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County Extension Agent Diane Miller

Keep vegetable color vibrant while cooking

    Tired of serving dull green broccoli? Here are some cooking tips for keeping color in your vegetables and retaining the nutrition at the same time. The pigments in the vegetables react differently to acids and alkalis. We need to remember that our hard water in south Georgia tends to be alkali.

Green vegetables — Chlorophyll pigment
    • Acid is the enemy. Both acids and long cooking time turn green to drab olive-green. If you want to add an acid food, add it at the end of the cooking process. For example, mandarin oranges look really pretty in steamed fresh green beans, toss lightly just before serving.
    • Protect the color by cooking for shortest time possible; tender crisp. Also, cooking uncovered part of the time to allow plant acids to escape.
    • Steaming is the preferred method.
    • Larger amounts of water help dissolve plant acids but increase nutritional loss.
White vegetables — Flavone pigment
    • Have a tendency to turn yellowish in alkaline, or our hard water. To help cauliflower, for example, stay white, add a very little lemon juice or cream of tartar, not too much or the food will toughen!
Red vegetables — Anthocyanin pigment (red cabbage)

    • Acids turn these vegetables a brighter red and alkalis turn them blue-green (not a very appetizing color for red cabbage).
    • Red cabbage are best cooked with a little acid, add a tart apple.

Red Vegetables — Betalaine pigment (red beets)
    • To protect color, cook beets whole and unpeeled, with root and one inch of stem. Skins will come off easily.
Orange to Red Orange — Carotenoids
    • This group includes tomatoes, carrots, oranges, corn and red peppers.
    • Many of the carotenoids are normally not affected by ordinary cooking conditions; minimal color loss can be expected.
    Common cooking methods for vegetables include microwaving, steaming, baking, broiling, grilling, sauteing, boiling and deep-fat frying. Starchy root vegetables may need to be boiled, but to retain the nutritive value of more tender vegetables choose another cooking method. Use deep-fat frying very rarely!
    For more information on food preparation, contact Diane at (912) 871-0504, or

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