The Root Rainbow

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By Heidi Lewis

An old children’s classic, The Story of the Root-Children, tells of how, in spring, Mother Earth awakens the sleepy little root babies that live underground and sets them to sew new clothes and clean and paint the beetles and bugs. They emerge from their underground home dressed in new rainbow capes and pointed caps and run off to play in the ponds and meadows.

Wintertime carrots can offer a glimpse of a springtime rainbow. Since most of us grew up with orange carrots, it may surprise you to learn that the first carrots cultivated (likely in  Afghanistan) thousands of years ago were thought to be purple or yellow. Throughout the ages there have been white and red carrots as well. It was the Dutch who, in patriotic allegiance to the House of Orange (the Dutch Royal family), propagated the bright orange variety that is commonplace today.

Rainbow carrots offer a wide spectrum of micronutrients: orange is the signal flag for beta-carotene; red carrots wave the carotenoid lutein banner; and purple carrots signal the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin. So it’s not just the wonderful dose of vitamin A (more than 400% of the recommended daily value per cup) you’re getting.

If these jewel-toned carrots look too pretty to cook, consider that they’re sweet enough for a kaleidoscope of crudités. Or coating them lightly in olive oil and roasting them with salt, pepper, and a dash of cumin is a fine way to cook them but retain their color. When boiled, the rainbow colors will fade. These colorful carrots will certainly inspire adults and kids alike (root children or not) to eat their colors.

Preparation: Wash thoroughly and gently scrub—keep the peel for maximum nutrient benefits. Delicious raw on their own; sliced or grated and added to salads and slaws; or roasted, steamed, stir-fried, grilled, boiled, baked, or braised. And don’t forget about carrot juice and carrot cake.

Storage: Tightly seal unwashed carrots in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a few weeks. They can also be blanched and frozen.


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