The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

A Passion for Purple Vegetables

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

To be healthy humans we are encouraged to eat a rainbow of foods everyday; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and even purple. At first glance fruits reign supreme for blues and purples with blueberries, plums, grapes, and raspberries. However with some fanciful selections vegetables can include the entire rainbow including the elusive blues and purples.

Eggplant is the quintessential purple vegetable. As a member of the tomato family eggplant grows as well here as its pepper and tomato cousins. Eggplant varieties range from purple, violet to white. If harvested too late eggplant can be tough with large chewy seeds. One new variety gives us plenty of opportunity to pick eggplant at the peak of purple perfection. Eggplant 'Hansel' is a 2008 All America Selections winner. Clusters of fruit are produced on compact upright plants of only three feet tall. 'Hansel' has very few seeds, and stays tender whether it's picked at three-inch length or even at ten-inch length.

Our passion for purple extends into carrots, cauliflower, peppers, and snap beans. Carrot 'Purple Haze' is a 2006 All America Selections winner. It's a tie-dye dream with its deep purple skin and bright orange flesh. At 7-8 inches long 'Purple Haze' carrot provides many fresh slices for quite the savory sight in a salad.

Tired of plain ol' white cauliflower? How about the deep purple of 'Violet Queen' with its open broccoli-like heads? Or 'Garffiti' cauliflower with its intense purple heads? Both look dramatic served raw with dips.

The deep purple pods of 'Purple Queen' snap bean are easy to spot on the bushy plants. Another snap bean variety 'Royal Burgundy' can be used raw in salads to show off the deep purple at its best. If dark purple is a bit too bold, why not try 'Tanya' bean with its large flat pink pods. Purple beans don't keep their color after cooking, but they will be a favorite for their excellent taste and texture.

Peppers offer a pantheon of purple. 'Islander' bell pepper has lovely light lavender skin with pale flesh. If left on the plant peppers go through their own rainbow of colors as they continue to ripen. Once 'Islander' turns light purple it will age to dark red passing through multi-colored phases of yellow and orange along the way. Some peppers are so purple they appear black as with 'Black Pearl' and 'Pretty in Purple'. Several tomato varieties such as 'Cherokee Purple' proclaim purple, but none are the pretty purple of peppers.

Our penchant for purple includes 'Early Purple Vienna' kohlrabi with its deep purple skin and white flesh, deep purple scallions, purple salad greens, and purple tomatillos.

Purple basil is as lovely in the garden as it is on the plate. Numerous varieties of purple basil are available including: 'Ararat' (mottled green and purple); 'Dark Opal', 'Osmin Purple'; 'Red Rubin'; and 'Purple Ruffles'. Plant purple basil with pink petunias for a spectacular look in the garden or in containers.

Taste is on the tongue of the betaster, but some purple varieties are said to be sweeter than their green counterparts. 'Purple Passion' asparagus is reported to be sweeter and more tender than green asparagus.

Unfortunately the purple color fades to green during cooking of most vegetables. To retain as much nutrition and color, don't overcook vegetables. Also adding a little lemon juice or vinegar to the vegetables during cooking may help to produce a prettier final product.

Farmers markets and some grocery stores have added color oddities to their veggie varieties, but you may have to grow your own purple preferences. But be forewarned. These veggies are so pretty in the garden you may feel a slight pang of purple pain at picking time.

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