Purple foods are trendy, and the reasons go way beyond beauty and complex flavor
Editorial consulting by the Culinary Institute of America
It seems that everyone has an opinion on the connotations of color. Red is for passion, blue is for tranquility, yellow is for optimism. Think about it: Red and yellow are dominant colors in fast-food signage because passion relates to hunger and optimism to friendliness. After more than a generation of low-fat obsession, green has now emerged as the rallying flag for “healthy.”
Whole Foods Market just named purple foods a top trend for 2017; and purple foods from potatoes and corn to berries, beans, peppers, and even cauliflower are being called out on menus with increasing frequency. One reason is the power of distinctiveness (hey, these chips are made with blue corn!). The other is the power of a funny word called anthocyanin.That’s the scientific name for a bluish-purple pigment that calls out a host of health benefits. If you haven’t already, you’ll be seeing this word front and center on food labels – typically in boldface and followed by a slew of exclamation points. Rightfully so: along with antioxidants, these powerful substances, which mostly come from the fresh fruits and vegetables we eat, prohibit the oxidation of other molecules in the body. These molecules, also known as “free radicals,” produce what is known as “oxidative stress,” which places a burden on the body because there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to detoxify their harmful effects.
Antioxidants can neutralize this effect making them crucial to good health. If free radicals are left to their own devices, they have the potential of causing a wide variety of illnesses and chronic diseases including atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes and more. Typically, the body can detoxify with its own internal antioxidants. However, as with most things in life, we could always use a little boost. As it just so happens, purple and blue foods contain superior amounts of antioxidants.
Beyond antioxidant properties, promising research indicates that anthocyanins may also assist in the protection against several forms of cancer. According to a laboratory study published in 2010 in Phytotherapy Research, anthocyanins pulled directly from blueberries were shown to inhibit the development of breast cancer cells. Additionally, in a study reported in Pharmacological Research, researchers found that a variety of anthocyanin-rich berries prevented esophageal cancer in rats. More studies are being conducted internationally as we speak, however it would appear that wild blueberries and other blue and purple foods are more than simply delicious.
As a chef, however, I am concerned with more than just wellness. After all, if it doesn’t taste good, it won’t get eaten. In addition to imparting Wild Blueberries with their beautiful dark pigmentation, anthocyanins contribute to their complex flavors too. This phenomenon is true for grapes and wine as well. In fact, the harsh growing conditions of Wild Blueberries and certain grapes serve to concentrate their tannins, tartness, and taste.
The wine comparison, in fact, unleashes a whole new dimension of Wild Blueberry applications beyond desserts and muffins. Use them in condiments, glazes, salsas, and sauces, or flip places with savory compotes or crumbles. Pickle Wild Blueberries for a change of pace over capers in salads and smoked foods. The emergence of new fermented beverages from Kombucha to switchels also builds on the wine comparison.
The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations, and if science has its way, purple foods and their healthy attributes are here to stay.
Chef David Kamen, PCIII, MBA
Project Manager, CIA Consulting
Chef David Kamen has enjoyed a diverse career in the culinary world. He served as executive chef of St. Andrew’s Café, one of five award-winning public restaurants on the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park campus. He’s also been professor of culinary arts at CIA, where he taught everything from culinary skills development, to seafood and meat identification and fabrication, to breakfast cookery. Today, Chef Kamen is a project manager for CIA Consulting, where he is responsible for planning and managing custom projects for professional foodservice operations. A certified hospitality educator, Kamen earned dual certification from the CIA and the American Culinary Federation as a ProChef Level III (PCIII) and Certified Executive Chef (CEC). He also holds a B.A. and M.A. in Business Administration from Empire State College.