Thursday, September 30, 2010

BetaSweet Carrots

As mentioned previously, we subscribe to a CSA and every other Thursday we go to what my son calls "the vegetable house" to pick up our box of produce.  The previous Friday I get to see what will be in our box and make up to 5 substitutions.  By the time Thursday rolls around, I've usually forgotten what is coming so it's like a big surprise.
Today truly WAS a surprise.  I opened up our box and right on top were PURPLE carrots.  I did not know there was such a thing and my son and I spent our 5 minute drive home discussing the idea of purple carrots.  I think he was confused.
When I got home, I immediately cleaned and peeled them so we could see what they were like on the inside.  They are definitely three-year-old-approved.  He was hesitant to take that first bite, but after he did, he ate about 70% of our purple carrot supply before dinner.  I discovered they taste pretty similarly to regular orange carrots, maybe a touch milder and more earthy.  White/yellow carrots (not to be confused with parsnips) taste a little bit zippy and sweet (can't think of how else to describe them) - these were nothing like that.
I was intrigued by the purple carrot, and aside from longing to grow them myself someday, I thought I would do a little research and figure out where they come from.  What I learned was fascinating!  Here's a direct quote from the Carrot Museum (yes, folks, there IS such a thing in England):
The gene responsible for purple or maroon colour is a natural one that has been around for many years and, in fact, has been segregated out and discarded when it appeared in order to retain the traditional orange colour for carrots. In 1989, three carrots grown from Brazilian seed were observed to have a blotchy maroon colour mixed with the normal range, which gave Dr Pike an idea. Initially, he planned to develop a maroon carrot for home gardeners, similar to the long lost wild carrot from Afghanistan.
He produced a maroon and deep orange Beta Sweet carrot, which matched the school's colours. Pike may have conceived this variety on a fanciful whim, but he soon learned that the purple pigment contained anthocyanins, which act as tough antioxidants, boosting the carrot's  nutritional properties. The irony here is that Pike has actually put back what growers, in the name of aesthetics, took out years ago. Naturally, carrots are either white or white with a purple rim, but the old breeders selected the orange carrot for its unconventional colouring! 
I find it completely amazing that we actually genetically-engineered the purple OUT of carrots in favor of orange!  Who knew?  So, if you ever see these in a grocery store, buy them!  They have 50% more beta carotene than regular orange carrots and a nice crispy texture.  On top of that, I think they are absolutely magical!  I love it when something like this perks my son's interest and he ends up eating his weight in carrots - particularly when he hasn't eaten anything in three days.  I hope these pop up in our box again!

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