The Purple Carrot: A 17th Century Tale

When we think of carrots, we immediately associate them with the color orange. There’s even scientific proof that eating excessive amounts of carrots will temporary change the color of your skin to an orange shade. But carrots weren’t always orange. First cultivated in the 10th century on the territory of today’s Afghanistan, carrots would usually come in two or sometimes three colors. While there were mutations that were yellow or white, the purple carrot was the standard for quite a while.

How Carrots Turned from Purple to Orange

By the 16th century, Dutch farmers were known for growing the purple carrot, as well as those that came in one of the other two colors. The entire century was very tumultuous for Dutch people. When a man known as William the Silent inherited the rule of the town of Orange – which was named after the color orange, just like its citrus fruit namesake – his name became William of Orange. He was the ruler of the House of Orange, which led the Dutch in their uprising against the Spanish in the late 16th century.

Purple Carrot

Their victory in the fight for independence resulted in the formation of the Dutch Republic, ruled by the House of Orange. This brings us back to Dutch farmers and takes us to the early 17th century. Though this remains a legend, albeit a very credible one, the farmers in the Dutch Republic have started work on developing a new kind of carrots. They were rich in beta-carotene, which gave these carrots the orange color they have since become known for. It was the farmers’ way to pay tribute to their victorious leader.

Orange Carrots Become the New Standard

The Long Orange type of carrots was first introduced in the Dutch Republic in the early 1720s. Not long after, they started being produced in copious amounts. There were additional upsides to carrots rich with beta-carotene which contributed to their popularity: they tasted better and didn’t release natural colorants known as anthocyanins in the cooking process. Dutch farmers soon stopped cultivating the purple carrot for mass consumption, effectively turning orange carrots into the new standard.

It’s safe to say that – at least according to this legend – carrots turned orange for political reasons. Four centuries later, they are still orange and are cultivated throughout the world. Though carrots naturally grow in other different colors, you won’t find them in your local supermarket or grocery store. The purple carrot is still around, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it unless you’re growing it yourself.

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