You may have noticed by now that not all carrots are orange. Purple, white, yellow, and red carrots seem to be increasing in number each season. You can see them in seed catalogs, at farmers markets, and even in some supermarkets. It turns out that those rainbow colors also pack a wide range of antioxidants.
Until a few years ago, I avoided multi-colored carrots because I assumed
they would not have as much beta carotene as the orange ones. But then I did a little bit of research (10 minutes at least) and
learned that purple, red, yellow, and white carrots each offer something
important for your diet. As we have learned with other foods, it's all
about colors, and for optimum health, we should be eating the full
rainbow range of fruits and vegetables. And before you dismiss colored
carrots as a new, over-hybridized invention, apparently purple and
yellow carrots have been around, nourishing certain civilizations, for
at least 1,000 years. The wild ancestors of domesticated carrots
actually had red or purple roots. (My sources here are USDA/ARS and the
Carrot Museum in the UK.)
So here are some of the nutrients linked to the rainbow of pigments:
Purple carrots are not lacking in beta carotene (the Vitamin A source). In fact, some of them have even more carotene than orange carrots; it's just hidden by the purple. They
also have the same anthocyanins (with the purple pigment) that make
blueberries and other dark fruits so rich in antioxidants. Red carrots
have lots of lycopene, just like tomatoes. If you've followed the news
and nutritional research at all the last few years, you must know that
lycopene is an extremely powerful weapon against cancer and heart
disease. Yellow carrots have xanthophylls, which are pigments similar to
beta carotene that are quite good for eye health.
What about white
carrots? No pigments there. But if you try a bundle
of multi-colored carrots from a farmer's market, you may find that the white
carrots are the sweetest ones...so they may have some redeeming
value (along with, no doubt, plenty of minerals and fiber). In fact, each color of carrot tends to have a slightly unique flavor to it as well, which provides another reason to try them all.
Consider planting a rainbow mix of carrot colors this year! Most seed companies sell packets of multicolored seeds or sell the seeds of each colors separately. Try a Google or Yahoo search for "rainbow carrot seeds" and several of these will pop up. I have seen these packets on the seed racks at some nurseries as well, so you may be able to find what you need locally.