Hoaxes & Rumors

When Carrots Were Purple

When Carrots Were Purple

For years, rumors have swirled around the internet that carrots used to be purple instead of orange. Today we take a closer look at the purple carrot.

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Purple Carrots

The carrot is a root vegetable which was originally purple, white, or cream colored. Evolutionary ancestors of the carrot likely originated in the area of Iran and Afghanistan, and this also appears to be where the carrot was first cultivated. However, wild carrots are thought to have grown throughout Europe for at least the last 5000 years.

The orange carrots that we are familiar with today are thought to have been bred in the Netherlands some 400 years ago, yet there does some to be some debate about when the orange carrot first appeared. The World Carrot Museum, which is an encyclopedic and well-cited source of information on carrots, claims that there are several archaic manuscripts (one dating back to the year 512) that describe orange carrots. It does appear that the Dutch were responsible to a large degree for the modern prevalence of the orange carrot, though.

17th Century Dutch Nationalists Crossbreed the Orange Carrot

According to several sources, orange carrots became commonplace approximately 400 years ago when Dutch growers purposely crossbred them. This was supposedly done as a political feat in honor of William of Orange, a member of the sovereign House of Orange who was a prominent figure in the struggle for Dutch independence.

Reintroduction of the Purple and Cream Carrot

A 2002 BBC news article describes how British farmers attempted to reintroduce a version of the purple carrot to English supermarkets. Even though the carrots were purple on the outside, they were still orange on the inside. These purple carrots were deemed a marketing failure, and a 2009 Daily Mail article reported that sales of the purple carrot plummeted when it was found that purple coloring leaked from the carrots into water in which they were being cooked.

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The Daily Mail article also describes the reintroduction of a cream-colored carrot which was organically grown in Scotland. This cream-colored carrot was said to be sweeter and less bitter than the orange breed of carrot.

Bottom Line

Carrots were originally purple, cream colored, or white. Although disputed by some sources, it is widely thought that the Dutch were largely responsible for breeding the common orange carrot roughly 400 years ago. A version of the purple carrot was unsuccessfully reintroduced to British grocery stores in 2002. In 2009, a cream-colored breed of carrot was revived for sale in Britain.

Updated September 20, 2015
Originally posted September 2014

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