Most people hear “carrot” and immediately picture a familiar orange vegetable. But carrots also come in red, yellow, purple and white. In fact, some researchers say the first domesticated carrots–developed in the region of what is now Afghanistan–were yellow and purple. Red carrots remain popular in Japan.
A Cooperative Extension specialist in Wisconsin has studied the carotenoids, which produce different colors in different carrot strains. Carrots of all colors are good sources of vitamin A. Beyond that, different colors have different health benefits that are described below.
New varieties of colorful carrots are being introduced and older strains are being improved all the time. Try planting a small number several of non-orange carrots and find out which ones have the taste and texture that appeal to you. Note that non-orange carrots often have a coarser texture than their orange counterparts.
We’ve done the research and gathered the variety recommendations from the University Cooperative Extension sites, the Sacramento County (CA) master gardeners, and a Maine-based consumer-run seed co-op. Here are the health benefits of rainbow carrots and rainbow carrot varieties to try:
Red Carrots: Health Benefits and Varieties
Red carrots are rich in lycopene, which may help to prevent some cancers. They hold their color well when cooked. They tend to be less sweet than orange carrots and may taste slightly starchy.
‘Atomic Red’ is a 4-6″ Imperator-type (small-core, tapered) open-pollinated carrot. The Minnesota Cooperative Extension and the Sacramento County Master Gardeners say it grows well for them, and Fedco, the seed co-op, praises its sweetness when cooked but notes that it’s susceptible to the fungal disease Pythium.
‘Deep Red’ is listed as a successful variety by the Minnesota Cooperative Extension.
‘Red Samurai’ are long, tapering carrots (up to 11″) recommended by the Sacramento County Master Gardeners.
‘Scarlet Keeper’ grows 7-9″ long blunt-tipped roots that keep well through the winter in the root cellar, though their fresh eating flavor is sub-ideal according to the seed co-op.
Purple Carrots: Health Benefits and Varieties
Purple carrots are rich in anthocyanin, an anti-oxidant that can help to prevent heart disease. They may have a rich, spicy taste and tend to be less sweet than orange carrots. They lose much of their color when cooked.
‘Deep Purple,’ a 7″ tapering carrot, is recommended by the Minnesota Cooperative Extension.
‘Purple Dragon,’ a 6″ yellow-cored carrot, is recommended by the Sacramento County Master Gardeners.
‘Purple Haze,’ a 7″ tapered hybrid orange-cored carrot, is recommended by the Minnesota Cooperative Extension, master gardeners in California, and Fedco Seeds in Maine. Flavor improves with cooking and it’s almost as smooth-textured as an orange carrot.
The Minnesota Cooperative Extension recommends ‘Purple Rain,’ which one grower praises for being purple right into the core.
Yellow Carrots: Health Benefits and Varieties
Yellow carrots contain high levels of lutein, which promotes eye health and may also help to prevent macular degeneration and certain forms of cancer. They tend to have a crisp, juicy texture.
‘Yellow Pak,’ a uniform tapering 8″ carrot, is recommended by the Minnesota Cooperative Extension.
‘Yellowstone,’ an open-pollinated carrot, grows big-shouldered 7″ roots with greenish-yellow cores. The Sacramento master gardeners and Fedco recommend it. The seed co-op praises its taste and adaptability to different soils.
‘Yellow Sun,’ a 6″ carrot which some say tastes better cooked than raw, is recommended by the Minnesota Cooperative Extension. It may bolt (go to seed) in cold weather.
White Carrots: Health Benefits and Varieties
White carrots have less carotene than any of the colored varieties, but they’re high in fiber and tend to have a rich strong flavor and crisp juicy texture.
‘White Satin,’ a hybrid with 8″ regularly shaped tapering roots, is recommended by the Sacramento master gardeners and by Fedco, the seed co-op, which praises its sweetness and mildness, says it’s less hairy than other white carrots they’ve tried, and notes that it develops 1″ green shoulders at maturity.
The Sacramento master gardeners also reported success with ‘Lunar White,’ a mild-flavored 8″ variety.