The carrots we enjoy in dishes like fried rice, jollof rice, and salads were not always the orange hue that we now recognise.
They underwent a complete transformation from a deep purple shade to the bright orange we are familiar with today.
Their evolution story is quite an interesting one: Carrots (Daucus carota) have been cultivated for centuries, and their origins traced back to the region that is now Afghanistan. These ancient carrots were not orange but rather purple or white as shown below.
Early domesticated carrots were more slender and had a somewhat woody texture compared to the succulent and sweet carrots we enjoy today.
So, how did carrots transition from purple to orange?
The unexpected colour transition
The change in carrot colour can be attributed to a term known as “artificial selection.” This is the process where humans intentionally choose and cultivate certain plants or animals with desirable traits, leading to changes in the population over time. In the case of carrots, orange varieties were preferred and selectively bred for their sweeter taste and brighter colour.
The story takes an interesting turn in the 16th century when Dutch horticulturists undertook the task of developing orange carrots. This was not merely a coincidence but rather a tribute to the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange-Nassau.
By selectively breeding carrots with the highest levels of carotenoids (the pigments responsible for the orange colour), they successfully developed the orange carrots we use today.
The rainbow of carrot colours
Although the orange carrot is prevalent, a diverse range of colours still exists.
Purple, white, red, yellow, and even black carrot varieties are available for sale, but they are considered exotic as they are not as common and widely accepted as orange carrots.
Let’s touch on its nutritional benefits
Carrots are packed with nutrients. They are a great source of dietary fibre, which supports digestive health, and they contain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium.
It’s advisable to eat more carrots as they come with many health benefits.