Although these sweet root veggies have been around for thousands of years, the orange colored carrot didn’t exist before the 16th century. Until then, white, yellow, red and purple were the colors you would have found.
Not only are there still many colors available, some have been bred to be sweeter than in days gone by, to be more productive and to store better. There are both numerous hybrids and many heirloom varieties. Here’s just a few:
White: Varieties include White Satin, Lunar White, Snow White and Crème de Lite. These are the rarest seeds to find of all the colors available. Serve white carrots to your friends cooked with a little fresh dill, they are a beautiful and tasty sight.
Yellow: Considered by many to be the sweetest carrots, varieties include Amarillo, Yellowpak, Yellowstone and Jaune Obtuse du Doubs. The first time we encountered anything besides orange carrots was at a local restaurant. They served a combination of yellow and orange; one look at my plate and I knew I’d be ordering the seeds.
Red: Like many other red fruits and vegetables, red carrots are high in lycopene. This phytochemical is thought to be a healthy source for cancer prevention. The most common variety I have seen is Atomic Red, which has a very strong flavor. We like it because it holds up well in long-simmered soups.
Purple: Also high in lycopene, there are three main varieties of purple carrots. Purple Haze has an orange core, and Deep Purple is the same color throughout. Both lose some of their color when they’re cooked. Cosmic Purple has a yellow or orange core, and can take the heat and keep its color better.
Orange: The best known color and consequently the one with the most varieties available. The smallest orange carrots are the Parisian types, Tonda di Parigi, Parisienne and Atlas are some examples. These carrots only grow 1-2 inches.
Baby carrots are carrots developed to mature small, usually around 4 inches. Little Finger, Caracas and Mokum are the most common names you’ll find. What’s interesting about the Mokum is that it can be harvested early as a baby carrot or allowed to grow larger, the best of both worlds in one. This also lets you plant them a little closer together and harvest every other one as baby carrots.
Other varieties of carrots can grow to be 9 inches and longer. Carrots can take anywhere from 35-55 days for baby or early varieties, up to about 75 days from the time the seed germinates.
The hardest part of growing carrots is deciding which ones you want, since each one tastes a little different. Because of the renewed interest in different colors, a hybrid carrot has been developed called Rainbow. This is a single variety of carrot whose seeds will grow to be yellow, orange or white. Also, many seed companies are now offering packets that contain an assortment of seeds from different varieties. That’s a great way to start, until you decide you prefer one over the others.
In our case, we never have been able to choose.
—Gardening Jones is a master gardener and writer from Pennsylvania.
Keep your vegetable plants happy with advice from the book Carrots Love Tomatoes, all about companion planting.
Grow old-fashioned, super-tasty vegetables with The Beginner's Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables.