Many of us know that eating a wide range of food colors has numerous health benefits for our bodies and mind. However, there is a color of food that doesn’t come up often during these conversations: black.
Whether it is because purple and black look similar on many food items or because many people don’t know the health benefits of naturally black foods, the gap in this conversation can lead to some folks disregarding these foods for their diets.
So, let’s cover some of the most popular, naturally black foods in the world and see what they do for our bodies and how to best use them at home.
Blackberries are a fruit full of vitamins and minerals that are great for immune and skin health. The color of the berry comes from a high concentration of a type of compound called anthocyanins, antioxidants known to promote healthy heart function and possess some cancer-fighting capabilities.
At their ripest, blackberries have a sweet flavor that goes well in almost any type of dessert lacking powerful flavors like chocolate. Pies and cheesecakes are great items to use in a blackberry filling.
Blackberries also make for a great addition to smoothies or as a topper for yogurt. Here, the fruit adds sweetness and rich color to the blended drink or snack in addition to all of its health benefits.
Haas avocados have a skin that, when they fully ripen, turns from green to black. Peeling away this skin reveals the soft, creamy fruit underneath that is light green in color and rich in healthy fats and fiber.
Avocados originally come from the Americans, where native tribes to Mesoamerica domesticated the avocado tree almost 5,000 years ago.
Avocado doesn’t possess a strong flavor on its own, though it does have some rich and earthy notes to it. This mild flavor makes avocado a great addition to sandwiches and other flavorful dishes that would be elevated with the creaminess of the avocado.
Black beans are another plant native to the Americas. Though they are one of the roughly 500 kinds of kidney beans out there, black beans stand out for their versatility in cooking and their earthy and slightly sweet flavor.
These legumes are used in many kinds of American cuisine, ranging from the Creole dishes of the Louisiana area to the Caribbean islands to Latin America today.
Black beans don’t have a strong flavor on their own but do a great job absorbing flavor from other sources. This property, along with their easy carbohydrates and fiber, makes them a solid base for many dishes.
Black garlic is not a naturally occurring variety of the traditional garlic bulb plant. Instead, black garlic comes about when garlic is left to cook in a humid, low-heat environment for an extended period. The black color comes from the development of antioxidants and amino acids inside the garlic cloves during the cooking process.
The process results in garlic that is sweeter and milder in flavor, unlike the potent garlic cloves most cooks know.
Black garlic works in almost any dish regular garlic could go into. It will result in a milder garlic flavor, but with the added benefit of increased antioxidants and immune system support than regular garlic.
Black Velvet Tamarind
Black velvet tamarind is a variety of tamarind recognized by its deep black exterior. When peeled back, the skin of the fruit reveals an orange flesh, not unlike the standard tamarind.
Like many of the other fruits on this list, black tamarind is high in antioxidants and vitamins that help promote good immune system function. Other parts of the tamarind plant are useful too, such as the leaves acting as an ingredient in many traditional Indian medicines for inflammation.
Tamarind as a whole has a sweet, tangy flavor and is a common ingredient in Indian cuisine. Fruit and vegetable curry pastes and prawn dishes are the most common recipes using tamarind.
Black olives are the ripened olives picked from olive trees, unlike their green cousins that come from the unripened stages of olive. Most black olives go into a brine of some kind, resulting in a bright and zesty flavor.
When pressed into oil, olives can provide up to 45% of your daily recommended intake of healthy fats like oleic acid with just one tablespoon.
In addition the healthy fats, black olives are high in vitamin E and antioxidants to promote good heart and immune system function.
Olives see most of their use as an addition to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes in need of a lift from the brine olives absorb during storage.
Some varieties of seaweed have a greenish-black hue to them due to the increased count of chloroplasts in the seaweed trying to soak up as much sunlight as possible. When removed from the ocean, this seaweed dries out and forms a crisp, crumbly sheet used in various kinds of Asian recipes.
In addition to its antioxidant and vitamin count, black seaweed contains a high amount of natural iodine, a mineral necessary for healthy thyroid function.
Many people will recognize black seaweed as the exterior plant holding together Japanese sushi. However, black seaweed comes up often as an additive or powder to soups and rice dishes to offer its earthy flavor and health benefits.
Black corn is an heirloom variety of corn that shares a common ancestor with the traditional yellow corn seen in the Americans. The corn starts as a white kernel, slowly turning black as it ripens due to the increased anthocyanin count in the kernels.
This heirloom ear of corn works well as a substitute for yellow corn. While this heirloom variety doesn’t have the sweetness of modern yellow corn, it does have a better chew and a higher fiber count for improved digestion.
A traditional fermented drink called Masato uses black corn as its base for the fermentation process. You can also boil the black corn to use as an ingredient for a Peruvian drink called Chicha Morada.
Alaskan Black Cod Fish
Also referred to as butterfish, this fish species found in Alaskan waters have a mild taste and a butter-like consistency, leading to its name. Most fisheries catch this fish sustainably, a practice that isn’t always common in the fishing industry.
The black cod fish gets its name from the dark scales running across the majority of the fish’s top and sides.
Like many other fish varieties, black cod fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have a wide range of benefits, including improved brain and eye function.
Though Americans will know this plant as “the forbidden fruit,” other regions of the world recognize black currant as a tart, earthy fruit used in a variety of healthy foods and drinks. The name for this fruit comes from its deep red hue.
Most often, black currant goes into jams, jellies, and desserts where their tartness can offset the sweetness from sugars otherwise present in these foods. Currants are also a popular addition to fermented drinks, such as mead.
Also known as aubergines, eggplants are berries by definition, but used as a vegetable in most cuisines. The eggplant starts as a small, white, egg-shaped bud on the plant before shifting to a dark purple hue and its distinct, oblong shape.
Eggplants have a spongy interior and a mild flavor. They don’t offer many calories but do have large amounts of dietary fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins for keeping your body healthy.
Due to their spongy interior, eggplants can absorb flavors for liquids and sauces readily, making them a great base for many dishes. While many Westerns will recognize the Italian-inspired eggplant parmesan dish, many Asian cultures use eggplant as a base for rice dishes and even as the exterior for fried dumpling-style handhelds.
Soy sauce is a staple of many Asian cuisines. This dark sauce starts as soybeans fermented with wheat, salt, and fungal spores to darken the amino acids in the soybeans. A traditional soy sauce takes months or years to make, but modern techniques can force this down to just over a month.
Either way, soy sauce possesses a strong umami flavor with moderate to heavy notes of salt. This made soy sauce a great additive to preserve foods and today creates a condiment that goes well with many foods, including vegetables and meats.
Figs, despite their use as a fruit, are actually a series of inverted flowers surrounded by edible pods. The dark exterior of the fig protects these flowers until they are ready to germinate and grow more fig trees. Though they originated in the Middle East, many warm climates grow a variety of figs today.
Figs have a strong, sweet flavor, lending themselves well to desserts and treats. The fruit can replace sugar in certain recipes, including baked goods.
As a standalone fruit, figs pair well with savory and salty foods like blue cheese and cured meats.
Black teas are cultivated tea leaves with a dark color. This coloration comes from the concentration of polyphenols in the tea leaf, making black tea well-known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Most black teas have a bold, earthy, or astringent flavor, depending on the blend of tea leaves and how the leaves are prepared. This flavor profile makes black tea a more robust tea compared to other varieties like green and white teas.
Most people steep black tea in hot water and drink the resulting beverage. However, some cultures add black tea to baked goods to bring a savory or earthy flavor to an otherwise sweet dessert like cake.
Much like tea, coffee is another plant harvested for its ability to make delicious drinks. Coffee starts as a bean from a tree, turning black after a healthy roasting. This roasting not only brings out the natural oils of the coffee bean but also cracks the hard exterior of the bean.
Dark coffee has a rich, bold flavor with earthy notes. While many people drink coffee for its caffeine content, studies show that coffee might have other physical and mental health benefits for its drinkers.
Coffee works well as a steeped drink mixed with milk, sugar, or other sweet and creamy additives. Coffee also comes up as a flavoring agent in dark brews of beer and as an additive to chocolate desserts and candies.
Black lentils are an Indian variety of lentils known for their deep, black color. This versatile ingredient contains a high amount of protein and iron, making it a great addition to vegetarian recipes that might otherwise have a hard time sourcing protein.
Black lentils work similarly to black beans, in that they are ready for new flavors to soak up during cooking. Stocks and seasonings are the common additives to black lentils during cooking and make for a great, carby side dish to any meat dish.
Second only to table salt, black pepper is a nearly ubiquitous ingredient for most Western homes. The seasoning comes from the seed of a vine native to India. After its removal from the pod on the vine before ripening, black peppercorns dry out to preserve them and intensify their flavor.
Due to its bright and piney flavor, black pepper is a common spice in many Western homes. The seasoning pairs well with many things, including meats, roasted vegetables, and creamy sauces.
Also called black wolfberries, black goji berries are native to Asia and grow on trees. The black version of goji berries has an increased antioxidant count, an impressive feat given that goji berries already have a large number of antioxidants in them.
Goji berries have a sweet and slightly sour flavor, giving them a distinct taste compared to other berries. This flavor persists even after the berries dry out, making them a great choice for preserves and travel snacks.
Squid ink comes from cephalopods, a group of animals that contains species such as squids, octopi, and cuttlefish. These species have an ink sac, an organ that creates a dark liquid that allows these creatures to temporarily blind predators and run away.
Squid ink has an earthy and fishy taste, making it a common addition to pasta and rice dishes featuring seafood. The ink goes into the paste dough or rice as it is prepared, infusing the flavor into the dish.