Carrot season is upon us! Depending on your growing zone, you may be selecting, sowing or harvesting a tasty carrot crop at this time. Actually, carrot season is nearly always upon us; this is part of what makes it such a beloved garden staple. Due to the carrot’s long storage ability and its cold hardiness, one can enjoy fresh local carrots just about all season long. Hurray!
What’s not to love about these nutrient dense root vegetables? They add color to the winter palette, they are high in antioxidants and can aid in digestion and dental health. Carrots come in a wide range of colors, and each hue has a host of specific nutritional benefits. Consider growing a carrot rainbow in your garden this season to harness the health promoting properties of each color.
The domesticated carrot that we know today originated in Afghanistan 1,100 years ago. Those original carrot ancestors were not orange, as one might expect, but yellow and purple. The cultivation of carrots spread east and west from Afghanistan, with red and purple carrots becoming most popular in Asia, and yellow and eventually orange carrots dominating in Europe.
Red carrots originated in India and China, and are high in lycopene, an antioxidant also present in tomatoes and watermelons. Lycopene has been linked to the prevention of cancers including prostate and breast cancer. Lycopene is also beneficial to heart health and the prevention of heart disease, keep in mind that this healthful antioxidant must bind to a fat molecule in order to be taken up and used in your body. The Atomic Red carrot is a vivid red colored variety that has a spicy flavor to it. Try roasting Atomic Red carrots in olive oil to harness the heath benefits of the lycopene.
Yellow carrots originated in the Middle East, and contain high levels of lutein and xanthophyll, which are both linked to eye health, including the prevention of cataracts and macular degeneration. Studies have shown that carrots, particularly yellow and orange colored varieties, have a strong impact on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. The Amarillo carrot has a brilliant yellow color and sweet flavor; these make a great fresh eating snack carrot.
White carrots are of European origin, and were the European precursor to the orange carrot. White carrots are an excellent source of fiber, which helps to fight against colon cancer. Phytochemicals present in white carrots may also be helpful in reducing the risk of build-up in the arteries as well as preventing some cancers. Snow White is a favorite white variety that has an incredible mild and sweet flavor.
Purple carrots have the most ancient carrot pigment. The ancestral carrots grown in Afghanistan were a similar hue. Purple carrots present a host of benefits. They are high in anthocyanin (although not as high as the black carrot); they also have been shown to be a good source of fiber and to help lower cholesterol. Purple carrots have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as anti-carcinogenic properties, which help to reduce the risk of cancer. Because they contain high amounts of vitamin A, they can help to prevent clogging of arteries. Cosmic Purple carrots are the best tasting purple variety available. They have a spicy-sweet flavor that makes them an outstanding fresh eating variety, and they are no doubt one of the most beautiful carrots around.
The Orange carrot has obviously withstood the test of time as having the most popular carrot color. The orange colored carrot was first bred in the Netherlands in the 17th century. Orange carrots are famous for their high levels of betacarotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body and helps with vision health. Vitamin A also helps the white blood cells fight infections.The Oxheart carrot is a delicious old French variety that is a great keeper, and the short stout shape makes it a perfect carrot variety for dense clayey or rocky soil.
Last but not least, the real unsung hero in the carrot rainbow is the color green, I am referring to the carrot tops of course; they are edible and very good for you. They are high in vitamin K, which is crucial for bone health; they are also extremely potassium rich which can help to lower blood pressure and help prevent osteoporosis. Carrot greens are usually overlooked or considered poisonous (wrong!). This in such a shame. Why waste these nutrient packed greens when they make a lovely addition to salads and benefit your health.
So this season when selecting carrot varieties, consider adding a range of colors to jazz up your crudite, and bolster your immune system.There is no time like the present to give your soil a good fluff and start dreaming up your rainbow carrot patch.