Red grapes, black rice, and purple cabbage–what do these three foods all have in common? Hint: it has to do with their dark and rich blue, black, and reddish colors! All of these foods contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are responsible for giving these foods their noteworthy hues. Here is some basic information on the health benefits of anthocyanins, as well as a list of which foods contain them, and several delicious recipes to get your taste buds excited. So grab a handful of blueberries to munch on, and read up on these super-healthy antioxidants!

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The Basics

The word anthocyanin comes from the Greek words for “flower” (antho) and “dark blue” (kyaneos/kyanous). It is a specific type of flavonoid–a word referring to the phenolic compounds found in fruits and vegetables that are responsible for the numerous health benefits of such foods. Anthocyanins usually manifest themselves in foods with dark red, blue-black, and purple colors, and have been used for centuries in folk medicine to treat ailments such as liver disease and vision problems. They also began to be commercially produced about 30 years ago as a more natural form of food coloring.

The Health Benefits

Anthocyanins have powerful antioxidant effects, and one 2010 Nutrition Reviews report suggests that they can improve cholesterol levels and fight against oxidative stress, a process which can contribute to heart disease. They may also lead to improved vision and eye health, as well as offering some protection against certain forms of cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, dark-colored plant foods are believed to help dispel toxins from the body, indicating that newer studies are supporting ideas that have existed for thousands of years already, and are common knowledge in many different cultures. Of course, isolated anthocyanin supplements may not be as beneficial as eating the fruits and vegetables containing them–going straight to the source is always best!

Next, here is a list of five anthocyanin-rich foods, along with recipe suggestions:

1. Red Cabbage

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One of the oldest known vegetables, this crunchy cruciferous treat offers up both nutrients and a stunning reddish-purple color that takes the humble cabbage to a whole new level. It stays fresher for a longer period of time than its green-hued relative, and is part of a family, brassica oleracea, that includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Purple cabbage is an excellent source of antioxidants due to the anthocyanins, and also a good source of fiber, vitamin K, and vitamin C, among other nutrients.

For recipe ideas, try making some Easy Pickled Red Cabbage for a delicious condiment, or check out this Kale, Red Cabbage, and Lentil Salad Wrap.

2. Black Rice

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In Ancient China, this richly-colored rice was so rare and prized that it was reserved solely for members of royalty, earning it the nickname “forbidden rice.” Scientists believe that it was crossbreeding multiple species of rice that led to the expression of a gene called Kala4, which leads to the production of anthocyanins that give black rice its trademark color. Though no longer a “forbidden” food, black rice is less well known than other grains–which is a shame given its tremendous health benefits! It has more protein and fiber than both white and brown rice, and has a lower glycemic index as well. Plus, the anthocyanins it contains means that black rice can help detoxify the body and prevent cardiovascular disease.

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For recipe suggestions, sample this tasty and simple Buffalo Sweet Potato, Black Rice, and Avocado Wrap, or make some hearty Kabocha Squash Stuffed With Black Rice, Kale and Wakame.

3. Blackberries

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These juicy berries have been consumed for centuries in places all over the globe. In Ancient Greece and Rome they were used for medicinal purposes, and in many Native American cultures they were used for both food and to dye animal skins. They are known by several different names such as brambleberries, dewberries, and thimbleberries, and their leaves can be used to make a tea that, while bitter, offers many health benefits. The berries themselves have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, meaning they could offer some protection against tooth infections. In addition to the high levels of antioxidants due to the anthocyanins, blackberries contain a hefty dose of fiber (approximately 8 grams per cup), making them extremely beneficial for digestion and detoxifying the body.

For recipe ideas, try this unique Cucumber Quinoa Salad With Blackberries, or make a tasty and elegant Saffron Custard Tart With Figs and Blackberries.

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4. Black Beans

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Though it may seem like an unusual item on the list, black beans are a highly nutritious food and one that is rich in anthocyanins. They are native to North, Central, and South America, though they are consumed in countries all over the globe, and are a vital staple in the cuisine of several cultures. They are sometimes called “black turtle beans” due to the fact that their glossy exterior is reminiscent of a shell. Black beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and iron, making them an fantastic staple to have in your kitchen at all times. They are also just as high in antioxidants as grapes and cranberries, and can help lead to better cardiovascular health.

For recipe ideas, try out these Black Bean Chili Stuffed Sweet Potatoes for a filling fall dinner, or sample these Brazilian Style Black Beans.

5. Cherries

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These bright red fruits are truly ancient–fossilized cherry pits were found in prehistoric caves in Europe and Asia, and the  Greek author Theophrastus mentioned this fruit in his History of Plants in 300 BCE. The two main varieties of cherries are sweet (such as Bing cherries) and tart (such as Montmorency cherries)–the former is most commonly sold in grocery stores and eaten as-is, while the latter is often too sour to eat straight from the bag, instead being dried, frozen, used for its juice, or to cook in pies and other baked goods. Cherries are chock-full of nutritional benefits, and their high levels of anthocynins mean they can help ward off inflammation and ease the symptoms of conditions such as arthritis. Tart cherries can even help prevent muscle soreness when consumed after a workout, and contain high levels of melatonin, which can ease sleep problems such as insomnia.

Purple Recipes 

Of course, there are tasty ways to get your purple-powered foods. Check out these recipes!

1. Roasted Purple Cauliflower with Kale Pesto 

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Roasted cauliflower is always a winner, so Melissa Haithcock‘s Roasted Purple Cauliflower with Kale Pesto is even better! This colorful veg is enhanced by the zesty kale pesto its served with. This recipe is an easy grain-free dinner that puts whole foods in the spotlight.

2. Wild Rice Salad With Sweet Potato, Cherries and Pecans

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This Wild Rice Salad With Sweet Potato, Cherries and Pecans by Annie Oliverio spices up your salad life with this tasty combination of wild rice, sweet potato, orange, cherries, and pecans. It’s the best of fall in a bowl!

3. Brownie Torte With Cherries and Cheesecake Topping

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This Brownie Torte With Cherries and Cheesecake Topping  by Lisa Dobler is the best of both worlds: brownie and cheesecake! The torte is rich and fudgy, balanced out by sour cherries and a creamy cheesecake topping made from silken tofu that’s swirled with even more brownie batter. This cake is a fantastic dessert for any occasion, date night, or when you feel like baking just because.

For related articles, check out 10 Uncommon Sources of Antioxidants You Never Knew, or read up on 15 Antioxidants and Their Superpowers.

For more antioxidant-rich recipes, don’t forget to download the Food Monster App, which is available for Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based recipes, and subscribers gain access to new ones every day. Check it out!

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