A maroon carrot is a carrot with a distinct maroon to purple tinge, rather than the more conventional orange. In addition to looking unique, maroon carrots also have nutritional benefits. They contain more beta carotene than their orange counterparts, and they have antioxidants known as anthocyanins, which give the carrots their distinctive purple color. It is possible to find purple carrots at some grocers and farmers' markets, and you may also be able to obtain maroon carrot seeds to grow them yourself, if you feel so inclined.
Historically speaking, humans and carrots have a long running relationship. People have been cultivating root vegetables for thousands of years, and recognizable carrots can be seen in ancient art like that found in Egyptian tombs. The earliest carrots were white to creamy in color, although the Egyptians were also familiar with a purple variety. Since carrots are easy to grow and store, they were a popular food source in much of Europe, especially in Northern regions with short growing seasons, and maroon carrots would have been a familiar items to many Europeans in the Middle Ages.
It was the Dutch who developed the orange cultivar which most people think of when you say the word “carrot” today. Orange carrots emerged around the 16th century, and supposedly they were bred as a tribute to the ruling House of Orange in Holland. Over time, orange carrots displaced the maroon carrot, along with other colorful variants, and it took dedicated work on the part of gardeners and biologists to restore multicolored carrot cultivars to the table.
In addition to looking different, a maroon carrot also tastes different. They tend to be more crisp and crunchy than orange carrots, and some have an almost apple-like flavor, especially the BetaSweet cultivar developed at Texas A & M. Some people claim that the purple to dark red color also makes them more fun to eat, especially for younger diners who might not be excited about eating their vegetables.
As with regular carrots, when seeking out maroon carrots, look for firm individuals with no signs of soft spots. If the carrots still have their greens, look for crisp, healthy tops which are not wilted or discolored. You can keep maroon carrots in a root cellar or under refrigeration until use, and you can use them exactly like you would use regular carrots.
If you want to grow maroon carrots, you may be able to find seeds at a local garden supply, or you can order them through a company which specializes in unique vegetables. Plant the maroon carrot seeds in a warm, well drained spot and keep the soil moist, but not wet. As they start to sprout, thin them out to allow the carrots plenty of room to grow, and harvest as needed. Do not let the carrots get too big, as they can get woody and unpleasant to eat; if you have more carrots than you can eat, harvest them and store them in a root cellar or consider pickling them, turning them into chutney, or freezing them.