A Brief History of Carrot Colors20. February 2019
Carrots have been the same forever, right? I mean, they were born orange, weren’t they? In Dwight Schrute voice: FALSE.
Some folks assume that all these red, yellow, purple, and black carrots are new-fangled veggies. But the opposite is actually true. The orange carrot is a much newer variety that was the likely result of a mutation or from cross breeding yellow and red carrots.
Thousands of years ago wild carrots (Daucus carota) came in a singular color. They were purple with white inside. Domestication began in either Afghanistan or Turkey around 900 AD. That’s when things started to change. Through years of selecting genetic mutations, the cultivated varieties eventually resulted in a yellow variant. You go, yellow!
Fast forward another 600 years, and through much more artificial selection and hybridization, the Netherlands gave us the orange carrot. There’s a tale that the Dutch created the orange carrot to honor William of Orange who reigned over England in the 16th century. Whether true or not, the orange carrot did become associated with the House of Orange. It’s more likely that the Dutch adopted orange as its the national color and then added orange carrots to the list of items “dedicated” to the royal family. It didn’t hurt that these new beta-Carotene loaded carrots were sweeter and plumper than their predecessors, too. How could you not love ‘em?
Last year I planted orange Kuroda carrots in a container. Of all the carrots I planted, this one performed the best in the container. It also tasted the most carroty! And what’s not to love about a basic orange carrot?
So do carrots of various pigments have any added health benefits? Why certainly. Orange carrots are brimming with beta-Carotene. Your body converts this pigment into the vital Vitamin A. Though Vitamin A deficiency is quite rare in the United States, it is a major public health problem in developing countries. Only protein malnutrition claims more victims, nearly all of which are children.
Yellow carrots contain more concentrations of xanthophyll and lutein. These are similar to the beta-Carotene pigment, in that they aid with healthy eyes and vision. The help reduce your risk for developing both age-related cataracts and macular degeneration.
This year I’m planting a yellow carrot called Amarillo. The lemon yellow roots should reach about 8 inches in length. This is the first time I’ve planted a yellow carrot other than when I’ve planted carrot mixes. And most of the mixes I’ve tried have resulted in 95% orange carrots. Bummer. So when I found this Rainbow Mix carrot, I got excited. This is actually a single carrot variety that has color variations of orange and yellow. So it will mature uniformly unlike colored carrot mixes created using several different varieties.
Pelleted carrot seed (top white round seeds) versus standard carrot seeds
My Rainbow Carrot mix comes in standard seed and pelleted seed. I’m trying the pelleted seeds as a first-time experiment. Pelleted seeds have a coating around them which make tiny seeds easier to see and handle. Yeah, I’m looking at you carrot seeds! The only downside I’ve read about pelleted seed is that it can shorten seed shelf life. So it’s recommended to use the seeds in the first growing year.
Red carrots contain lycopene, the same pigment in tomatoes and watermelon. Lycopene has been sought for its benefits in helping to prevent clogged arteries, thus reducing heart disease. It can help stave-off the risk of prostate cancer in men, as well as reduce cancer cell proliferation. Not to mention lycopene is terrific for all-around healthier skin!
Last year I planted a really neat-o variety! Cosmic Purple Carrot has traditional orange and yellow flesh, but the outer skin is a bright purple hue. This carrot has a spicy and sweet flavor. When you scrub the skin, parts of the red are removed to reveal the orange flesh leaving a truly psychedelic veggie.
A new carrot variety I’m trying this year is Kyoto Red. This is a Japanese kintoki type red carrot that can reach up to 12 inches long. We’ll see about that! I’m planting it in my deep carrot container that I made from a plastic Christmas tree storage container. This container should allow the roots to reach long lengths. That would certainly be an accomplishment for me to grow a foot long carrot. This variety is recommended for fall gardens and may not do well in the spring.
Purple & Black Carrots
Purple and black carrots have the largest concentrations of anthocyanins. These pigments are part of the flavonoid family. They help neutralize harmful “free radical” molecules in cells. These antioxidants combat cellular damage, affects of aging, and other health issues in the body. Anthocyanins may also help prevent heart disease by inhibiting the absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol and slowing down blood clotting.
Last year I planted Black Nebula Carrot. And boy-howdy do those black skins make a mess! My fingers and cutting board were stained deep purple. It is extremely high in anthocyanins (like blueberries), and can be used as a natural dye. When juiced, if you squeeze in some fresh lemon, the dark purple juice becomes bright pink! Sometimes this black carrot grows with a white core. Mine were solid black and quite hairy. I highly recommend this carrot for roasting. If I get enough this year, I may try pickling them too.
White carrots… are parsnips. Just kidding. White carrots are in fact distinct from parsnips, though unfortunately, they have the least amount of health benefits in the carrot family due to their lack of pigment. On the plus side, the are the easiest carrots to digest. This makes them a good choice for baby food, if you are concerned about your little one possibly turning orange.
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So what are your favorite carrot varieties? Have you ever planted pelleted seed? Let me know in the comments below.