Are There Red Carrots?

Red, orange and white carrots were the first colors to make it into western cuisine. It is possible that your ancestors grew and harvested these very colorful carrots before the orange variety was dominant in society.
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bundle of carrots on wet reflective black fresh local organic artisanal farm grown produce jeffersonville, georgia

Photo by: Nathan E Jones

Nathan E Jones

Red carrots are what ancestors in the United States may have experienced or grew in their own garden.

Carrots were first cultivated in Afghanistan approximately 1,100 years ago and the flesh of these carrots was purple. It wasn’t until the 16th century when the Dutch starting selecting specific carrot seeds that bred specifically for an orange colored carrot. Prior to this time carrots were broken down into two categories:

1.    Eastern/Asiatic Carrots

The taproots of these carrots had traditional purple flesh due to the anthocyanins which are naturally occurring pigments in the tissue of the plant. Yellow carrots were also part of this grouping. The foliage was typically grey-green and these varieties had a tendency to bolt quicker than newer genetics.

2.    Western Carrots

The taproots of these carrots were red, orange or white. It is thought that this group derived from the Eastern carrots through selection. The red and orange carrots are considered natural mutations of yellow carrots. Western carrots were also referred to as carotene carrots and are thought to have been first cultivated in the Netherlands during the 16th or 17th century. White carrots are the closest related to the wild carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace) in coloration.

Red carrots are high in lycopene which is another form of carotene. Lycopene is also found in tomatoes and watermelon. Each different color carrot has nutritional properties that cause the colors in them. For instance, purple carrots are high in anthocyanins and orange carrots are high in beta-carotene. Whether you’re eating one color or the other, they are all extremely beneficial for the body.

Here are some varieties of red carrots to give a try in your garden:

‘Red Samurai’ – This is a Japanese plant introduction. The carrot has red flesh with a pink center making it a favorite among children. With a relatively quick harvest time of 60 days after sowing this variety is great for successive plantings. This variety is said to be sweet and crunchy – even keeping its color when cooked, which is not true of all colored vegetables (i.e. such as purple beans). 

‘Atomic Red’ – As with all red carrots, this variety is high in lycopene giving it the red color that many love and rave about. Lycopene is a proven antioxidant that is full of beneficial qualities to ward off diseases. If you don’t like tomatoes, try eating red carrots instead to get your daily lycopene intake. Mixing this with purple carrots on a crudité platter will make the best conversation starter at any gathering. 

‘Pusa Rudhira Red’ – Gorgeous, new variety coming out of India from a world renowned vegetable plant breeder. This variety has red flesh and the center looks like a work of art creating almost a bulls-eye type pattern with varying shades of red and orange. Many gardeners have stated the flavor is superior to other varieties that they have grown. A great variety to grow - see how your taste buds respond to the flavor. 

‘Kyoto Red’ – This variety is tender, sweet and ideal for juicing. Grown in Kyoto area of Japan this carrot has finally made it over the pond for U.S. gardeners to grow in their own veggie plots. Producing a good yield of carrots that are 12 inches long and harvested at about 90 days this variety is sure to please. Try growing multiple red carrot seeds to see which one you and your family like the best and has the deepest red color. 

‘Sunrise Red’ – A very attractive variety that has red skin and flesh. Sweet and juicy in taste making it ideal for raw uses such as salad and snacking. Roots are 12 to 15 inches in length and can be harvested typically 80 days after planting. 

Red carrots can often be found quite readily in Asian produce markets or stands and are often referred to as ‘Pakistani’ carrots. Middle Eastern cultures have been using red carrots since the 12th century. Often pickled red carrots or red carrot preserves are easy to find. Try something new today either by picking up red carrots or planting them yourself.

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