Why Carrots Are Orange and Not Purple

published Jul 29, 2014
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: shutterstock, Alenanex)

At the grocery store you probably see only two kinds of carrots: baby carrots, and the long ones with the green tops. Both of them are orange. If you’re lucky, you might see a couple colorful carrots at your farmers market that are white, yellow, and purple (maybe).

But did you know that orange carrots weren’t always the norm? In fact, purple carrots were much more prominent before the 16th century. The history of orange carrots is surprising and a little mysterious. Here’s the story on how they came to be.

Some Byzantine artwork suggests that orange carrots may have existed before the 16th century, but even if they did, they were extremely rare. The more common carrots were white or purple, near relatives of tough and astringent wild roots.

It is said that the orange carrot was developed in the Netherlands to pay homage to William of Orange, but there is no evidence to support this claim. It’s pretty clear, though, that the Dutch developed and then stabilized the orange carrot from the yellow carrot in the 16th and 17th century.

And why the orange carrot? The most likely theory holds that it’s all about taste. Because orange carrots taste better, since they are sweet, they were favored over purple carrots. Purple carrots also stained cookware, whereas orange do not.

Like other fruits and vegetables that have evolved over time through direct intervention of growers and breeders, the carrot looks quite a bit different from its ancestors. And that’s why your carrot sticks are orange, and not purple.

Read More: History of Carrots: A Brief Summary & Timeline at the World Carrot Museum