Rediscover the Colorful Possibilities of Carrots
By Rebecca Catlett,
Produce Chain Manager for the Americas, Nunhems
Roses are red. Violets are blue. And carrots are orange. Right?
It turns out the sweet, flavorful carrots we’ve nearly always known as orange come in a variety of brilliant (and equally delicious) colors, including purple, red, yellow, cream and white. Even more shocking? These colorful carrots have been available for thousands of years.
Ancient Egyptians depicted purple carrots in their drawings as far back as 4,000 years ago. In Roman times,carrots were primarily purple and white, though nature occasionally produced the rare yellow mutant.
As these varieties spread from their native Middle East into southern Europe, other colors, such as black,red and green, were also bred and grown.
In fact, carrots didn’t turn the familiar orange color until the 1500s when Dutch growers used a mutant yellow seed from North Africa to develop a carrot in honor of the color of the House of Orange and Dutch ruler William of Orange.
The Dutch continued to grow and stabilize orange carrot varieties for centuries, enhancing their size, flavor and nutritional benefits through selective breeding. Eventually, these orange carrots became the standard carrot sold around the world.
Then, in 1940 Bugs Bunny was born. The animated anti-hero—and his ubiquitous orange carrot—shot to stardom in full-color animated short films, cementing in the mind of the public that carrots are “orange.”
Interest in colored carrots never fully waned, however. A relatively small number of farmers continued to grow carrots in a wide range of shades for both their unique nutritional profiles—carrots’ medicinal purposes have been recognized for centuries— and as a natural food coloring.
Today’s colored carrot varieties, like those developed by Nunhems and other vegetable seed companies, combine the best of both traditional orange carrots and color varieties from centuries ago. It starts with visual appeal. Colored carrots are nothing if not eye-catching. The vibrant reds, yellows, whites and purples jump off the plate and the supermarket shelf.
But appearance isn’t the only thing to set colored carrots apart. Each color of carrot has a slightly different nutritional profile. For example, while all carrots are strong in the antioxidant beta-carotene, purple carrots contain even more than their orange siblings.
In addition, purples also boast anthocyanins, pigments that function as antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents and cancer fighting anticarcinogens.
Lutein contributes to the color of yellow carrots and is said to help prevent age-related eye diseases and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Similarly, red carrots get their color from lycopene (the same pigment that makes tomatoes red), a phytochemical that is associated with reduced
risk of macular degenerative disease, heart attack and a wide variety of cancers.
Can’t find colored carrots in your supermarket? Be sure to talk to your produce manager at your local grocery store. You can share or learn
more about colored carrots including recipes and preparation at www.coloredcarrots.com/.