The Annual Purple Carrot Festival - Cuevas Bajas, Andalucia
Zanahoria Mora - The 'carrot morá' of Cuevas Bajas - this unique vegetable from the municipality of Cuevas Baja, Malaga, Southern Spain.
The village of Cuevas Bajas is blessed with a unique variety of carrot, the so-called "zanahoria morá", famous for its purple outer and unique centre. This peculiarity distinguishes this product from the rest of the known carrot festivals, which as we all know usually have an orange colour. The unique purple carrots has been maintained until the present day in this area, although after the popularity of the orange carrot, this purple variety has been disappearing from the rest of the country.
What distinguishes this carrot is that when it is sliced the core it has an orange/yellow colour, but it has a purple heart.
Its peculiarity is its intense purple colour, as well as an average size larger than that of conventional carrots. Its interior is very unusual: with tones of lilac, mauve, orange and white.
Morá carrots are planted during the first few days of summer and are harvested in late November and early December, so its presence "has always been a sign of the arrival of cold weather", which in turn has made it the star ingredient for winter dishes such as migas, very typical in this area. In addition to being a good source of carbohydrate, it has diuretic properties, anti-carcinogenic components, vitamins A, E and B and potassium.
Its flavour is also very characteristic, with a delicate sweetness. Although the carrots can be eaten both raw and cooked, they do not respond so well to cooking as the conventional orange carrots do. To celebrate the wide range of culinary possibilities offered by the purple carrot, Cuevas Bajas holds the Fiesta de la Zanahoria Morá, the first Sunday of December every year, coinciding with the harvesting season. The farmers sell their crop in a market that is complemented with numerous activities and a huge dish of migas for the attendees.
The versatility of this vegetable has led local firms to produce products with the morá carrots, as a sign of the identity of Cuevas Bajas. Among them are dried snacks, balsamic and caramelized vinegars, jams and even beer and gin with the carrot as an ingredient.
The Zanahoria Morá (Daucus carota L. ssp. sativus var. atrorubens) is a root with ancient origins in Asia. Cuevas Bajas, a picturesque village in the northeast of the province of Málaga, is located at the medieval Caliphate of Cordoba and Emirate of Granada settlements on the banks of the Genil River, an ideal framework for its preservation. Thanks to a pioneering project, this endangered species is being reintroduced to the local crops.
It reached Spain (Iberian peninsula) in the 13th century through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was on the banks of the Genil River where the Arabs, at the time of Al-Andalus, given the characteristics of the area, decided to cultivate this tuber which, little by little, would become an emblem of Cuevas Bajas, For the medieval Arabs, one of the points of entry into Europe was Andalusia. This region was extremely attractive for them as it is the only European region with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. In fact, the filtrations from the Ocean and the Sea gave to the local soils different properties, so genuine species that entered Andalusia in the past, are today considered autochthonous of this region due to the endemic climatology and the characteristics of the soil. There are some documents in the County Hall of Cuevas Bajas (Andalusia) that purport show the cultivation of an orange/purple variety from Medieval Times and there is a commercial letter talking about the exchange with the merchants of the Silk Route. It is said that the Arabs brought this variety from North Africa to Andalusia via the Silk Road in the 14th century. This has yet to be examined by the Museum Curator.
The authentic Black Carrot (Zanahoria Morá) from Cuevas Bajas is preserved through a rigorous selection of seeds to perpetuate its distinctive characteristics such as a striking and unique violet heart with a wide range of shades of purple arranged in concentric circles. It is planted in early summer, and coinciding with the harvest in early December, a rare festival is celebrated in honour of this vegetable. During the celebration, all the goodness of this Málaga town is shown, and the black carrot is tasted through its many culinary uses.
The Cuevas Bajas purple carrot has considerable health benefits, containing six times more antioxidants than orange carrots. It is beneficial for regulating bowel functions, providing antiparasitic properties, stimulating appetite, relieving inflammatory symptoms, protecting against heart diseases, strengthening the immune system, preventing cellular aging, stabilizing blood glucose, and optimizing eye and skin health.
Numerous writers claim that the carrot was brought into Europe from Afghanistan around 1000 AD. The Arab merchants who travelled the Mediterranean trade routes would have brought the seeds with them and the tuber would have spread from Al-Andalus to the rest of the countries. Despite the fact that the seeds and even the umbel of the plant still retain the purple coloru, from 1500 the orange colour gained popularity when Dutch farmers developed a less bitter and orange mutant species..
Purple carrots have generally become non-GM indigenous varieties linked to endemic climate characteristics and the terrain. In the majority of cases, cultivation is due to tradition rather than market demands, therefore, they are usually cultivated recovering traditional agricultural techniques and ecological collection and transport systems, being, therefore, an example of sustainable crops and agrobiodiversity .
To prevent this peculiar vegetable from disappearing, farmers from this area follow a very strict seed choice process. Because of that, they have managed to preserved its different characteristics - the inner yellow colour with a wide variety of purple tones spread throughout the carrot in concentric circles.
The Locality - Cuevas Bajas is a small municipality in the Spanish southwest, belonging to the region of Andalusia and the province of Malaga . The climate is Mediterranean, characterized by long summers and short winters. The average temperature of around fifteen degrees and the banks of the Genil River, where this vegetable is planted, create the perfect setting for raising tubers. The type of sandy and clayey terrain favours the development of a larger diameter, the appearance of an equally purple heart and a better assimilation of nutrients, at the same time as it hinders root rot.
It is propagated with native seeds and is collected once a year between the end of November and the beginning of December. Among its organoleptic qualities, this variety has a fascinating purple skin and heart. When cut, the slices have flamboyant purple patterns. It is crisp and slightly bitter when eaten raw and sweeter when eaten cooked or naturally processed. It is also cultivated and widely consumed in La Montaña de Alicante, specifically in the northern regions of the province of Alicante and south of that of Valencia. It is one of the areas that has also managed to preserve this crop. This variety has been investigated by the University of Malaga and the University of Porto due to its remarkable nutritional properties six times greater than those present in the common orange carrot.5 This native variety is considered the 'Vega Sicilia' of carrots, due to its quality and limited production. (Reference)
Etymology and Early History
The Spanish word for carrot comes etymologically from the old Castilian çahanoria , borrowed from the Hispanic Arabic safunnārjah , and this from the Maghrebi اسفنارية ( isfannārỉjja ), and in turn from the ancient Greek σταφυλίνη ἀγρία ( stafylíne sour ). The adjective purple (or purple) derives from the Latin purpŭra , a reddish color with a tendency to violate, which according to popular history was also used to dye the garments of the Afghan nobility. The purple or purple color is related to royalty and blood and was historically reserved for royal and noble figures.
The Theory of Signatures , or Theory of the Sign adopts the ideology that all plants, animals and minerals possess in their physiognomy or colour, an indication of their therapeutic virtues. Pliny the Elder in his Natural History affirmed that the organs of animals served to treat the ills of equivalent human organs. Later, Paracelsus promoted this prescientific theory, according to which God put in each being, the necessary signs to indicate the ills that he cured. Thus, the appearance, colour and external or internal patterns would be an indicator of its healing properties according to The Signature of All Things, by Jacob Boehem,  . According to this theory, carrots would have aphrodisiac properties due to their physiognomy, beneficial for circulation and skin due to their colours and, some species such as the purple carrot of Cuevas Bajas, beneficial for the heart due to internal patterns.
The Festival formally commenced in 2006, initially just a carrot market, followed by children's activities, tasting bar with local wine and sausages, crumbs with the purple carrot (Migas) and lots more! Read about the purple carrot powder here. It is declared a Festival of Tourist Singularity by the Junta de Andalucía .
John visited the Festival dedicated to a unique purple carrot in 2015 and again in 2019. Every year on the first Sunday of December, the sleepy village of Cuevas Bajas, on the border between Malaga and Cordoba provinces, comes alive to celebrate the existence of their very own large purple carrots, with multi coloured center. There is also a man walking around the festival talking to people and having his picture taken in a full carrot costume. (photo below)
A long white tent was erected in one of the town’s main roads and was lined with booths manned by local vendors selling their best products. After the official bits - speeches from the Mayor and local dignitaries - loud music filled the tent as a group of dancers encouraged the audience to have fun celebrating “la zanahoria morá.” There were gorgeous crafts hand-painted in vibrant colours. There was a wide variety of gourmet cheeses, coffee liquor, dessert pastries and several types of meat. Despite the other attractions, the main star of the event was of course, the purple carrot, and it was featured at every single booth.
This purple carrot appears to be a quintessentially Andalusia phenomenon. Cuevas Bajas black carrots are rich sources of anthocyanins, a lot higher than traditional orange carrots. Considering the health benefits that have been associated with the consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods and diets, black carrot appears as an important food vegetable with good nutritional value. (Source: Anthocyanin profile and antioxidant capacity of black carrots (Daucus carota L. ssp. sativus var. atrorubens Alef.) from Cuevas Bajas, Spain - Article in Journal of Food Compoitgion and Analysis Feb 2014 - Manuel Argarra et al)
The festival attracts over 5,000 people (the normal population is around 2,000) It seems everyone knows everyone here, very much a family affair.
Originally it was established to celebrate the annual harvest and help preserve this unusual vegetable, which was recently at risk of extinction. There is a main tent and rows of outdoor stands where, among the various carrot based goods, other food products like resoli (a coffee liqueur) and the usual array of sausages are sold, while plates of Migas (fried breadcrumbs with meat) are dished out to the masses for free from an enormous pan.
The star of the show, the purple carrot, is characterised by its bright purple and orange/yellow core colour. The inside is streaky orange with a purple center, while the taste is less sweet than its traditional orange family member, it is still crunchy with a stronger, earthier flavour There is everything on sale from not only purple carrots, but also purple carrot cake, to crisps, to jam and liqueur.
The highlight of the day was the opportunity to enjoy unlimited free servings of one of Cuevas Bajas’ most popular dishes: Migas topped with purple carrots. For those of you unfamiliar with Migas, it is a dish made with small pieces of stale bread, mixed with olive oil, fresh garlic, chorizo sausage and herbs and seasonings. It is then cooked in special shallow pan over a wood-burning fire. These pans tend to be large in general, but at this festival it is enormous. It took three people using farmers’ rakes and hoes to cook the Migas for the hungry crowd awaiting their helping.
Below, the famous dish of Migas - literally crumbs or scraps. Typical recipe here. More about the dish here.
Mermalada (Jam) powder here
Chips (crisps), Vinaigrette, Jam and Liquor
Purple Carrot meets Orange Carrot
The healthy snack made from Zanahoria Morá (above middle photo,left, has a high nutritional content, without additives or preservatives. It contains all the characteristics and beneficial properties of the fresh root. It is high in fibre and vitamin C, gluten and dairy free, and has low saturated fats levels, so it is suitable for a majority of diets.
MORÁ uses a patented eco-innovative food production and processing. A lyophilization technique is applied to obtain a porous texture which facilitates the flow of water without increasing the temperature, reducing the drying time and avoiding the oxidation of the product. The residual water content is less than 1%, achieving a tasty snack with high nutritional contents and a crunchy texture, suitable for healthy lifestyles at anytime. Read about the latest products - Gin and Beer - here
Typical Migas Recipe
Migas de Pastor | Shepherd Crumbs Stew
Crumbs of 1 loaf of bread; 1 garlic bulb; 1 tbs of paprika; 200 grams of serrano ham or bacon or mixed salamis; 2 slices of bread for croutons; 1 cup of olive oil ;Salt You can add any other vegetable or meat ingredients to your taste Carrots cut into coins.
Wrap the crumbs in a moist cloth and leave overnight Cut the ham or bacon and bread slices in cubes In a pan with four tbs of olive oil, stir fry the ham or bacon and remove with a skimmer In the same oil add the garlic cloves without peeling, stir fry very lightly, remove from the pan and drain them Brown the croutons in the same oil and remove Add more oil if necessary, add a tsp of paprika and the crumbs, remove as soon as they have picked some colour Add the ham/bacon/salami and croutons. Encircle the dish with the carrot coins.
Carrot Powder - MORA
The unique purple carrots of Cuevas are also made into a powder, used in the catering industry to add colour and taste in a convenient form. They are sliced then dehydrated following the DIC process, an innovative process to maintain the nutritional properties. Then, the dehydrated slices are transformed into powder. The DIC process is a patented process developed by the University of La Rochelle (France) and stands for Détente Instantanée Controlée. It is a new type of dehydration that better preserves the nutritional elements of fruits and vegetables.
This powder can be added as food supplement to any preparation due its high the nutritional value. In particular any bread and pastry product as well as any kind of dough can be enriched by the powder. It is very effective in adding natural purple colour shades to food.
The factory where the purple carrot is transformed into powder is in Madrid but the idea, the formula and the commercialization is done by a local company named Esali Alimentación S.L., Antequera under the brand MORÁ. Website here (Spanish)
This product, 100% pure, dehydrated Carrot, provides you with all the nutritional benefits of carrots, but in one small, highly-concentrated serving. It comes highly recommended both for its nutritional value and as an effective way to add a unique colour to foodstuffs. It can also be used in cooking and baking due to its flour like consistency; examples could include using it to make sauces, soups, stock or adding it to any dough for a subtle carroty flavour and unique colour. It can also be added to rice and used in stir fry dishes. A very versatile product and always available and viable when you run out of fresh carrots.
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