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In the kitchen garden this morning it was clear that we had a prominent color theme emerging in the harvest baskets. Purple…a plethora of purple!

As assortment of purple eggplants, purple peppers, and purple beans filled the garden hod

Until now, we hadn’t really paid all that much attention to how many different purple varieties of vegetables we’d planted in the garden this year.

The purple and blue colors seen in fruits and vegetables are primarily due to flavonoid pigments called Anthocyanins.

Anthocyanins are believed to serve a number of functions in the host plant, including pollinator attraction [1], which may confer a competitive pollination edge relative to surrounding plants.

The Anthocyanin pigments in these eggplant blossoms are attractive to pollinators

These pigments may also enhance predator attraction, facilitating the consumption, and redistribution, of seed.  Perhaps that explains why the rodents were gnawing on the fruits of our eggplants earlier this season.

Anthocyanins are also thought to be potentially phytoprotective in the leaves and fruits of plants, functioning as a sort of sunscreen, by absorbing harmful wavelengths of light.

Perhaps most importantly, Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, and have been suggested to have cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-neoplastic properties. [2,3,4]  Although there is still some debate in the literature as to how bioactive some of these flavonoid compounds are when consumed in the diet, they are one of the reasons we’re encouraged to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and make our daily meals as colorful as possible.

Among the plethora of purple produce we harvested this morning, were four varieties of eggplant (Solanum melongena). The heirloom eggplant ‘Rosa Bianca’ is proving to be a robust variety, producing a number of modest sized 8-10 oz fruits.

Eggplant ‘Rosa Bianca’

Typical of eggplant, Rosa Bianca’s purple pigment is confined to the skin

‘Little Fingers’ though is our favorite variety this year. Sweet, and tender, these little eggplants have been producing all summer, and show no signs of slowing down.

Eggplant ‘Little Fingers’

Rivaling ‘Rosa Bianca’ for the title of prettiest eggplant, is the heirloom ‘Listada de Gandia’.

Eggplant ‘Listada de Gandia’

Although not as prolific as ‘Little Fingers’, these plants are producing very generously. The fruits are as sweet and tender, and they’re simply stunning, both in the garden, and on the plate.

Cutting into Listada de Gandia reveals its creamy white flesh

The last eggplant variety harvested this morning was ‘Long Purple’.

Eggplant ‘Long Purple’

The leaf veins of ‘Long Purple’ are almost as dark as the skin on the fruits

This particular variety seems to have an overabundance of Anthocyanin pigments, especially in the leaves, stems and flowers of the plant.

The flower color of ‘Long Purple’ is much more intense than the other varieties we’re growing

The stems of ‘Long Purple’ are also intensely purple colored. All of the other eggplant varieties have green stems

The eggplants don’t have Anthocyanin exclusivity in the garden though.  These purple colored bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are the heirloom ‘Royal Burgundy‘.

Heirloom bush bean ‘Royal Burgundy’

The plants have been lush, and a favorite with the voles, but despite the damage we are managing to harvest a few.

The advantage of growing purple beans, is they’re very easy to see against the green foliage!

Like the ‘Long Purple’ eggplant, these vines have purple stems, leaf veins, and flowers.

Bush bean ‘Royal Burgundy’

As beautiful as these beans are on the vine though, the pigment in the beans isn’t heat stable, and the color quickly dissipates as soon as the beans are blanched or cooked, turning the beans green.

The purple pigment in ‘Royal Burgundy’ is confined to the outer layer of cells

This is less of a concern for the ‘Purple Beauty’ sweet peppers (Capsicum annuum) though.

Sweet Bell Pepper ‘Purple Beauty’

Bell peppers can easily be eaten raw, preserving their unique color in summer salads.

However, like the ‘Royal Burgundy’ beans, the ‘Purple Beauty’ peppers will turn green when cooked

Perhaps my most favorite Purple vegetable though, is this, the ‘Purple Majesty’ potato.

Potato ‘Purple Majesty’

The skins are a deep, rich purple, but unlike the peppers, beans, and eggplants, these potatoes are purple on the inside too.

Purple potatoes, like ‘Purple Majesty’ are very rich in Anthocyanins, and hold their color quite well when cooked

Not only is this variety prolific, the purple color is retained better when cooking.  For some reason I now have a serious craving for some blue homemade potato chips!

Grilled ‘Long Purple’ eggplant, with olive oil and sea salt

As the potatoes will keep for a while though, I suspect that this long-weekend we’ll be making a LOT of grilled eggplant instead!

We have no shortage of eggplant!

Are you growing any purple produce in your vegetable gardens this summer?

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[1] Harborne J, Smith D., Correlations between anthocyanin chemistry and pollination ecology in the polemoniaceae. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology.  1978 Jun; 6(2):127-130.

[2] Das S, Raychaudhuri U, Falchi M, Bertelli A, Braga PC, Das DK. Cardioprotective properties of raw and cooked eggplant (Solanum melongena L). Food Funct. 2011 Jul;2(7):395-9. Epub 2011 Jun 10.

[3] Nisha P, Abdul Nazar P, Jayamurthy P. A comparative study on antioxidant activities of different varieties of Solanum melongena. Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 Oct;47(10):2640-4. Epub 2009 Jul 26.

[4] Akanitapichat P, Phraibung K, Nuchklang K, Prompitakkul S. Antioxidant and hepatoprotective activities of five eggplant varieties. Food Chem Toxicol. 2010 Oct;48(10):3017-21. Epub 2010 Aug 5.