Basic black magic

Color in food and its associated health benefits, has been the subject of article after article in the consumer press. Foods with darker hues contain more pigments called anthocyanins. Derived from the Greek words for "plant" and "blue," anthocyanins are what make blueberries blue and blackberries black. Studies suggest these powerful antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties and may offer protection against heart disease and cancer. In fact, Monica Giusti, assistant professor of food science at Ohio State University, found in separate studies that anthocyanins from blue corn helped slow the growth of human colon cancer cells 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. So it shouldn't be a surprise that food companies are taking a closer look at black-colored foods. Paul Yamaguchi, a New York-based analyst of the functional-foods market in Japan, says 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, reports The Chicago Tribune. "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 adds. Fervor for black food does seem inevitable. A few years ago, Japan-based House Foods rolled out a black soybean cocoa drink. Fueling the trend, a black-soybean tea was granted FOSHU status (foods for specified health use), the Japanese equivalent of an FDA health claim. Japanese beverages using black ingredients include black vinegar drinks (touted for their ability to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels). You can also find black rice, black sesame biscuits and cereal, black soy milk and black soybean coffee. U.S. companies in Japan are also jumping on the black foods bandwagon. Kellogg's sells a black sesame seed cereal, and Haagen-Dazs offers ice cream made with black sesame seeds. Black foods are beginning to head across the pond. They are showing up on restaurant menus, including Chicago's May Street Market. Chef/owner Alexander Cheswick serves black lentils and sauted black kale with pork. Black mushrooms -- shiitake, wood ear and black trumpet -- black beans and black soybeans are all the rage on the East Coast, and black vinegar tops salad greens on the West Coast. Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines are becoming favorites in the U.S., and they both incorporate Nigella seeds, tiny jet-black seeds. Blackberry flavors are taking off in beverages, and it's notable that licorice was a hot ingredient at the All Candy Expo show this year. Sales of licorice (which is touted for easing sore throats and coughs and aiding digestion) have risen about 7 percent in the past four years. Chef/Owner Grant Achatz, Alinea, uses licorice in a variety of menu items, including squab, braised short ribs and pound cake. And McCormick recently launched a new ebony black food color. Earlier this year trendmeister Suzy Badaracco, CEO and President of Tualatin, Ore.-based Culinary Tides, predicted the white foods (asparagus, truffles, white vanilla, white balsamic vinegar and white tea) would gain momentum, and they have. I suspect basic black will be the fashion must in U.S. foods in 2008. Do you agree?

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