Dietary experts have long advised eating an array of colored vegetables, as each carries different nutrients. Many yellow and orange crops, for instance, are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, while most greens contain iron, calcium and folic acid, and reds provide lycopene and other nutrients. Filling your plate with a rainbow of foods covers your bases and ensures a balanced diet. But one color that hasn’t gotten much attention until now is purple.
Purple vegetables contain pigments called anthocyanins, the same antioxidants found in red wine. Antioxidants have been shown to protect human cells from oxidation, which can result in disease. But with few exceptions, purple isn’t a color typically seen in the produce department, so how is one supposed to eat more of it?
Luckily for us, 2017 seems to be shaping up to be the Year of the Purple Garden. Many of the season’s seed catalogs are sporting pages of purple, offering everything from purple cauliflower to purple sweet potatoes. And the best news is these aren’t lab-created Frankenfoods — they’re heirlooms and hybrids from all over the world. Here are some of my favorites. Plant them and enjoy a new color in your garden — and on your table.
Molokai purple sweet potato(Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
Commonly found in Hawaii and similar to the Filipino purple yam, Molokai is "much higher in antioxidants than orange-fleshed" sweet potatoes. Flesh is sweet and creamy with overtones of chestnuts. Plant in a sunny spot in loose, well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. $9 for three 6- to 12-inch plants at rareseeds.com
Depurple hybrid cauliflower(Credit: Burpee)
Cauliflower, the darling of low-carb and gluten-free dieters, is certainly having a moment. In a departure from the steamed, smelly specimen many of us remember from childhood, it’s now stepping in for rice, mashed potatoes and even pizza crust. Depurple takes cauliflower to new heights, with “buttery-sweet, nuttily nuanced lavender-blue florets.” Start indoors, then plant it in full sun in spring (or late summer for a fall harvest). $5.95 for a packet of 30 seeds at burpee.com
Indigo rose tomato(Credit: Territorial Seed Company)
Indeterminate plants are vigorous producers of 2-inch-round tomatoes. Sun-exposed fruit parts turn blueish plum, while shaded portions mature to dark red, which accounts for the two-color nomenclature. Sow seeds indoors or set starter plants outdoors after the danger of frost has passed in a spot that provides at least 6-8 hours of direct sun daily. $3.65 for a packet of 20 seeds (other sizes available) at territorialseed.com
Red Fire broccoli(Credit: Johnny's Selected Seeds)
These mini broccoli plants produce eye-catching, 6- to 8-inch bright purple florets that will dress up a crudité platter or entice the kids to try something new. Plant in well-draining, fertile soil. $7.15 for 250 seeds at johnnyseeds.com
Purple dragon carrot(Credit: Burpee)
Fun fact: Orange carrots were created by Dutch growers in the 17th century. Before that, all carrots were either purple, white or yellow. You can get back to carrots, um, roots, by planting purple dragon seeds directly into the garden in deep, well-cultivated soil after the danger of frost has passed. $5.95 for a packet of 1,000 seeds at burpee.com
Scarlet runner bean(Credit: Annie's Annuals)
Pulling double duty as a crop and an ornamental, this prolific beauty produces inch-long, fiery red-orange edible flowers and follows them up with bright pink beans that mature to navy-speckled lavender. Plant in sun to part sun, and let the vining commence. $5.95 per 4-inch plant at anniesannuals.com
Purple beauty pepper(Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
These heat-tolerant, compact, bushy plants produce an abundance of deeply colored, mildly flavored bell peppers. Plant them in full sun. $2.50 for a packet of 25 seeds at rareseeds.com