The New Mighty Maroon or Purple Carrot
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 long before the Orange carrot became established in the 16th century ago the purple carrot existed across in Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. (carrot history here) (black carrot page here)
Wild carrot has a small, tough pale fleshed bitter white root; modern domestic carrot has a swollen, juice sweet root, usually orange. Carrots originated in present day Afghanistan about 5000 years ago, probably originally as a purple or yellow root. Nature then took a hand and produced mutants and natural hybrids, crossing both with cultivated and wild varieties. It is considered that purple carrots were then taken westwards where it is thought yellow mutants and wild forms crossed to produce orange. Finally some motivated Dutch growers took these mutant orange carrots under their horticultural wings and developed them to be sweeter and more practical.
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. Purple carrots were used as a clothing dye for Afghan royalty.
Orange carrots arrived from natural mutations of yellow forms, and then by human selection and development, probably in the Netherlands. It is thought that humans made selections from a genepool involving yellow rooted eastern carrots, cultivated white-rooted derivatives of wild carrot (grown as medicinal plants since classical times) and wild unselected populations of adjacent Daucus Carota subspecies in Europe and the Mediterranean. It is thought that Dutch breeders used a mutant seed from North Africa to develop the orange variety into a stable and reliable plant for domestication.
Some scholars think that orange carrots did not to appear until the 16th century, although there is a Byzantine manuscript of 512 ad, and an 11th century illuminated script, both of which depict an orange rooted carrot, and suggesting it was around long before.
Orange roots, containing the pigment carotene, were not noted until the 16th century in Holland. A tale, probably apocryphal, has it that the orange carrot was bred in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century to honour William of Orange. Though the stabilised orange carrot does date from around seventeenth century Netherlands, it is unlikely that honouring William of Orange had anything to do with it!
Experts believe the 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.
There are up to 28 times more anthocyanins - the antioxidant that creates the purple-red pigment in blueberries and raspberries - in purple carrots than there are in orange ones.
Read more about all the other carrot colours here.
Purple Carrots come back from their roots -
re-introduced to England
The 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.
Purple carrots are being explored as a source of such dyes is the purple carrot,
ancient ancestor to the modern, orange version. Originally used as a clothing
dye by Afghan royalty, the purple carrot is now being investigated as a
potential source of
food colorings. Researchers are at work to stabilize the purple pigment in
vegetables, which can turn brown when heated, red in acidic foods and blue
in alkaline ones.
The carrots are given their purple colour by anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that also gives blueberries and red grapes their colour.
Purple carrots are now propositioned as the next superfood.
The findings of the recent Australian study revealed the ancient carrot to be packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory goodness - up tp 28 times more anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that are responsible for the purple-red pigment in raspberries and blueberries, than there are in orange carrots.
Lindsay Brown, professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Southern Queensland who is also the study author said the purple carrots are the original carrots from the ancient Persia. Purple carrots are one of the wide variety of fruit and vegetables that are almost lost in the era of single supermarket varieties, just like other ancient tomato varieties.
While claims have previously been made about its health benefits, there were no tests to back up them, not until just recently. Conducting rat studies using purple carrots grown in Queensland, the rats were given high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet for 16 weeks to mirror the effects of unhealthy Western diet.
The rats soon developed high blood pressure, became fatter and glucose-intolerant - or prediabetic - and suffered heart and liver damage. Subsequently, in the second eight weeks, purple carrot juice were added into the rats' diet.
The results were a surprise to the scientists, and will be published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Prof Brown said miraculously everything went back to normal. "The blood pressure went down, the collagen in the heart was back to normal, the liver histology was back to normal, the liver enzymes, the glucose tolerance, the fat pads were all back to normal, despite continuing this ... terrible diet," she explained.
Purple carrots should be eaten coupled with a moderate diet and exercise, advised Prof Brown.
PURPLE CARROT CAKE RECIPE
1 and a half cups of shredded purple carrots
2 and a half cups of flour
1 and a quarter cups of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground dry ginger
1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
1 cup of raisins
1 cup of pine nuts
1 cup of vegetable oil
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of flour to dust the pan
For the icing: 4 tablespoons of butter, room temperature 8 ounces of mascarpone cheese 1 cup of powdered sugar.
Method: (Serves 8.)
Toast the pine nuts in a toaster or a small pan for a minute or two until the aroma is enhanced. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Use the tablespoon of butter to coat the inside of a 9X9 cake pan, then dust with flour. Take the shredded carrots and put in a microwave safe bowl. Add a tablespoon of water, cover and microwave for 1 minute to steam them and extract some of the colour. Let cool.
Use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a dash of salt. In another, and bigger, mixing bowl, use the electric mixer whisk to mix the sugar and eggs for 20 seconds. Next, while still running the electric mixer at a reasonably high speed, drizzle in the vegetable oil, very slowly at first. You are creating an emulsion so take your time to make sure the oil combines with the egg and sugar mixture before you speed up adding more oil.
Once the oil is incorporated, add the flour, carrots, raisins and pine nuts to the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, stir everything by hand until combined. Pour the cake batter into the cake pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick in the centre comes out clean.
Put the cake pan on a wire rack and cool for a couple of hours before starting on the icing. Make the icing by using an electric mixer to whip the butter, mascarpone and powdered sugar together until it lightens up and starts looking like icing, probably after about 1 minute. Put the icing on the cooled cake.
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
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.
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-causing 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.
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.
Purple Carrots Being Produced in Tasmania(news release Feb 2011)
A new Deep Purple carrot variety grown for national retail markets by Coastal carrot barons the Ertler brothers, of the family- owned business Premium Fresh Tasmania, is aimed at health-conscious consumers already asking retailers for purple carrots, which have been tough to source. The Forth vegetable growing and packing success story started by the Ertlers 11 years ago is now one of Australia's major carrot producers, supplying 10% of the domestic market.
The three Ertler brothers - Mike, Jim and Rick - say they are about four weeks away from when they will "revolutionise supermarket shelves" with their new Deep Purple carrot. It's the first time purple carrots will be readily available for retail sale across the country, the Ertlers say.
In the heart of the North- West's prime agricultural region, the Ertlers trialled a few different varieties of purple carrots over a number of years before getting to this point.
Mike Ertler describes their purple carrot as having "a very carroty flavour".
According to plant scientist Dr Hazel MacTavish-West, research suggests eating a purple carrot a day has the potential to protect against cardiovascular disease, inhibit cancer cells and reverse negative effects of a high-fat diet, among other benefits. It comes after a number of research projects indicated this, including last year's University of Southern Queensland study into the ancient carrot variety that found purple carrots were high in anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants.
Results of the pre-clinical trial on rats when fed a high-fat diet got fat, developed high blood pressure, became glucose intolerant and had liver and heart damage but after being fed purple carrot juice for several weeks everything was back to normal.
Purple carrots contained up to five times more phenolics and falcarinol than orange carrots and both compounds are being investigated for their potential to protect against cardiovascular disease, inhibit the development of cancer cells in the body and reverse the negative effects of high-fat diets.
Purple carrots are best eaten raw to get the maximum benefit but can still be steamed, boiled, roasted and juiced.
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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