Unusual root: black salsify

The origin and differences

Salsify has been eaten in Europe since the Ancient Greeks and Romans. White salsify Tragopogon porrifolius (also named Billy Goat’s Beard, Oyster plant, Jerusalem star, and Purple Salsify) was first cultivated in France and Italy, while the black variety Scorzonera hispanica (known as Spanish Salsify, Black oyster, Serpent root, ‘Asparagus of poor people’, just Scorzonera, or Viper’s grass) appeared later in Spain. It is also called ‘winter asparagus’ thanks to it’s look alike appearance after peeling.

Though nearly forgotten in the modern era, the vegetable was extremely popular in Victorian England, and its beautiful flowers were prized. Luckily, it has started to appear in farmers markets and supermarkets—particularly the black Spanish variety—becoming a trendy ‘old-new’ root.

‘White’ salsify may be misleading, as the color is closer to a tan or brown, though the ‘black’ salsify truly is a deep black color. Both varieties feature a creamy inside color. Dark salsify is less fibrous, though the taste of the two types are very similar: mild with notes of liquorice, artichoke and umami. When grown underground, the root develops some earthy nuances that are lessened during cooking. The advantage of black salsify over Jerusalem star is its higher culinary value and large amount of nutrients and vitamins, such as B, C and E.

Old trove

We found one old recipe for black salsify in ‘Nieuwe vader landsche kookkunst’ (‘New national art of cooking’) – the Dutch culinary book from 1797. The cleaned black salsify is cooked in water with a knob of butter. When it is done, ‘beurre manie’ is added to bind the cooking liquid. The thick sauce is then seasoned with nutmeg and parsley. https://www.foodpairing.com/app/uploads/2020/02/blog-newsletter_022020_cabbage_header-copy-3.png Nutmeg gives the sauce a refreshing citrus touch. It links true eugenol (clove-like) to salsify, also found in chorizo, Hungarian-type salami, banana, and vanilla. Parsley also pairs well, as it possesses green / fatty notes present also in black salsify. The modern dish is slightly different from the historical version, usually served with classic Bechamel. Extra milk is a bull’s eye linked to lactones that bring a creamy sensation with undertones of coconut, peach, and auxiliary fruitiness. Salsify contains also some cheesy notes, which is why a gratin with lots of cheese (e.g. Brugse Blomme, sharp Cheddar, Chimay Dorè, Père Joseph, Le Poteauprè, goat cheese) is a perfect idea for salsify.

We love working with old recipes at Foodpairing. Here are a few more: . Recipe from the Oldest Cookbook in history (2000 BC): deer stew with cilantro . Inspired by the Roman Cookbook of Apicius: dorade with dates and pine nuts . Morish pairings from the Andalusian cookbook (13th century): lamb with lavender, almonds and hazelnut . 14th & 15th Century Medieval Spice pairings: cod with crayfish, peas and poudre fort spice mix . Fresh herbs, fruits & vegetable pairings of the Early Modern Europe

Other applications

Salsify can be prepared in a variety of ways: boiling, steaming, sautéing, baking, roasting, and frying. Don’t forget to peel the hard skin. To avoid color changes, place it in water with lemon juice. Make an alternative ‘potato’ puree or fries, add to soup, stew, or even cake. Transform the roots into thin stripes like tagliatelle so they become a nice, healthy alternative of pasta. When young, it is even possible to eat it them raw. The greens are edible as well. The root can be a base for surprising ice cream, pairing exceptionally well with banana and vanilla.

Health benefits

One of the biggest advantages of eating black salsify is the improvement of your hair. Copper combats hair loss and stimulates its growth at the same time. Additionally, it intensifies the hair’s color and prevents it from greying. Iron keeps hair follicles healthy. Present vitamin C is necessary in the synthesis of collagen, which enhances the absorption of iron and keeps hair in good condition too. The great amount of inulin is excellent for your microbiota, namely bifidobacteria, helping to improve the immune system. The digestive tract will get advantages from thiamine. Salsify contains few calories (73 kcal per 100 g) and lots of potassium.

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