Learn the science behind:
Carrots are orange, aren’t they? No, not necessarily! Purple and yellow carrots are a relatively new variation of carrots in our supermarket (at least in my perception, until I found out it’s actually the purple ones that were there before the orange ones). Most supermarkets still only sell the orange ones, but whenever I see the different colours, I tend to buy them. Why? Because I like trying new things, think it’s good if we don’t eat only one variety of crops and it makes your food look special!
That’s why I decided to use them for making a carrot cake, it gives the carrot cake a well deserved facelift and allows me to ramble a bit about science & carrots & colour. What else can a human being want?
Purple carrots – the origin story
It seems that purple carrots itself are nothing new to humanity. Instead, it’s the orange one that’s the most recent ones. Centuries ago carrots were already grown in the Middle East, however, they tended to be purple and yellow, not orange. Only a few centuries ago farmers started growing orange carrots instead of the fancier coloured ones. Apparently because they were easier to grow and more resistant towards the European climate.
On food colour science
The orange carrot has been developed by farmer through basic breeding principles and over the years this breeding has continued using nowadays knowledge. We now also know better how those colours of carrots are formed.
Colours in food (mostly fruits & vegetables) are widespread and fascinating to study. There are a lot of different colours all caused by different groups of molecules. It’s real chemistry. You will also see reoccuring patterns, so if you’ve read our post on tomatoes (yellow & red ones) or the one on oranges (why are they orange) you might hear some familiar terms.
Carrot colour science
So what molecules (or molecules groups) cause all these nice colours?
For orange carrots you might have heard. It is often said that eating carrots is good for your eyes and that is indeed true. The reason for the good eyes is actually the colour of the carrot. The colour orange is caused by β-carotene, a pre-cursor of vitamin A and vitamin A is beneficial for your eyes. β-carotene belongs to the large group of molecules called carotenoids.
Xantophylls are the molecules that give the yellow carrots their colour. A very common xanthophyll in carrots is lutein. Yellow carrots barely have the orange pigment orange carrots have. That said, since xantophylls also belong to the group of carotenoids, they do also contain high levels of this group as a whole. Also, just in case you’re wondering whether you should avoid the yellow ones since they contain less β-carotene and thus miht be less good for your eyes. Don’t worry, lutein is also beneficial for your eyes.
The purple colour of purple carrots is thanks to the anthocyanins. That said, purple carrots can actually contain more than twice the amount of β-carotene than orange carrots. The colour is simply overpowered by the strong purple hue from the anthocyanins.
Did you know by the way that you can actually eat too many carrots? It will result in too mcuh carotene in your body and you will turn orange. The cure is easy, just eat no more carrots and the orange hue will disappear again.
Non-orange carrots – Sensory Evaluation
To me, orange and purple and yellow carrots taste quite similar. I don’t tend to eat whole raw carrots though. I tend to use them in a variety of dishes. In that case they contribute to the overall flavour, but do not determine it completely.
The great thing about especially the purple carrots really is there colour. The colour is super strong, I would say you can compare it to that of beets. Using purple carrots in dishes will surely throw off your normal colour. It might look a little weird, but it does make dishes more exciting, I’ve had guests asking what those purple carrots are. Once I explained they’re ‘just’ carrots, they had a smile on their faces.
Same with this carrot cake. It looked a little weird for different, but it tasted great, just like a good carrot cake would.