Monday, 13 December 2010

Purple carrots


The noble carrot has long been known as an orange vegetable. Generations of people in the West have grown up believing that carrots are always orange. But as long ago as 2000 BC temple drawings from Egypt show a plant believed to be a purple carrot. It is also identified in the garden of the Egyptian King Merodach-Baladan in the eighth century BC.

In Roman times carrots were purple or white. By the 10th century purple carrots were grown in Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern Iran. Purple, white and yellow carrots were imported to southern Europe in the 14th century. Black, red and white carrots were also grown. Purple carrots were used as a clothing dye fro Afghan royalty.

Orange carrots arrived from natural mutations of yellow forms, and then by human selection and development, probably in the Netherlands. It is thought that humans made selections from a genepool involving yellow rooted eastern carrots, cultivated white-rooted derivatives of wild carrot (grown as medicinal plants since classical times) and wild unselected populations of adjacent Daucus Carota subspecies in Europe and the Mediterranean. It is thought that Dutch breeders used a mutant seed from North Africa to develop the orange variety into a stable and reliable plant for domestication.

Some scholars think that orange carrots did not to appear until the 16th century, although there is a Byzantine manuscript of 512 ad, and an 11th century illuminated script, both of which depict an orange rooted carrot, and suggesting it was around long before.

Orange roots, containing the pigment carotene, were not noted until the 16th century in Holland. A tale, probably apocryphal, has it that the orange carrot was bred in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century to honour William of Orange. Though the stabilised orange carrot does date from around seventeenth century Netherlands, it is unlikely that honouring William of Orange had anything to do with it!

Experts believe the colour comes from beta carotene with some alpha carotene, a pigment the body converts to Vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin and vision in dim light. Dutch breeders recently studied the health qualities of purple carrots and believe they give us extra protection against various forms of cancer and heart disease. They contain purple pigments called anthocyanins, and act as anti-oxidants that protect the body.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Reply to message