Why Carrots Are Orange (And 5 Non-Orange Carrots to Grow in Your Garden)

Close-up of carrots for sale at market stall

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I've read in several garden books about how carrots weren't originally orange. The first carrots cultivated were purple or yellow. Orange came much later. But how, and why? None of the books I read ever managed to answer that question. Finally, an answer, thanks to Jamie and Adam (of Mythbusters fame):

"Carrots are orange because oranges are orange."
Uh. Okay. There's more to the story than that, though, right?
"A town in Southern France, Arausio, founded by the Romans in 35 BC, was classically pronounced "Aurenja." Predictably, that became "orange" once the French conflated naranj with or. When a man named William the Silent from Nassau inherited the rule in Orange in 1544, he became William of Orange. He led the Dutch in Revolt against the Spanish in the late 1500s, and they eventually won their independence in the form of the Dutch Republic."

At this time, the Dutch were primarily known as carrot farmers. And they grew carrots in the traditional hues of purple, yellow, and white. In the 17th century, a strain of carrot was developed that contained higher amounts of beta carotene -- the first orange carrot. Dutch carrot farmers started growing the new orange carrots in honor of William of Orange, and the traditional, more colorful carrots, were tossed aside for these newly fashionable orange carrots.

Politics and fashion. Of course.

And that's a real shame, because those traditional carrot hues really add a great pop of color to a salad or crudité platter. Here are five non-orange heirloom carrots that are worth a try.

Five Colorful Carrots to Grow in Your Garden

Bunches of purple, white, yellow, and orange carrots

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1. 'Cosmic Purple': This is a favorite in my own garden. The skin of these carrots is bright purple, and the flesh inside is yellowy-orange. They are sweet and flavorful. 'Purple Dragon' is another good purple variety that I've seen available in several catalogs.

2. 'Atomic Red': These bright red carrots grow to about eight inches long and are very flavorful. They are sweeter when cooked, but we like them raw as well.

3. 'Snow White': According to the people at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, white carrots were very popular during the Middle Ages, and are finally starting to gain a following again. 'Snow White' is creamy white in color, very crisp, and good both cooked and raw.

4.'Lunar White': This variety grows creamy white roots with mild flavor, excellent for snacking.

5. 'Amarillo': If you're looking for a yellow carrot, 'Amarillo' is a good choice. Its lemony-yellow roots grow to around eight inches long, and have a nice amount of sweetness to them. This is another favorite in my garden.

View Article Sources
  1. Carrot: History and Iconography.Purdue University.