The Original Carrot
Many people think carrots are and always were orange. In reality, all the carrots we see today come from the wild, white carrot. These “carrots” were small, had tough roots with many branches and were bitter tasting.
It’s likely that carrots originated in Central Asia and the Middle East before the 900's and were purple and white. The orange carrot became a part of our diet around the 15th century.
The carrots we have today are a result of centuries of breeding to create the different colors, sweeter flavor and larger roots. This breeding accidentally resulted in an increased accumulation of nutritional value, and pigments which give carrots their different colors and amazing vitamin A and antioxidant properties.
What do the different colors mean?
The domestication of the carrot resulted in many different colors, including, purple, orange, yellow, red, black and white. These colors are also indicators of different nutrients and varied health benefits from color to color.
While the vitamin A, fiber, fats, sugars, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals are relatively similar, the antioxidant levels and pigments vary for each color.
Simply put each color of carrot offers a different variety of health benefits. It also makes cooking with them more fun!
The simplest explanation is, the darker the color (purple, red, and dark orange), the higher levels of antioxidants and vitamin A. This does not mean lighter carrots have less nutrients, just different ones.
Orange carrots are orange because beta carotene is the main pigment. Carotenoids are the most important natural pigments and they cause the yellow/orange of many fruits and vegetables.
Orange carrots are the highest in beta-carotene, and contain smaller amounts of alpha-carotene, both are antioxidants that the liver converts into vitamin A in our bodies. Orange carrots also contain lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Vitamin A is an important component in eye health and lutein helps make up the macular pigment of human retinas, so consuming it helps increase the density of this and decrease the risk of macular degeneration and other age-related diseases.
The major pigments found in yellow carrots are xanthophylls (which gives the golden color), and lutein, which are similar to beta-carotene. These help to develop healthy eyes and prevent the risk of hardening arteries. Anthocyanin is also attributed to the color.
Red carrots contain the most lycopene, which creates the vibrant color and is associated with reducing the risk of macular degeneration, preventing heart disease and a variety of cancers. It is also known to promote healthy skin.
White carrots do not have pigmentation but still have health benefits like dietary fiber and a healthy source of sugar which are a blessing to your digestive system.
The most questions are asked about purple carrots. They are the strangest color but also one of the originals. They are the highest in anthocyanins which is an entirely different class of pigment. These pigments are powerful antioxidants and help protect key cell components. Purple carrots protect against cell damage, aging and other health problems. They repair damaged proteins in blood vessel walls and protect connective tissues. They also slow blood clotting and are good anti-inflammatory agents.
Purple carrots also contain the usual beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and small amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin.
The color of the carrot is due to the type and amount of pigmentation from carotenoids to anthocyanins. It also acts as an indicator of the nutritional contents of the carrot. It is fascinating how one type of vegetable can have so many variations and provide so many different nutrients for our bodies. It shows the importance of a varied diet, even down to the colors of carrots!
For more nutritional and health information about carrots check out the article “A Carrot A Day” on the main article page of our website, which explains the health benefits of carrots more in depth.
We offer orange carrots as well as the rainbow package which contains, light and dark yellow, light orange, dark orange and purple carrots. If you are interested in trying them, check it out at our store by following the Shop button at the top of the page! Enjoy!