Carrot color is rich in nutrition. Orange is the most familiar carrot color, but there are many colorful carrots: yellow, red, purple, and white. All are healthy eating. All are easy additions to the home garden.
The first domesticated carrots—cultivated in Afghanistan more than 1,100 years ago–were white. Breeding over the past 900 years has resulted in today’s diversity of color, shapes, and flavors.
Carrot Color Explained
Carrot color is determined by two groups of pigments: carotenoids, which produce red, yellow, and orange hues; and anthocyanins, which develop the color purple.
Carotenoids and anthocyanins are phytonutrients. Phytonutrients act as antioxidants that counter free radicals in the human body helping to protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Carotenoids include alpha- and beta-carotene which help support vision health and boost the immune system.
Carrot Color and Nutrition
Here’s how carrot colors are healthy:
- Orange carrots contain alpha- and beta-carotene; these pigments are converted into vitamin A which helps bolster the immune system and supports healthy vision.
- Yellow carrots contain lutein a carotenoid pigment that is believed to prevent macular degeneration, an eye disease.
- Red carrots contain lycopene, a carotenoid pigment that helps prevent prostate cancer.
- Purple carrots contain anthocyanins which help prevent cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
- White carrots are white because they lack pigment; white carrots contain beta-carotene like orange carrots (but less).
Best Carrots Varieties to Grow
Carrots grow best in dry, light soil rich in well-rotted compost or manure added a month or two before planting. Grow carrots in soil free from debris, pebbles, and rocks to avoid forking or constricted growth. Start carrots in spring or grow year-round in successive planting in mild winter regions.
Here are easy-to-grow varieties by color:
- Chantenay Red Cored: golden orange skin: 5 to 7 inches long; 2 inches at the shoulder; grows well in heavy soil; resists splitting and forking: 70 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Danvers 126: 6 to 7 inches long and about 2 inches at the shoulder; smooth skin; very good storage carrot; resists cracking and splitting; strong tops make it easy to pull from the garden; introduced in 1947, an improved Danvers Half Long; 73 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Danvers Half Long: old standard American carrot dating to 1870s; 7 inches long; good flavor; adaptable and dependable; 70 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Imperator 58: deep-orange skin; 6 to 7 inches long tapered to the blunt point; excellent flavor when eaten raw; improved version of All-American Selection winter in 1933; original Imperator is a cross between Nantes and Chantenay; 75 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Kurdo Long 8: deep orange; 7 to 9 inches long; stubby cylindrical roots; mild and sweet flavor; excellent for juicing; grow well in all climates; 75 to 80 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Little Fingers: deep orange skin; three inches long, half-inch across at shoulders; blunt tip; smooth skin; small core; harvest young and tender as a baby gourmet carrot; 60 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Scarlet Nantes: bright orange; 4 to 6 inches long; slender and slightly tapered; sweet, crisp, and flavorful; first introduced in 1870; developed near Nantes, France from an old variety called Half Long Stump Rooted; 68 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Royal Chantenay: reddish-orange skin; 5 to 7 inches long; cylindrical with stump tip; good grower in heavy or shallow soil; good for canning, drying, or freezing; good juicing carrot; 70 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Tendersweet: rich orange, smooth skin; 6 inches long; cylindrical; sweet, tender, and nearly coreless; a good choice for cooking, canning, pickling, baking, and juicing; heirloom variety; 75 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Amarillo Yellow: pale lemon-yellow root; bright yellow flesh; 8 inches long; mild flavor; crunchy and juicy; 75 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Jaune De Doub: yellow to light orange skin; conical root; strong sturdy stems easy to pull from the garden; heirloom dates from 16th century Europe; good storage carrot; 63 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Solar Yellow: buttery yellow flesh; 6 to 7 inches long; sweet and crisp; Danvers-type heirloom dating to 900s; 60 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Atomic Red: brilliant red skin; 8 inches long; crisp and flavorful; best cooked; color deepens with cooking; heirloom; 75 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Nutri-Red: salmon-red skin; 9 inches long; slim root; Imperator type; robust carrot flavor; color intensifies with cooking; 70 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- St. Valery (also called James Scarlet): bright orange-red skin; 10 to 12 inches long; sweet and tender; dates to 1885 in France; 80 to 90 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Cosmic Purple: purple skin with deep orange flesh; 6 to 7 inches long; sweet flavor; crunchy; released in 2005; developed from old heirloom60 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Dragon: vivid purple skin with bright orange flesh; 6 to 8 inches long; a smokey flavor that can be bitter raw but is spicy delicious cooked; 80 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Lunar White: creamy-white skin; 6 to 8 inches long; small core; mild, delicious flavor; heirloom originated in Northern Europe in the 1600s; 65 to 75 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
- Snow White: creamy-white skin; 7 to 8 inches long; mild-sweet flavor with crunch; good raw or cooked; 75 days to harvest; open-pollinated.
Carrot Growing Tips
Carrot Seed Starting: Sow seeds in spring 3 weeks before the last expected frost and every 2 weeks after that. For the autumn harvest, sow seed about 10 weeks before the first hard frost is expected. Carrots started in autumn can be protected from winter cold by a thick layer of straw or compost and then harvested in early spring. Carrots that mature in the summer heat are usually bitter tasting. Protect seed and young seedlings from drying temperatures by covering the planting bed with a floating row cover. Thin seedlings from 1 to 2 inches apart once they are about 3 inches tall.
Carrot Growing: Grow carrots in well-worked, light soil free of pebbles and rocks. Grow carrots in raised or mounded beds when native soil is heavy with clay. Keep the garden free of weeds which will compete with carrots for nutrients and moisture. Don’t grow carrots where you grew potatoes, beets, parsnips, celery, eggplants, tomatoes, or peppers the year before.
Carrot Harvesting: Harvest carrots before the soil freezes or protect the soil from freezing by covering the bed in thick mulch. Heavy mulch will protect roots from rotting; roots can be pulled throughout winter whenever needed.
Carrot Seed Saving: Carrots are biennials; they will flower in their second season of growth. Leave a few plants in the garden until the second season to produce seeds. Allow plants to die and dry in place then seeds will easily shake from the plant. Carrots are insect-pollinated; carrots allowed to flower should be isolated from other varieties as well as wild relatives such as Queen Anne’s Lace to avoid cross-pollination.
More carrot growing tips: