We’re all used to seeing and eating the humble carrot – ORANGE and ordinary – but how many people know that there is an entire rainbow of carrot colors, and that, in fact, the orange root we all know and love is the new carrot color on the block?
History tells us that the original carrot emerged from Middle Asia around present day Afghanistan at least 5,000 years ago. It spread slowly to the area of the Mediterranean and was probably white, yellow or purple.
These original carrots were not used as a food source by the ancients, but were used for medicinal purposes. Were these ancient people wrong in thinking that carrots have health benefits? Apparently not…
About 300 years ago, it was the Dutch growers who first selected and planted the carrot in patriotic Orange, the Dutch national color and Royal Family House color. Thus, these orange carrots were seventeenth century “designer” carrots!
Growers took red and yellow carrots to create the orange root, just like using a paint box. Before then, carrots were purple, red, white, green, yellow, or black.
Carrots are readily available in five main colors in the stores these days: orange, red, purple, white, and yellow. Each color has a different health benefit.
It is the pigment in plants that give them their distinctive color and their health-giving and healing properties, so what is so special about the different colored carrots?
Orange carrots contain beta carotene, with some alpha-carotene, both of which are orange pigments. The body converts the high content beta carotene into Vitamin A, essential to the immune system for general well-being and healthy eyes. These carrots originate from Europe and the Middle East.
Yellow carrots contain xanthophylls, pigments similar to orange beta carotene, which help develop healthy eyes and aid in the fight against macular degeneration. They may also be useful in preventing tumors associated with lung and other cancers. These came from the Middle East.
Red carrots contain lycopene (another form of carotene), a pigment also found in tomatoes and watermelon; lycopene helps in the fight against heart disease and some cancers, including prostate cancer. These were originally from India and China.
Purple carrots (usually orange inside) get their pigment from an entirely different class, the anthocyanins. These pigments act as very powerful antioxidants, grabbing and holding onto harmful free radicals in the body. Anthocyanins also help prevent heart disease by slowing blood clotting. These originate from Turkey, and the Middle and Far East.
White carrots, by their very nature, lack pigment, but may contain other health-promoting substances called phytochemicals. One would say these are the least healthy of carrots. They originate from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan.
Do not over indulge in the golden vegetable – your skin may turn yellow! When this happens, it’s called Carotenemia. Yes, you eat too many carrots, and what are the consequences? Your skin, mostly the hands, will most probably turn yellowish-orange.
There are two possible reasons why your skin turns orange. Either your body is unable to process all the carotene properly in the carrot you are consuming, or your liver is toxic. Either way, the color shows up in your skin. It’s not dangerous, but you should reduce your intake, anyway.
Carrots are very versatile and healthy vegetables and add color to any meal. So next time you are out shopping, look out for carrots from both ends of the color spectrum. Try a rainbow bunch to add color to your meal, and to give yourself a colorful boost of health-giving properties.
More about our colorful guest contributor: John Stolarczyk is the Curator at the World Carrot Museum online that includes information about the history of carrots, pigment power, and the nutritional benefits of the carrot by visiting the World Carrot Museum online