and savory dishes.
Known in different parts of the world as aubergine or brinjal, this elongated purple vegetable may be the one you are most familiar with. While the skin is a royal purple color, the flesh is white, spongy and has a slightly bitter taste.
Eggplant is a great substitute for meat in a range of dishes, and its absorbent texture means it readily takes up flavors and seasonings in sauces. Switching out meat for eggplant in a dish not only reduces the carbon footprint of your meal, but adds extra antioxidants to help keep your body healthy.
As native fruits in the Mediterranean and Western Asian regions, figs are a luxurious addition to any meal. In its native regions, this palm-sized fruit with a thick purple skin has become an important commercial crop.
The fruit is very delicate, as it can quickly over-ripen and take on a sour smell, so export of the fresh fruit is rare and most of us will be familiar with preserved figs – whether dried or sugared. Figs contain vitamins, minerals and high levels of fiber that can help you keep your digestive system functioning well.
7. Forbidden Rice
Also known as black rice, for the color of the grains before cooking, this variety of rice takes on a deep purple color once cooked. It earned the name “forbidden rice” in China, because this rare and expensive variety was only available to the rich upper classes. Forbidden rice contains high levels of anthocyanins, and is a good source of antioxidants in the diet. The grain is naturally gluten-free and makes a healthy staple carbohydrate for people following a gluten-free diet.
This familiar purple flower is a favorite amongst herbalists for its aromatherapy properties: the fragrant essential oil of lavender is used for relaxation, calming the digestive tract and treating insomnia and anxiety. But did you know that these delicate lilac-colored flowers have a role in the kitchen? They can be used to bring a light floral taste to pastas, salads, dressings and desserts. You can also use it for herbal tea, candy or as a cake decoration.
Lavender flowers are also used in the production of certain artisan monofloral honeys, meaning the colony of bees is given access only to lavender flowers to feed from. The lavender scent is carried into the honey, and brings a sense of luxury to your food, as well as the health benefits of lavender oil.
This purple fruit is native to the island nations in Southeast Asia, but its specific origin is still uncertain as it has been widely cultivated in the region. The fruit is round with a thick, deep red-purple skin when ripe. The flesh inside is segmented into several white, fibrous lobes, which are sweet, sour and juicy.
The fruit itself, being white, does not have a high level of anthocyanins, but still contains a good supply of vitamins and antioxidants, which you can enjoy fresh, or as a juice or smoothie.
The skin of the mangosteen is often used in traditional medicine, treating conditions ranging from diarrhea to obesity and toothache to skin conditions. Research into the health benefits of mangosteen rind is still ongoing, but scientists can confirm that the high level of tannins in the skin is probably the root of its role in treating stomach upsets.
Prunes are made from dried plums, most commonly the European plum variety. In the drying process, the concentration of fiber, vitamins and other components is increased, making prunes an intense source of healthy compounds. Amongst others, prunes contain high levels of natural sorbitol which gives them a laxative effect if you consume a lot of them. This dark purple food lends a sweet flavor to desserts and savory dishes alike.
11. Purple Asparagus
While you may think of asparagus as a firm member of the green veg brigade, purple varieties are also available which have concentrated anthocyanins in their stems and tips. Purple asparagus tastes slightly sweeter than regular green asparagus, as it has a higher concentration of sugar in its stems, and also has a nuttier taste.
While these stunning purple veggies are delicious eaten raw in a salad with olive oil, sea salt and lemon, they can also be cooked in any of your favorite asparagus dishes, including pastas and quiche. However, the purple color tends to dull when cooked.
12. Purple Basil
Another purple version of a green every-day herb, this stunning variety of basil is often used in pesto or as a decorative garnish. The flavor of this herb has typical basil undertones, with a slightly spicy twist. Compared to regular kitchen basil, the purple alternative contains even more vitamins and minerals, and is a particularly good source of vitamin K which helps keep blood and bones healthy.
13. Purple Broccoli
Sometimes called sprouting broccoli, this purple variety of the regular green favorite is full of healthy compounds. The florets tend to be looser than the commercial green variety, and are positioned on long stems that are tender with gentle cooking.
The purple broccoli was developed in England due to its hardiness in the face of long winters; the vegetable would flower even in the cold spring months, offering some variety from the winter’s root vegetable staples.
14. Purple Carrots
When we think of carrots, the color orange usually comes to mind. But did you know that the original carrots were purple and white? The first evidence of these ancient veggies dates back to the 10th century AD, from remnants of the food crops of purple and white carrots have that have been found in the Iranian Plateau and Persian Empire. Today, purple carrots are making a comeback as a superfood, and are frequently found in health food recipes and artisan cooking.
Compared to regular commercial carrots, the purple variety contains the same vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and manganese, but has the added benefit of all those antioxidants from the purple pigments, which helps them protect you from heart disease, cancers and even aging. They have even been shown to help boost your memory and learning.
So next time you decide to reach for carrots to help you see in the dark, pick purple ones that will support the rest of your body as well.
15. Purple Cabbage
If you are looking for additional antioxidants to add to your diet, purple cabbage could be the answer. Also known as red cabbage, this variety has a similar taste to green cabbage and is similarly low in calories. As well as being packed with fiber and vitamins, this purple veggie is one of the most versatile and cost-efficient ways to incorporate purple foods and healthy anthocyanins into your diet.
In fact, scientists have identified purple cabbage as containing some of the highest levels of antioxidants in a range of vegetables tested, and suggest that this cabbage variety could contribute up to 25% of our daily antioxidant intake without overdoing it on the calories.
16. Purple Cauliflower
Contrary to popular belief, purple cauliflowers are a naturally-occurring variety, and not the result of genetic engineering. In fact, it is the white variety that used to be specially selected to meet the expectations of us, the buyers!
When the sun shines on the florets of the cauliflower, anthocyanins are produced that give the vegetable a unique purple coloration. And the great news is, the darker the purple, the more anthocyanins it contains!
This purple veggie is another easy way to add purple color to your meal, bringing with it vitamin C and a sprinkle of calcium, folate, potassium and vitamin A. As well as lending themselves to being roasted, sautéed and grilled, you can use purple cauliflowers in place of regular cauliflower in any dish – even as cauliflower rice! But some of the purple color will be lost if you boil or steam it.
17. Purple Kale
Compared to all the other kale varieties, purple kale has the strongest cabbage flavor. Its leaves are chewy and semi crispy but become softer when cooked. It can give you a great amount of vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein, carbohydrates and fiber. Purple kale is a particularly tasty complement to hearty soups that contain smoked meat, potatoes, beans or barley.
18. Purple Potatoes
The humble potato gets a royal makeover with these purple varieties, including Purple Peruvian, Purple Majesty and Purple Fiesta. This purple potato has a blue-purple outer skin that ranges from medium to darker shades and a nice purple flesh. They have more earthy flavors than regular white potatoes, and can be used in all your usual potato dishes.
If that hasn’t persuaded you to try this colorful variety, they have a lower glycemic index than white varieties, and even more potassium than a banana. Given how many potatoes we consume each year, switching to purple potatoes would be a sure-fire way to increase your antioxidant intake.
19. Purple Vienna Kohlrabi
This little-known vegetable is part of the cabbage and broccoli family, but instead of leaves and flowers, the edible part of this purple veggie is actually the bulbous stem, which comes in dark pink to rich purple colors. It has a familiar sweet, mild cabbage taste and can be a good partner for sandwiches or egg dishes. This veggie is packed full of your daily allowance of vitamin C as well as excellent levels of B vitamins.
20. Purple Yam
While most yams and sweet potatoes are white or yellow in color, this particular variety is a vivid violet-purple color. Commonly found throughout South-east Asia, this purple food can be used as flavoring or coloring for desserts such as ice cream, milk, Swiss rolls, donuts, tarts, cookies and more. It has a sweet, nutty taste which lends itself to both sweet and savory dishes.
The tubers can be cut to make purple crisps, and the vegetable is a fundamental ingredient in a number of traditional dishes, including the Filipino dessert “ube halaya”. Apart from its versatility, purple yams also contain a good amount of carbs, potassium, vitamin C and phytonutrients.
21. Red Leaf Lettuce
While they are usually referred to as red leaf, the coloring of these romaine-type lettuces often have a magenta to dark purple hue. In the kitchen, they are just as versatile as other types of lettuce, and can be used to add variety to the salad bowl or extra crunch to your sandwiches.
The advantage of these purple leaves over their green cousins is the antioxidant level, which is significantly higher than that found in iceberg or rocket. Red leaf lettuce is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, and is a low-calorie food that makes it a good friend for weight loss.
22. Red Onions
Red onions, and their smaller cousin the red shallot, have a dark reddish outer skin and characteristic purple-white flesh. The flavor is sharp and sweet, and these purple vegetables offer an excellent source of polyphenols and flavonoids with some of vitamin C, fiber, iron and calcium.
Red onion varieties have nearly twice the antioxidant content of your standard white onions, making them an easy way to incorporate the benefits of purple foods into your diet. Try mixing them in salads, salsa or guacamole, or on pizza, tacos and fried rice.
23. Redbor Kale
Redbor kale is another member of the kale family that is valued for its natural purple and magenta color. This veggie contains a great number of vitamins and minerals, and its high antioxidant content earns it the label of “superfood”.
For best results, and to retain the rich color of these purple leaves, you can eat them raw – it’s best to shred them as the texture can be a bit fibrous otherwise. Alternatively, they can be cooked in any of your dishes that call for a kale or cabbage component.
24. Star Apple
Also known as the Caimito fruit, this seasonal tropical fruit grows as large as an apple, and has a taste similar to mangosteen. The fruit gets the name star apple because the seeds inside form a star-like shape when you cut the fruit in half. Around the seeds is a creamy white pulp, which can be eaten fresh or used to make juice and milkshake. The fruit has been used in traditional medicine to treat sore throats and reduce inflammation related to pneumonia and laryngitis.
Wild violets are often considered a weed, growing in lawns, gardens or sidewalk cracks. While the flowers may be pretty sight and welcome fragrance in early spring, few people know that this dainty plant has uses in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. But beware before you start harvesting wild flowers: there are other similar-looking flowers that are poisonous, so be sure you have the right type before you start picking.
Edible violets can be a colorful addition to salads, pesto and sandwiches, and as a herbal medicine they have been used for wound healing, anti-inflammatories and respiratory medicines.