Why are carrots orange? It is political

Van Mensvoort
August 16th 2009

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).

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31 comments

Charlotte
Posted 22/04/2020 – 23:42

Thank you so much for your research; I would never have thought of carrots as anything but orange, now I have to see if I can find the other varieties. I know that tomatoes come in different colors and those are coming back as Heritage Tomatoes. It's strange eating a white tomato that tastes like a red one; we usually think of white tomatoes as just beginning to ripen. Thanks again for all your hard work.
God Bless,
Charlotte

John Stolarczyk, Curator of the World Carrot Museum
Posted 16/04/2020 – 12:23

Please do quote the World Carrot Museum as your source.

These "quotes" are NOT true and not sourced from the Museum

1. 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. - the dutch myth is exploded in the Museum - there is NO documentary evidence for it.

2. Presumably crosses between Eastern (purple), Western (white, red) and perhaps wild carrots led to the formation of the orange rooted carrot sub species.

Orange carrots were developed from yellow varieties. Current genetic research has prove this categorically. Orange varieties probably originated in Spain from seeds and plants from the Arab world.

Yellow White and Purple carrots have not been "wiped out in a generation" - where did this "fact" come from? All SIX colours regularly appear in stores and farmers markets, week in and out!

Van Mensvoort
Posted 19/04/2020 – 10:53

Thank you for pointing this out John. Please note that this story was written over 10 years ago and back then the Carrot Museum page it sources had less information. https://web.archive.org/web/20090321072932/http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history5.html I have now updated the page with the updated information that the orange carrot was most probably bred by the Dutch long before orange became their national color. Hope this is helpful.

Also it is is striking that today you can find multiple colors in supermarkets. In 2009 when the story was written it was orange all over. Same with tomatoes that back then were mainly Ferrari red, but can nowadays be bought in many more sizes and colors. It is good to see diversity increased there.

John Stolarczyk
Posted 21/04/2020 – 10:46

Not strictly true. That archived page actually shows a photo of the multi colored carrots. I have been growing them since before the millenium and have been in the stores since then.

Van Mensvoort
Posted 21/04/2020 – 11:05

Sure John, the colored carrots were grown and available in many regions of the world. But am I right to think the have become more popular in supermarkets over the last decade, or is that just my perceptual bias?

Oliver
Posted 03/04/2020 – 11:12

What does the wind do?

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