The New Mighty Maroon Carrot

Purple Carrots

The noble carrot has long been known as an orange vegetable. Generations of people in the West have grown up believing that carrots are always orange. But as long ago as 2000 BC temple drawings from Egypt show a plant believed to be a purple carrot. It is also identified in the garden of the Egyptian King Merodach-Baladan in the eighth century BC.

In Roman times carrots were purple or white. By the 10th century purple carrots were grown in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Iran. Purple, white and yellow carrots were imported to southern Europe in the 14th century. Black, red and white carrots were also grown.

Orange roots, containing the pigment carotene, were not noted until the 16th century in Holland. This only came about thanks to patriotic Dutch growers who bred the vegetable to grow in the colours of the House of Orange. Experts believe Dutch breeders used a yellow mutant seed from North Africa to develop the orange variety and then stuck to it through breeding.
Their colour comes from beta carotene with some alpha carotene, a pigment the body converts to Vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin and vision in dim light. Dutch breeders recently studied the health qualities of purple carrots and believe they give us extra protection against various forms of cancer and heart disease. They contain purple pigments called anthocyanins, and act as anti-oxidants that protect the body.  

Read more about all the other carrot colours here.

Purple Carrots come back from their roots - re-introduced to England

Maroon CarrotsThe carrot returned to its roots and went on sale in the summer of 2002 in England in its original colour - purple - the first time in five centuries. There is also talk of bringing back black and white varieties together with a rainbow version! 

Supermarket buyers were not too keen to try out purple carrots and sadly sales plummeted.. After pink tomatoes and green tomato ketchup they believed British consumers were keen to experiment.

Carrots are the second most popular vegetable after the potato. The first commercial crop was grown near Ely, Cambridgeshire, and dark purple carrots with orange insides were sold at Sainsbury's stores in July. They attempted to brighten up the nation's dinner plates served as a violet purée, with its classic partner, the green pea, or in a salad. Mark Spurdens, technical manager for Isleham Fresh Produce, said : "Yes they are different and have had a little extra care and attention in the way they have been raised.

We have had tastings and besides being healthy we think they are sweeter. They also look stunning sliced raw. We are already planning to sell rainbow bunches of carrots next year."

Russell Crowe, root buyer at Sainsbury's said :" We are very excited to have dug up old ground and sell the purple carrot exclusively. Hopefully this unusual colour will influence children to eat more vegetables while parents can rest assured that there is nothing artificial about the carrots."

Sadly the great British public did not take to them and sales were quickly withdrawn.  A little odd when in the USA, Rainbow Packs of carrots sell well.

Thompson & Morgan have a tremendous variety of carrot seeds for you to try, some links below give more detail, or click on the banner.


And in the States ....

Some people look at it and say that's one ugly carrot," says Leonard Pike,Ph.D. "But then other people think it's the most beautiful thing they've ever seen." Pike is referring to his latest creation: Maroon in colour, apple-like in texture and sugary in flavour, it's known as the Beta-Sweet carrot. For traditionalists who like their carrots to look and taste like, well carrots, the Beta Sweet can be a little off-putting. That's the way it goes with in the field of vegetable enhancement-a field that Pike pioneered back in 1992 as director and founder of the Vegetable Improvement Centre at Texas A&M University at College Station.

Dr Pikes goal is to change attitudes, improve health and impact the world, one vegetable at a time. "To eat a wide range of vegetables is far more beneficial than eating hamburgers and French fries and relying on supplements" says Pike. He also points to the benefits his work can offer underdeveloped countries. "The people living in those countries are not going to take supplements, but they are going to grow and eat crops."

The gene responsible for purple or maroon colour is a natural one that has been around for many years and, in fact, has been segregated out and discarded when it appeared in order to retain the traditional orange colour for carrots. In 1989, three carrots grown from Brazilian seed were observed to have a blotchy maroon colour mixed with the normal range, which gave Dr Pike an idea. Initially, he planned to develop a maroon carrot for home gardeners, similar to the long lost wild carrot from Afghanistan.
He produced a maroon and deep orange Beta Sweet carrot, which matched the school's colours. Pike may have conceived this variety on a fanciful whim, but he soon learned that the purple pigment contained anthocyanins, which act as tough antioxidants, boosting the carrot's  nutritional properties. The irony here is that Pike has actually put back what growers, in the name of aesthetics, took out years ago. Naturally, carrots are either white or white with a purple rim, but the old breeders selected the orange carrot for its unconventional colouring!

Read more about antioxidants here.

Within two generations of breeding effort, he obtained a few a carrot roots with near complete maroon exterior and orange interior. The contrast of orange and maroon was very attractive in carrots cut into coins or sticks. The research objective changed instantly from developing a novelty carrot into a 'designer' carrot variety with all the flavour, nutrition and health requirements possible.

Cancer-preventing traits

Dr Pike engineered the BetaSweet to have 50 percent more beta-carotene ( a potent cancer-fighting antioxidant) than your garden-variety carrot. And its curious colour comes from anthocyanin, another antioxidant that preliminary studies show effectively fights disease-clong maroon carrotausing
bacteria in humans.

Early man used food to prevent disease. For a long time, the medical profession has treated disease with drugs and surgery. Now, we are seeing a return to prevention and an emphasis on disease-preventing vegetables. The purple carrot is a potent antioxidant, right along with blackberries, blueberries and cherries.

Several additional generations of carrots were required in the development of BetaSweet using extensive laboratory testing for low terpenoids (strong carrot flavours), high sugars, high carotene, and crispy texture. Thousands of carrot roots were analysed and selected for desired qualities and for the dark maroon exterior and orange interiors. The few best for those characteristics were crossed and re-selected for their adaptation when grown under Texas climate conditions.

Eventually, four advanced breeding lines were tested as potential commercial varieties. The name "BetaSweet" was selected from a "name the new maroon carrot contest" sponsored by Progressive Farmer magazine in 1995. The winning entry was sent in by John Dunckelman of Florida. Beta, for the high levels of beta carotene which are found in the carrot and Sweet because of its sweet taste. the variety was released in 1998.BetaSweet' taste similar to other carrots but has a very crispy texture which is easier to chew, much like an apple or piece of celery. It is also sweet and very attractive when cut into 'coins' or sticks. It only has a texture similar to an apple, but not the taste.

Consumer-oriented strategy

BetaSweet carrots have been introduced to consumers in the US in the form of coins and sticks in a specialty-designed package bearing carrot cartoon characters to attract children.

The family he started with is called the "Beta Bunch". We have "Beta Bites," a Beta Sweet teenage carrot girl and parents, "BetaKing" and "BetaQueen". They are also working on "MegaBeta," a little boy carrot with muscles," Pike reported.

And how do they cook? Sliced and roasted for a salad, the colours darkened but remained true to their hue. Of course, all of this beauty comes with a steep price tag: The Beta Sweet variety is about twice the cost of bulk carrots.
Maroon carrots can be used in any carrot recipe, but if left raw, either shredded into a coleslaw or dipped into a garlic mayonnaise, the colours, flavour and texture really shine.
You will find maroon carrots sweeter and a touch crisper than their orange cousins.

Take a look at J D Produce the Home of Maroon carrots

Thompson & Morgan have a tremendous variety of carrot seeds for you to try, some links below give more detail, or click on the banner.

Other purple carrot Seed suppliers in the USA:

Some Sources of Carrot Varieties for United States Home Gardeners

William Rubel gives a detailed commentary on the main online catalogues.


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