Shelby Ellison: You can find carrots in red, yellow, you can have some purple varieties and actually carrots, before they were domesticated, were white.
Sevie Kenyon: What would the difference be between one color and another?
Shelby Ellison: So typically, the color of carrot that you’re eating, it directly corresponds with the nutritional value or the nutritional compound found in that carrot. For instance, an orange carrot would be high in alpha and beta-carotene. A yellow carrot would be high in lutein and xanthophyll. A red carrot would be high in lycopene. Purple carrots have high levels of anthocyanins which are antioxidants and white carrots, while they don’t really confer much nutritional benefit, they’re very high in fiber.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, where are people going to encounter carrots other than orange carrots?
Shelby Ellison: Right now, one of the best places you can go to find a diversity of carrot colors is your local farmer’s market. You can also get them through community-supported agriculture. They’re growing many different varieties of carrots and some of the co-ops and smaller seed companies will sell heirloom varieties of different carrot colors.
Sevie Kenyon: For the home grower, is there anything they need to know about the different carrot varieties?
Shelby Ellison: Just a lot of them, because they’re more of the heirloom varieties, they’re not going to have the same uniformity that you’d find in a lot of the orange cultivars.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re looking for in your work?
Shelby Ellison: Because the colors do correspond with the nutritional content, I’m interested in looking at the genetics controlling each of these compounds. So understanding what gene or genes control beta-carotene accumulation in an orange carrot, or what controls lycopene accumulation in a red carrot and then through understanding the genetics of those traits you can make new improved varieties with improved nutritional quality.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, have we seen improved varieties on the market yet?
Shelby Ellison: There are improvements being constantly made through traditional breeding. There was a big change in the last twenty years or so where we started increasing the amount of beta carotene but now we are seeing if you’re adding the anthocyanins or the purple compounds into the orange varieties, you’re not only getting the benefit of the alpha and beta carotene in the orange carrot but you’re improving the antioxidants
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, look into your crystal ball, what do you see carrots looking like 5, 10, 20 years from now?
Shelby Ellison: We’re probably going to be seeing a lot more colors in the grocery stores. Just how people really like the idea of having the baby carrots, I think we’ll see more of the different colors in the baby carrot packages.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Shelby Ellison, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin Madison and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.