Over 20 years ago, scientists at ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit began breeding carrots to get higher levels of the orange pigment beta-carotene. The result? The bred carrots contained 75% more beta-carotene, thus making them more attractive for human consumption.
This same logic has now been used by a group of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by plant geneticist Dr. Philipp Simon, to breed red, purple, yellow, and even white carrots. These carrots do more than bring vibrant colors to a salad; the plant pigments provide many health benefits and may even help in preventing certain cancers.
Let’s start with the original orange carrots. They contain powerful antioxidants – such as vitamins A and C, carotenoids, and bioflavonoids – that aid in maintaining the body’s memory, heart, and urinary tract functions. The anthocyanins and phenolics in purple carrots contain phytochemicals, which are also said to promote healthy memory and urinary tract functions, as well as aide in the aging process. Yellow carrots build up xanthophylls, pigments similar to beta-carotene, that support vision health. White carrots contain allicin and other phytochemicals that help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels. The multiple benefits of these colorful carrots provide a great incentive for consumers to buy them.
Though many of us may think of red, yellow, and white carrots as unusual, Simon says that “purple and yellow carrots were eaten more than 1,000 years ago in Afghanistan and 700 years ago in Western Europe, but the carrot breeding process has gone on intensively for just 50 years.” Soon enough, these colorful carrots will not seem so strange anymore.