Spectrum: Not all carrots are orange...

Spectrum: Not all carrots are orange...

Four different types of carrots grown by a farmer couple in Anekal taluk. Photos by G Krishnaprasad

Carrots that are traditionally common to Asia are black, purple, pink, and red shades, with yellow or orange cores. In the 17th century, Dutch breeders developed an orange carrot that, history suggests, caught on with the consumers. And the traditional, more colourful carrots were tossed aside for these sweetish ones.

Now after four centuries, these heirloom varieties are grown on a farm at Halehalli in Anekal taluk. The local farmers here are experts at growing carrots. “For generations, we have grown carrots and know how to get quality produce,” says Anjenappa, a farmer. But growing carrots gradually lost its charm as it ceased to be a profitable crop. In the last couple of years, the villagers have shown interest in growing vegetables, and an organic farmers collective called ‘Sahaja Savayava Tarakari Belagarara Sangha’ markets around one tonne of vegetables every day. 

Once vegetable cultivation became popular, these farmers started reviving heirloom varieties. Anjenappa and his wife, Susheelamma, came forward to experiment with carrots. They sourced the seeds through Sahaja Samrudha organisation, and Ankura Savayava Mahila Sangha, which manages the community seed bank at Mayasandra in the taluk. The group provided technical support to grow carrots of four different colours, black, orange, red, yellow, and a hybrid variety for comparison.

The carrots were sown in the first week of January on 15 guntas of land. Each variety was sown in two rows. The carrot diversity plot was taken for participatory varietal selection and the idea of growing carrots of different colours attracted farmers from surrounding villages. Every farmer who visited was curious to taste the carrots and also requested for seeds, says Muniraju, Anjenappa’s son.

The varietal selection of four types of carrots was organised in April to learn which variety performs well on the farm and identify farmers’ preferences. Varietal preference is a carefully weighed balance between production and consumption possibilities.

Consumers, technical experts and knowledgeable farmers from different areas, who have been growing carrots for generations, were asked to tag the preferred variety based on different aspects like pest and disease tolerance, good yield, adaptability to current climatic conditions, cooking quality, nutrition, taste and marketability. Pigmentation was another trait that was discussed as the black pigment found in black carrots makes them ideal for use as a source of natural food colouring. The nutrients in black carrot that are responsible for the unique colour are anthocyanins, which have several health benefits such as the potential for treating Alzheimer disease and cancer.

All the varieties were cooked on that day. There was black, red, yellow and orange halwa, kosambri (salad with lentils), a stir-fry of vegetables, a mixed carrot juice with a dash of lime and chilli, and gratings and slices of raw carrots. After the participatory assessment, the first place went to black carrot, followed by the orange and yellow ones. Here are the distinct characteristics of carrots with different colours:

Red carrots: Dark pinkish red to purplish red carrots grow to about eight inches long and have a strong flavour. It has a thin outer layer and the core is pink to orange with very thin lines, similar to sunrays. This variety is sweeter than regular carrots. 

Yellow carrots: These tubers are firm, slender, crunchy, and have the aroma of a native variety of mango. 

Orange carrots: Although the roots are shorter than other cultivars, they are the juiciest among the carrot varieties. They have high market potential as they are soft, crunchy, suitable for juices, and are tasty both when raw and cooked.

Black carrots: It has smooth and large roots. Liked for its flavour, it holds well even when harvested late, doesn’t rot, and has a good shelf life.

While consumers are increasingly looking for a wholesome diet, the coloured carrots will help people ‘eat a variety of colours’ and optimise their health benefits. The new flavours and colours can make eating carrots interesting and fun. To know more about coloured carrots, contact Siddu Banakar on 9591760372.

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