Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Li Anlan
Foods with a purple hue come in different shapes and sizes. They're easy on the eye, chock full of nutritional value and taste great.
Li Anlan

Foods with purple, lilac, blue and deep red hues are often considered nutritional powerhouses, which can also decorate the daily dinner table with a touch of vibrant color.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, and purple foods contain a particular antioxidant called anthocyanin that gives them bright pigments and higher nutritional value – beneficial to heart and blood-vessel health.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Purple foods are packed with anthocyanin, an antioxidant that gives them bright pigments and nutrients.

The purple roots

Winter is the season for root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams and taro, and these delights also come in purple, boasting not only attractive colors but also health benefits and versatility in cooking.

Purple sweet potatoes are usually smaller than regular white- or yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes. They're commonly used in sweet recipes, as braising or stewing the roots sometimes presents an unpleasant brownish/red color.

A healthy dessert for breakfast or dinner can be created by steaming purple sweet potatoes, making them into a smooth mash by adding a little bit of milk – no butter is necessary.

Lipu taro is one of the most beloved purple foods in China.

Large spindle-shaped Lipu taro has thin purple patterns in the white flesh. It's quite dry in texture and has higher starch content that gives it a sweeter taste and softer texture when fully cooked.

Taro is incorporated in a wide range of sweet and savory recipes, such as Lipu taro fried rice, taro steamed with pork belly, braised taro and duck, taro cakes and milk teas.

Both taro and purple sweet potatoes can be made into chips in thin slices or thick sticks, with a flavor that can be sweet or savory and spicy.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Steamed taro

In order to make taro cakes and bread with dreamy purple and lilac hues, a coloring reinforcement is necessary. Grounded and dried purple sweet potato powder has an amazing, highly saturated purple color, yet minimal flavor that doesn't overpower the taro's sweetness.

Purple sweet potato powder is usually shelved in supermarket baking aisles, but you can also make the 100 percent natural food coloring at home by steaming, baking, air-drying, more baking and grinding.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Purple sweet potato powder

Purple yams are a less common root vegetable. They're also called "purple ginseng" and are quite thick compared to iron stick yams.

The hue of purple yams is similar to purple sweet potatoes, and it's very suitable for stewing in rice congee with mixed cereals and grains as a great wintertime staple.

Purple yams are also used to make pancakes and buns by steaming the root vegetable, mixing flour or glutinous rice flour into the purple yam mash and sweetening it with a dash of sugar or honey. You can also stir-fry purple yams with other vegetables, but the color may be a bit off-putting as some of it fades off.

When handling yams, wearing a pair of gloves is necessary, as the juice of raw yams can make your skin itchy and irritating.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Purple yam

Purple skin radishes are a new variety that has emerged this winter season. They have the same shape as white or green radishes but a dark purple skin and, sometimes, a purple center.

This variety is also called "ice cream radish," as they're sweet and crunchy when eaten as a fruit or salad. They also make beautiful pickles by marinating in a lightly spiced and seasoned brine consisting of white vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorn and chilies.

Purple carrots are sometimes found on grocery stores' organic vegetable shelf. They have a deep purple color and are usually quite thin.

Like regular carrots, purple carrots are a good source of soluble fiber and high in anthocyanin. Taste-wise, they are slightly sweeter than their orange and yellow siblings.

Beetroot is another purple root that's considered a superfood, packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with little fat.

Beetroot has a distinct earthy flavor, can be eaten raw or cooked and is not very common in Chinese cuisine.

A dressing made of light soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and sugar can neutralize the earthy taste of raw beetroot when making a Chinese-style beetroot salad, and slicing it into very thin shreds makes it blend with the sauce more easily.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Purple carrots

From eggplants to figs

Eggplant is among the most common purple vegetables, known for its meat-like texture and superb ability to absorb sauces and other ingredients like a sponge.

Anthocyanin is found in eggplant's glossy skin, so it's much healthier to cook and eat with the skin on.

You can find several varieties of eggplant in China – buqie (large and dark purple), large green, yuanqie (round and dark purple) and changqie (slim purple). The texture of changqie is more tender than other varieties, and yuanqie is more common in northern China.

Eggplant can be braised with pork to create a fragrant dish that goes well with rice.

It can be deep-fried and tossed in a sauce with other vegetables to make an enticing vegan dish, or steamed and mixed with garlic sauce for a healthy, low-fat salad.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Braised eggplant with pork mince

Round buqie is perfect for making qiehe, a deep-fried eggplant sandwich with seasoned minced pork stuffed between two slices of raw eggplant. It's then coated in thin batter and deep-fried in oil or pan-fried over low to medium heat to reduce the oil intake. Eggplant sandwiches can also be braised with a rich, glistening sauce to serve as main dish.

Grilled eggplant, a popular vegan street food, tops the eggplant, which has been cut open into two pieces, with an intense mixture of chili sauce, garlic paste and red chili.

The flesh of grilled eggplant is very soft and tender, and a handful of vermicelli can also be added.

Purple cabbage has multiple nutritional benefits but a smaller fan base. A head of it is quite large and takes a couple meals to finish off.

In addition to grating raw purple cabbage into thin shreds and tossing in a dressing to make a crunchy salad, it can also be stir-fried with garlic and a few drops of vinegar, as the vinegar helps preserve the purple color (sometimes purple cabbage can morph into an unappetizing-looking blue color).

You can also make purple cabbage chips by air-frying them like kale or Brussel sprouts.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Purple cabbage

There are many purple fruits that contain anthocyanin, such as blackberries, blueberries, black currants, figs, grapes, plums and prunes. In China, mulberries are consumed both as a fruit and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Dried mulberries are used to improve eyesight, hair growth and protect the liver. They can also be made into a tea by steeping in hot water, or infused in wine/liquor to make a delicious alcoholic beverage.

Dried mulberry leaves are also a TCM ingredient, with sweet, bitter and cold properties associated with the liver and lungs. Mulberry leaves can be used to make teas as well.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food


Purple sweet potato and oat balls

An aromatic purple treat to go with a cup of tea or coffee.


Glutinous rice flour, 200 grams

Purple sweet potatoes, 200 grams


Granulated sugar


1. In a small bowl, mix a few tablespoons of sugar with warm water, adjusting the amount of sugar according to taste. In a non-stick pan, slightly toast the oats over low heat to release their fragrance.

2. Steam the purple sweet potatoes with the skin on, pound them into a mash, mix with the glutinous rice flour, then gradually add the sugar water to form the dough.

3. Split the dough into even, smaller pieces and shape them into balls, then evenly roll the balls in the oats.

4. Heat the oil and slide the purple sweet potatoes and oat balls from the edge of the pan when the oil temperature is moderately hot, then reduce the heat to low when the oil starts to bubble and the purple sweet potato balls float to the surface. Press the balls gently and repeatedly to drive out the excess air inside, and remove them from the oil when they have a golden hue and become larger in size.

Eye-catching, healthy and tasty: ower of purple pigment in food

Purple sweet potato and oat balls

Eggplant, razor clam and bamboo shoot stir-fry

A healthy warm stir-fry salad with umami flavor and textual contrast.


Buqie (large dark purple eggplant), 1

Fresh razor clams, 350 grams

Peeled winter bamboo shoots, 150 grams

Garlic, 3-5 cloves

Ginger, 2 slices

Light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon

Vinegar, half tablespoon



1. Cut the eggplant (or tear it apart by hand) into thick sticks and place them in a steamer. After the water boils, reduce the heat to low and cook the eggplant for 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Boil the fresh razor clams with two slices of ginger, take them out when the shell pops open, let them cool down in cold water, then take out the razor clam meat and remove the dark edges.

3. Boil another pot of water and poach the shreds of winter bamboo shoots with salt.

4. Add a little oil into the pan and lightly sauté the minced garlic until the aroma comes out, pour in the steamed eggplant, cooked razor clams and poached bamboo shoots and stir-fry for several minutes. Then season with light soy sauce and vinegar right before it's ready and add salt to taste.

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