Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Purple carrot juice

Carrots used to be purple (read more about them here) and in the past bunch of years there has been a mini-trend to grow purple carrots again. The pigments that make the carrots' skin purple (the flesh is still orange) are a group of phytochemicals called anthocyanins. These self-same compounds are what make most berries deep red to purple, and are also (potentially) responsible for these fruits' health benefits. So if you add anthocyanins to the already extraordinarily healthful beta-carotene (the carrot's orange pigment), you have a pretty cool vegetable.

A number of juice brands—including Smart Juice, Bolthouse Farms, and Lakewood—are now using purple carrots to make carrot juice, as well as including purple carrots in other juice blends to boost their antioxidant power. Purple carrot juice has the natural sweetness of regular carrot juice with an undercurrent of berry flavor (from the anthocyanins).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Have you ever heard of a carica fruit?

The carica is a tropical fruit that grows in South America, principally in Chile. It is related to the papaya, which is why it is also called Golden Papaya, Mountain Papaya, or Chilean Papaya. The carica is also grown in Indonesia, though I'm sure they have their own word for it (carica certainly sounds like a romance language word).

As with many tropical fruits grown outside this country, strict import laws keep the fresh fruit from reaching our markets. But you can buy caricas that have been trimmed, seeded, and preserved in a very light sugar syrup. (Though they were available at Amazon for awhile, they seem to have disappeared. I'll keep looking for them. You might also find them in specialty stores that sell Southeast Asian foods.)

So what do caricas taste like? Closing my eyes and concentrating and trying not to get too complicated, I would say they taste like a cross between pineapple and pear. But to me the one distinguishing feature of caricas is their texture: They're chewy!

Here's what a carica shell liberated from its jar looks like. It's 3 to 3.5 inches long and about 1.5 inches wide at the opening (which I propped open with a toothpick because the fruits are flattened when they're packed in the jar). You could fit a generous 1/3 to 1/2 cup of something inside a carica shell. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Beluga lentils

In the past couple of years, as research into the phytochemicals in food has really taken off, it has become clear that the foods with the deepest, darkest colors have more healthful compounds than their pale counterparts.

Enter the beluga lentil--a small, shiny black lentil named for its resemblance to caviar. Recent research at the Agricultural Research Service (the in-house research facility of the USDA) has discovered that beluga lentils' deep hue comes from natural pigments called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, which are currently being studied for their health potential, are a group of compounds responsible for the reddish-purple color of certain foods, like raspberries, red cabbage and pomegranates.

The specific anthocyanin identified in beluga lentils bears the memorable name of delphinidin-3-O (2-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-alpha-L-arabinopyranoside). Quick, say that three times fast.

Science aside, beluga lentils are just neat to eat. They have all the other established benefits of legumes and are also quick-cooking because of their size. You may be able to find them at a gourmet store, or you can find them online at Indian Harvest (though they sell in bulk amounts) or Purcell Mountain Farms ($3.95 a pound).