Interested In Cooking With Purple Vegetables? Here’s What You Need to Know

Don’t be scared to buy these bright veggies.


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If your produce aisle or farmers’ market tables have been looking a little more purple lately, there’s a good reason for that. Purple veggies—carrots, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and beyond—have been on the rise in restaurants for years, and are finally making it to consumer’s grocery lists. Rich in anthocyanins, a type of natural pigment, these veggies offer a fun way to eat the rainbow, and sneak a few more nutrients into your typical meal. In fact, anthocyanins are believed to offer anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-obesity effects, plus help prevent cardiovascular diseases. And no, these purple franken-veggies aren’t necessarily GMOs—they’re selectively bred, naturally to encourage those beautiful lavender hues. 

“Purple is one of those colors that normally doesn’t grace our plate, cutting board, sauté pan, or salad often, so when you have the opportunity to make your plate more colorful and more vibrant, it puts a real smile on your face,” says Sarah Grueneberg, chef and partner of Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio in Chicago. “They make you smile because of the color—it’s vibrant and cheery.”

And as humans living in the 2020s, some cheerfulness in our produce is very much appreciated. 

What Do Purple Vegetables Taste Like?

“White cauliflower can look bland when roasted, even if it’s full of flavor,” notes Grueneberg. “But purple cauliflower—you eat with your eyes first! Take the same dish and do it with a different color veggie and have a totally different experience.” 

Do purple vegetables taste different than their conventionally colored counterparts? Not really. “The flavor profile does not change much,” confirms Grueneberg. “A great carrot is a great carrot, and it can be any color. Same with any other vegetables.” One exception: beets. Beets may range in flavor, with golden beets leaning towards a more earthy and less sweet flavor profile, while red beets have a deeper earthy flavor, and candy stripes are usually a little sweeter, Grueneberg says. 

How to Cook With Purple Vegetables

Purple veggies can be used in recipes exactly the same way that their traditionally hued counterparts are. “It’s about appearance,” Grueneberg says. The vibrancy of the color allows you to play with your food in different ways, encouraging healthy vegetable consumption. “With a purple cauliflower or cabbage, I like to roast them, grill them, pickle them, and chop them up into salads. I also like to add pops of color with radicchio and Treviso—the Italian purple bitter greens.”

One caveat: green veggies that come in purple, such as green beans and asparagus, will lose their purple color when they’re cooked, even if you blanch them. Grueneberg suggests slicing them thin and eating them raw, in crudite, as a garnish, or in salads. You can also reserve a bit of purple shaved off asparagus or thinly sliced discs of a green bean to garnish a cooked veggie dish. 

If you want to increase the vibrancy of your purple veggies, including cauliflower, beets, or cabbage, you’ll want to play with acid. Grueneberg suggests mixing in a bit of vinegar or lemon juice. “The color will lock and almost turn a different shade of red, versus purple,” she says. “Boiling a veggie in water will always leach out color. I’d recommend other cooking techniques that really intensify the flavor of the vegetable, like roasting, grilling, steaming, sautéing, or even searing in the oven.” Purple carrots may oxidize a little bit, so try shocking them in ice water immediately after cooking. 

Most importantly, Grueneberg suggests having fun with your purple veggies (her favorite is a purple carrot) “Utilize different colors and swap them in and out for different recipes,” she says. In her new cookbook, Listen To Your Vegetables she even has a recipe devoted to purple veggies: Purple Vegetable Salad with Cabbage, Apples, Beets, Gouda and Quinoa. 

One thing to beware of with purple veggies—working with them will stain surfaces and body parts, especially beets. “I recommend cutting them on a board you do not necessarily mind if it gets stained, or use a piece of parchment paper on top of the cutting board,” Grueneberg says. You can also wear gloves to protect your fingers. Color may also leach off purple veggies in your dish, “So don’t be alarmed if your apples turn red, pink, or purple!”

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