Carrots: Will Purple Reign Again?
While many people associate carrots with the color orange, the orange variety did not exist until around 400 years ago. Breeders in the Netherlands used traditional cross breeding between a yellow and red carrot to honor the House of Orange, the nation’s royal family. Within two hundred years, orange carrots became the most typical variety to Westerners as the Dutch marketed the carrots along with their popular tulips.
Today’s orange carrot is descended from a wild purple taproot native to Afghanistan. Cultivated by man thousands of years ago, purple carrots were being grown throughout Europe in the 1300s. By the 16th century, Europeans were growing red, yellow, and white varieties as well. Orange carrots were then introduced, eventually becoming the most common type in the West.
As has often been the case, nutritionally-superior varieties of produce got squeezed out of our food supply. Thankfully, there has been a resurgence in demand for multicolored carrots. Purple carrots are rich in anthocyanins, which are considered superior antioxidants to the beta-carotene in orange carrots. Anthocyanins are the same compounds that provide blueberries their color and renown health benefits. Purple carrots contain up to 28 times more of this antioxidant than their orange counterparts. Generally, lighter-colored varieties of produce have weaker healing capabilities than their red- or blue-colored ancestors. Not just carrots, other produce like broccoli and cauliflower have had their purpleness breaded out of our food chain.
Eating the rainbow
Eating a varied diet provides the body with a variety of micronutrients, which help support a healthy immune system. One study found that 76% of Americans do not get enough purple foods. Containing valuable phytonutrients like anthocyanins, resveratrol, phenolics, and flavanoids, purple produce fights cancer and prevents age-related memory loss. They are also beneficial to the heart, brain, bone, and arteries.
Let’s face it, reading labels and tabulating daily nutrient intake is tedious and a put-off. If you are mostly eating whole foods, there are few nutrition labels in your life anyways. Want to keep it simple? Eat the colors of the rainbow, making sure your meals contain a mix of foods with assorted colors. This eye test alone ensures that you are consuming a wide range of nutrients, even ones that have yet to be identified. With more and more people taking pictures of their food, you are assured of having prettier pictures too.
Scientists are more knowledgeable these days on the range phytonutrients and their benefits. However, experts maintain that it is complicated to precisely understand how they are absorbed and utilized by humans. Instead of focusing on specific foods or “healthy” preparations, strive for variety with your food. If it is mostly plant based, you are already at an advantage. Add more color, and you move to the head of the class.
Purple carrot varieties can vary as far as their shade of purple on the exterior. Their insides can be purple, orange, or even white. Like all vegetables, boiling leaches much of its vitamins into the water too. Additionally, purple carrots will lose much of their color if boiled. We recommend steaming them instead. Do not be afraid of sautéing or roasting with healthy fats either; carrots contain fat-soluble nutrients, and should be paired with fats for your body to best absorb them. While no color is lost if eating them raw, carrots provide increased antioxidant value when gently cooked, as softening them releases more nutrients for your body. Bon appétit.
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