As we go through the darkest time of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) and have fewer hours of sunlight to help regulate our metabolic processes, we turn to foods that nourish our bodies and tonify the kidneys. Not surprisingly, black foods are a part of many traditional diets in winter. Perhaps it is our body’s need to balance lack of sunlight with richly pigmented foods that contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants called anthocyanins among other things that help support immune function. Many are iron rich and help nourish the blood.
Here are some powerful black foods you can add to your diet this season:
Black sesame seeds are a good source of calcium, high in protein, phosphorus, iron and magnesium. Black sesame tahini is interesting to experiment with (reputed to keep hair from turning grey), but I like to roll rice balls in black sesame seeds for a tasty treat.
Revered in the Middle East as a cure all, this seed and its oil are reputed to be good for digestion, asthma, eczema and psoriasis and when combined with garlic and honey a potent anti-viral. It is used as a pickling herb in Persian cuisine, which probably makes its healing properties more available.
Blackstrap molasses is iron rich and a source of folate, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and potassium needed for heart health. This is a food version of a vitamin pill.
Blackberries are high in tannins, polyphenols, fiber and anthocyanins, phytochemicals that are touted to have anti-cancer effects. They also grow wild in many different part of the country and are a great resource for foragers because they are easy to identify and oh so yummy! This is the only food I’m writing about that isn’t in season in winter, but worth obtaining nonetheless.
Black Mission Figs:
Perhaps the most sensual of all, Black Mission Figs have a strawberry colored interior that contrasts beautifully against a dark skin. Full of fiber, calcium and iron, these dried figs are a delight in winter.
Native to eastern North America, black walnuts are rich in fatty acids. The green husks are incredibly fragrant with a distinctive black stain. Fesenjoon, a traditional Persian winter dish is made with ground walnuts, chicken and pomegranate paste. It hits the spot.
Black Lava Salt:
Sea salt infused with activated charcoal contains essential trace minerals and is reputed to be a natural detoxifier. It also has great flavor.
The “king” of black foods, black beans support colon and cardiovascular health, regulate blood sugar (combination of high protein and high fiber) and reduces inflammation. Just make sure to soak overnight and throw out the soak water as it contains phytates that can lower nutrient availability. In Chinese medicine, the black bean is associated with the kidney meridian as demonstrated by its shape.
Black Truffles/Dark shiitake/Black Trumpet/Morels:
Worth their weight in gold as far as I’m concerned, all types of black mushrooms, especially wild, although I don’t have the guts to gather them, are beneficial. Research has indicated these fungi may stimulate the immune system and have anti-viral properties. When I feel run down, I make my “Immunity Soup” which contains copious amounts of shiitake and other dark mushrooms. As for truffles, their scent and flavor is heavenly and considered an aphrodisiac, something to help us through long winter nights!
Persians drink copious amounts of black tea, sweetened by biting into a date (possibly another black food) while sipping. While green tea has enjoyed popularity as a healthy beverage, researchers are finding out that black tea is a close runner up. Black tea is the mature green tea leaves that have been fermented. I consider black tea to be another fermented food source. Always brew the loose whole leaves, the best quality tea has long strands. Persians brew their tea in teapots that are set on top of a source of steaming water, like a kettle. This concentrates the tannins, flavanoids, color and flavor!
Alaskan Black Cod:
Rarely do I want to do backflips for a cooked fish, but Alaskan Black Cod or Sablefish is an exception. Sweet and silky, melt in your mouth when grilled to perfection, this ice water fish is very high in long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA (as much as wild salmon) and the good news is that its population is not threatened and it is sustainably fished.
Organ Meats (liver, especially):
Organ meats like liver, kidney and heart are dark and mineral rich which nourish the blood and counter anemia. They are also nutrient dense full of B and fat soluble vitamins AND vitamin D to make up for fewer sunlight hours in winter. The best source is from pastured poultry and grass fed beef or lamb like the delicious Hudson Valley foie gras I had recently.
Sambucus nigra as it is know by its Latin binomial can be used to prepare a wonderful elixir that helps ward off and fight viruses. Instead of the store bought extracts, consider making your own with organic dried berries, either wild gathered or purchased and 100 proof (50% alcohol) vodka. Or make a syrup with some raw honey. A teaspoon a day keeps the doctors away, or so they say!
Here are other black foods to try, and there are many more . . . my next installment will be about how to incorporate BLACK into the external care of the body. Stay tuned!
Black Olives, Black Pepper, Black Quinoa, Squid Ink pasta, Dark Miso, Tamari (fermented soy sauce), Black Vinegar, Black Licorice (although the FDA has issued some kind of warning . . . ), Black Cherries, Black Raspberries, Black Lentils, Dark Chocolate (85% cacao) or raw Cacao Nibs, Poppy seeds, Chia seeds, Black caviar, Black Rice, Black garlic.
Any other favorites?