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The Color Purple

February 3, 2013

The fastest and earliest purple vegetable you can grow is "Purple Plum' radish. It's ready to eat 23 days after seeding.

Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
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I love purple, from my favorite plum designer-knockoff handbag to violet pansies in my late winter garden. 

But, purple is much more than an eye-pleaser.  According Consumer’s Report, 2013 is the year of purple produce, because these edibles are packed with potent antioxidants.

Blueberries, blackberries and purple grapes are bursting with these powerful compounds that add years to your life.  The purple pigments boost immune systems, thwart inflammation of the arteries and organs and prevent many cancers and other diseases.  Why stop with fruit?  Purchase and/or grow vegetables full of the same antioxidants. 

I’ve found that purple produce has more flavors, too.  Blue potatoes (which are really purple) have a sweet nutty taste when roasted that surpasses any white potato.

The same with purple carrots; their skins add a citrusy, nutty taste to sweet orange cores.  Both vegetables, by the way, began life purple.  Potatoes first grew at high altitudes in Peru in shallow, rocky soil.  The purple pigment developed as a defense against the strong sunlight, preventing green spots which are full of toxic solanine.  Carrots sprang from the craggy mountains of Afghanistan, where light was also a problem. 

Europeans bred the purple colors out of these vegetables, opting for blander colors that people would eat.

Newer Purple Veggies

Plant breeders have developed a number of purple-hued vegetables in the last three decades.  And, they’re still working on incorporating purple into vegetables like sugar snap and snow peas.  You can find purple cauliflower, sweet potatoes, bush beans, artichokes and radishes in many specialty grocery stores and in seed catalogs.

Kansas State University developed this purple sweet potatoes.  Commercial growers have sold them to grocery stores.  Look for plants for your garden in seed catalogs.

Some like Purple Royalty beans and Graffiti cauliflower don’t retain the purple color when cooked normally.  Nor do purple potatoes.  They fade to an unappetizing gray.  Steaming the produce or microwaving stops the wash-out effect and most of the purple pigment remains.  Roasting cauliflower and potatoes also retains the tint.

As beautiful as Purple Graffiti cauliflower is, it will fade to gray if boiled or simmered.  Microwave or roast slices to retain the color and all the antioxidants.

Indigo Rose tomatoes, which I wrote about several weeks ago, also are full of purple pigments with these same antioxidants.  Plants are easy to find in seed catalogs and will be in most garden centers this spring.  I’m betting that we’ll see the tomatoes in grocery stores towards the end of the summer.

This is an excellent time to order seeds for purple vegetables and incorporate them into your garden.  Use our new garden planner app to plan your healthy garden, too.  It’s free for 30 days.  Go to: http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/  and try it!  There’s a short video about how to use the app that will get you started in minutes.

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Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.

Comments

I too love purple, its very

By Garden-nz.co.nz

I too love purple, its very eye catching color! I am amazed to see the Purple Graffiti cauliflower... Everything you have photos of here looks beautiful!

It's good to know that plant

By Sil in Corea

It's good to know that plant developers are still breeding the "old-fashioned way."

very interesting. they sound

By Andy Fox

very interesting. they sound really good. one question: are these natural? Or, GMO's...not real food? Thanks for letting me know.

Most are heirlooms or the

By Doreen G. Howard

Most are heirlooms or the combination of several heirlooms. Even the new Indigo Rose tomato was bred from wild blue tomatoes and an heirloom to stablilize the genetics.

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