By Adam Stark

A few months ago, I came across a news item claiming that the newest food trend in Japan is black food: black sesame seeds, black rice, black vinegar, black soybeans, etc.

Well, that piqued my interest.  I mean, don’t get me wrong: I hear about a different food trend every week, and I tend to ignore most of them (Microgreens, anyone?  Cod liver oil-infused potato chips?  How about a nice bottle of micro-cluster water suffused with color energy and Universal Love Vibrations?) Black food may or may not be an actual trend in Japan I don’t know; I’ve never been there but at least this one would make sense.

Generally speaking, the more darkly-colored a plant food is the better it’s able to stain our clothing the better it is for us.  There’s a reason for this.  Plants produce pigments to protect themselves from environmental damage, especially oxidation[1].  In other words, plant pigments are antioxidants broadly protective not just of the plants that create them, but of the animals that eat them.  Plant pigments protect and strengthen the blood vessels, brain, liver, kidneys, and cell membranes.

So we see that red wine is healthier than white wine.  Black beans are healthier than white.  Purple corn is healthier than yellow.  Bilberries (which have dark flesh) are healthier than blueberries (with pale flesh inside).  Black rice bran lowers cholesterol better than bran from brown rice; black soybeans have a similar advantage over yellow.  Both Ayurveda (the ancient medical system of India) and traditional Chinese medicine place special value on black foods.

Mostly you can use black ingredients as you’d use their lighter-colored cousins.  They tend to have a deeper, stronger, more complex flavor (think, for example, of red wine versus white; or dark beer versus an India Pale Ale).  Personally, I love using China Forbidden black rice to plate brightly-colored foods (salmon and asparagus; scallops with sautéed yellow and red peppers).  And I adore Black Beluga lentils, so named because they glisten and shine like beluga caviar.

Here’s a recipe that’s quick, easy, satisfying equally good hot, right from stove top; or cold, three days later.

Serves 4

2 medium-size purple onions, chopped 2 heaping Tbsp rubbed sage
2 cups black beluga lentils Olive oil, butter, or other cooking fat (only necessary if using very low-fat or veggie “meat”)
1 lb meat, poultry, or veggie sausage (the Field Roast brand of veggie sausage is especially good) A little bit of tomato paste
5 cups water or stock Salt and pepper

OPTIONAL: 2 cups chopped veggies such as celery, spinach, carrots, and/or chard

OPTIONAL: ¼ cup chopped dried porcini mushrooms (gives a very earthy flavor)

Brown sausage or bacon, breaking up or cutting into bite-size pieces.  If you’re using a very low-fat product, or veggie “meat,” add a little oil.  Add the onions and optional veggies and cook until onions are translucent.  Add the lentils, sage and liquid.  Cover and simmer at lowest heat until cooked, about 40 minutes.  Stir in a spoonful or two of tomato paste to taste.  Add salt and pepper.  Serve with some crusty whole grain bread, maybe.

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[1] Actually, scientists have shown that plants grown under harsher environmental conditions tend to be healthier for us to eat.  The idea is that plants, in protecting themselves from harsh conditions (excessive sunlight especially), respond by producing higher levels of these antioxidant pigments.

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