If you gave a child an outline of a carrot and asked them to colour it in, they’d likely choose an orange crayon. In fact, many adults would do the same. Except for me…mine would be purple. Just like in in grade 1 when we were given an outline of grapes, I was the only one who coloured mine green (much to the amusement of my teacher and classmates). Grocers all over Melbourne are stocking purple carrots these days and if it weren’t for the packaging label “The Original Carrot,” we might think it was some crazy hybrid, but in fact, purple was the original colour of the cultivated carrot prior to the late 16th century. I, for one, am ecstatic about its reintroduction—there’s just something magical about it. Like heirloom tomatoes, it makes me feel like I’m stepping back in time to a world I have never known. Ok, maybe that’s a stretch, but they are beautiful to look at (unless it’s the residual effect left on your teeth after consuming them raw!) and they actually taste divine.
A bit of carrot history for you: Carrots were first cultivated in Afghanistan in the pre-900s and were purple and sometimes a yellow mutant would crop up. By the 1300s these colourful characters had spread to Europe where other colours began to emerge—primarily red and white. By the 16th century, Dutch growers took mutant strains of the purple carrot and developed the plump orange variety we’ve all grown up with.
Orange carrots have long been known for their high levels of beta-carotene (a name derived from, you guessed it—the carrot), the precursor to vitamin A, which we need for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and eye health and vision. But what about purple carrots? Do they have the same benefits?
Purple carrots not only contain higher levels of beta-carotene than orange varieties, but they also contain anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that has demonstrated potential health effects against inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, bacterial infections, aging and neurological disease and even cancer.
So now you know how great purple carrots are for you…but how do they taste? I actually find them far more enjoyable than orange carrots. While technically not as sweet, they have a nice earthy flavour. You’ll notice purple carrots are much more “woody” than their orange cousins which means they hold their structure more in cooking. Here I’ve paired them with another heirloom variety, prepared simply for roasting with a bit of olive oil, cumin seed, a pinch of pink salt and freshly ground pepper. They make a great side dish finished with fresh coriander or parsley and the occasional decadence of goat cheese. Make them the feature in a vegetarian meal with other roast veggies tossed with a bit of quinoa.