No, the image above does not show some collection of freshly genetically designed hypercarrots in various colors of the rainbow. This is the spectrum of colors carrots used to have – and in some regions of the world you can still find white, yellow, red and purple carrots. In most countries however, carrots tend to be orange nowadays. Why is that?
Allegedly they are orange for entirely political reasons: in the 17th century, Dutch growers are thought to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the the struggle for Dutch independence – and the color stuck. A thousand years of yellow, white and purple carrot history, was wiped out in a generation.
Dutch growers are thought to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – and the color stuck.
Although some scholars doubt if orange carrots even existed prior to the 16th century, they now form the basis of most commercial cultivators around the world. Presumably crosses between Eastern (purple), Western (white, red) and perhaps wild carrots led to the formation of the orange rooted carrot sub species. Turkey is often cited as the original birthplace of the hybrids (or mutations) of the two groups.
Whatever the origins, the Long Orange Dutch carrot, first described in writing in 1721, is the forebear of the orange Horn carrot varieties so abundant nowadays. The Horn Carrot derives from the Netherlands town of Hoorn in the neighborhood of which it was presumably bred. All our modern, western carrots ultimately descend from these varieties. Hypernature avant la lettre.
Update april 2020: Since the original story was published in 2009, new genetic research concludes the Dutch probably cultivated the orange carrot in the 16 century already – Holland was the leading agricultural nation at the time and it would take decades for a new variety to stabilize. After the Dutch adopted orange as its the national color, the orange carrots was added to the list of items “dedicated” to the royal family. The orange carrot came first - the Royal family dedication second. Source: Carrot Museum (original 2009 source).