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I might have to try this out myself.






Is black the new black?

Ebony-colored foods may be next health trend

By Janet Helm | Special to the Tribune

October 24, 2007


Black dominates the decorations and costumes of Halloween, but you may want to add black to your plate. Black-colored foods are a signal of health in some parts of the world, and it may be the next big nutrition trend in this country.


The black food craze is red-hot in Asia, particularly Japan, and it may be poised to jump West, according to Simone Baroke, health and wellness analyst for Euromonitor International, a global market research firm.


Paul Yamaguchi, a New York-based analyst of the functional-foods market in Japan, said that black foods have always played a prominent role in Japanese cuisine, but now they've reached new heights due to the health claims made by these products.


"Black foods have been eaten for hundreds of years in Japan for their rich taste, but now people are buying them for their nutritional value," he said.


The black-food fervor in Japan started a few years ago when a company called House Foods introduced a cocoa drink spiked with black soybeans. The trend was fueled further when a black-soybean tea was granted FOSHU status (foods for specified health use), the Japanese equivalent of a U.S. FDA health claim.


Black ingredients are now added to all types of beverages in Japan, including black vinegar drinks that are being promoted as a tonic to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other popular black items include black rice, black sesame biscuits and cereal, black soy milk and black soybean coffee.


Even U.S. companies have jumped on the black foods bandwagon in Japan. You can buy a black sesame seed cereal made by Kellogg's and get a scoop of black Haagen-Dazs ice cream made with black sesame seeds.




Science backs up the black


In traditional Chinese medicine, colors in food are linked to specific organs of the body, and black foods are believed to help the kidneys, said Yao-wen Huang, a professor of food science and technology at the University of Georgia who has conducted research on black foods.


So is it true that black foods are really good for you?


The answer is, well, not so black and white.


In Asia, the medicinal claims may get a bit exaggerated. But most black foods do live up to their healthful reputation, studies have shown. Often foods are black -- or deeply hued -- because of natural plant pigments called anthocyanins that do much more than provide the color.


Derived from the Greek words for "plant" and "blue," anthocyanins are what make blueberries blue, cherries red and blackberries black (or almost black). Typically the darker the color, the more anthocyanins are inside.


Studies suggest these powerful antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties and may offer protection against heart disease and cancer.


Monica Giusti, assistant professor of food science at Ohio State University, recently found that anthocyanins from blue corn helped slow the growth of human colon cancer cells.


In previous laboratory studies, Giusti and colleagues found that black carrots slowed the growth of cancer cells by up to 80 percent, and black raspberries helped reduce the growth of esophageal and colon cancer tumors.




Eating black


Even though the black-food fervor hasn't fully arrived in the U.S., ebony-colored items are beginning to creep onto restaurant menus.


In Chicago, you can find miso black cod with black forbidden rice on the menu at Sola. At The Gage, chef Dirk Flanigan adds black sesame seeds to a tiered beet and goat cheese salad. And at the May Street Market, chef/owner Alexander Cheswick serves up black lentils and sauteed black kale to accompany pork.


"There's something sexy about black for food," said Cheswick, who likes the bold contrast of black foods on white plates. In honor of Halloween, we've assembled some wickedly black foods worth checking out:


*Black beans: These dark, dense beans contain more antioxidants (including anthocyanins) than any other bean. No surprise, white beans contain the least amount. Add them to chili, soups and salads.


*Black rice: This whole-grain rice contains more fiber and nutrients compared to white rice. Some varieties look purple when cooked.


*Black soybeans: High in protein, fiber and anthocyanins, black soybeans may be better at lowering cholesterol levels than yellow soybeans, according to Japanese researchers.


*Black vinegar: Available in Asian markets, this dark vinegar is typically made from brown rice. It's similar to balsamic, but the aging gives it a woodsy and smoky flavor.


*Blackberries: These deeply hued berries are higher in antioxidants than any other fruit.


*Nigella seeds: Staples in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, these tiny jet-black seeds have a nutty, peppery flavor. Also called black onion seeds, they're used as a seasoning for vegetables, beans and bread (including naan). They can be found at ethnic markets and the Spice House.


*Black mushrooms: Aromatic and rich in flavor, black mushrooms include shiitake, wood ear and black trumpet. Dried versions are easily found in Asian markets.



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