A salty bright red concoction of fermented black (or purple, or red) carrots served up best with some added pepper juice is all the rage down here in Southeastern Turkey. It’s called şalgam, and I’m not sure if I can live without it.
Though the term şalgam literally means “turnip” in Turkish, this beverage is not actually made with straight turnips. Black carrots, which are sometimes also referred to as red or purple carrots due to their appearance and variety, are the main ingredient, coupled with cracked bulgur wheat, yeast and salt. The making of this juice takes time– at least a week for the wheat to ferment, another week after the carrots are cooked in, then time to add some seasoning and filter it all. Şalgam pairs perfectly with Adana kebab, which is the best kebab in all of Turkey, and therefore in the world. Maybe I’m biased, but I think many would agree. Some people drink şalgam with rakı, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Turkey. You shouldn’t mix the two together, but can drink them simultaneously, one after the other. People occasionally combine şalgam with ayran, the salty yogurt drink that is a mainstay throughout Turkey. It is an interesting flavor mixture, though I am happy to order them both and have them side by side on occasion.
Anthocyanins are the nutrients found in black carrots that give them their special coloring. These have been said to protect the body from mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. There are also studies praising the black carrot’s colon cancer fighting abilities, something that cannot be said of orange carrots. The antioxidant polyphenols are also found in blueberries and red wine and help eliminate free radicals. They are released, along with additional fiber, when chewed, so a cold glass of şalgam with an actual black carrot stuck in for garnish is ideal. Yes, it is fermented, pickled, and salty, but good vitamins are coming through too!
The extract of black carrots can be a red-blue or magenta color, similar to that of grape extract. However, black carrot extract retains color better than grapes and is kosher, so is a preferred source for natural food coloring in these shades. While rinsing a glass that contained şalgam, one should not be surprised by the blue coloring that washes down the drain.
Acılı şalgam is my favorite, which just means it is spicy. Pepper juices are collected and mixed into the juice to add an additional kick. People make gallons of şalgam at a time, and the best is homemade. Sometimes it is extra garlicy, sometimes extra spicy. You just never know. It is an art I hope to master in the future. For now, I will continue drinking it whenever I can.
“Black Carrot Color,” Food Ingredient Solutions, http://www.foodcolor.com/black-carrot-color.
Foley, Denise. “Surprising Health Benefits of Purple Carrots,” Organic Life, April 1, 2015. http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/surprising-health-benefits-purple-carrots.
“Purple Carrots: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits,” Heal with Food. http://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/purple-carrots-nutrition-vs-orange-cultivars.php