Carrots are synonymous with a few things: Bugs Bunny, old wives’ tales about improving eyesight, and the color orange.  For centuries, orange colored carrot varieties have been the industry standard and still dominate store shelves.  These days though, choices for consumers are ever expanding and thankfully home garden carrot variety selection has participated in this phenomenon!  With a little searching, gardeners can now source and plant any color and/or type of carrot they desire.  For instance, this winter, I planted carrots of various types in various shades of orange, purple, and red. Through this experience, I also found that not all colored carrots look, cook, or perform the same.  The following is a quick primer on carrot types followed by my review of the four varieties ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, and ‘Malbec’ after a season of growing.

Carrot varieties (left to right): ‘Bolero’, ‘Red Sun’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Malbec’.

There are three main types of carrots regardless of color:  Imperator, Nantes, and Chantenay.  Imperator types are the extra-long, durable, sweet tasting carrots most often found in stores and are suited best to deep, loose soils.  Nantes type carrots are medium length and cylindrically shaped, often with a blunt tip.  Sometimes called “storage” carrots, Nantes types are easy to grow and tend to store well for long periods of time after harvest and retain their flavor well.  Finally, Chantenay type carrots are excellent performers in shallower beds or soils as they are a bit shorter, possessing a conical shape with roots wider at the top and tapering to the tip, making a deep soil bed a bit less critical.  I primarily grow Imperator and Nantes types as I find they give you a little more bang for the buck if you have a deeper (>6”) raised bed.  Now, on to the variety reviews.

‘Bolero’ – I always have this carrot in my garden.  An extremely versatile Nantes type carrot that has been a consistently high yielder for me whether I grow it in pots or in a traditional raised bed.  Typical for a Nantes type, ‘Bolero’ stores very well in the refrigerator and will change your culinary life if you’ve only ever eaten carrots purchased from a store.  They are excellent either fresh or cooked, with a complex, sweet taste.  If I could only grow one carrot, it would be this one.

‘Malbec’ – Colored carrots have a poor reputation as far as flavor is concerned.  ‘Malbec’ is the first non-orange carrot that changed my mind.  This Imperator type is as flavorful as they come, deep red throughout, and is easy to grow.  For some reason, ‘Malbec’ has been hard to come by the last two years, but if you spot seeds in a catalogue, online, or on a store shelf, it is well worth a purchase!

‘Red Sun’ – Winter 2020 was my first experience with ‘Red Sun’, a brand-new Nantes type carrot from Bejo Seeds.  I only planted this variety because I initially could not source ‘Malbec’.   Having said that, I was very pleased with ‘Red Sun’.  The carrots were extremely vigorous, had excellent top and root growth and mostly held their own with ‘Malbec’ flavor-wise in the kitchen also.  I would purchase ‘Red Sun’ again!

‘Deep Purple’ – Wow, they weren’t kidding when they named this variety!  Most purple carrots are colored on the exterior but fade to a “normal” orange at their core.  Not ‘Deep Purple’!  This Imperator type is strikingly dark purple, almost black.  Even the tops have a purple hue to them!  Cooking them was also an interesting experience.  Most colored veggies, peppers, carrots, and others lose their hue when cooked.  Not this variety.  Not only did ‘Deep Purple’ retain its color after cooking, my hands and cutting board turned a shade of indigo when preparing and, once put in a pan to sautee with other veggies, the juice from ‘Deep Purple’ dyed all the other veggies a deep violet!  While I wouldn’t grow ‘Deep Purple’ as my main crop carrot, it definitely has a place in the garden as a tasty novelty.

Carrots are among the easiest to grow, most rewarding vegetables in the winter garden.  Next fall, plant a variety of carrots in your home garden and enjoy the many types, colors and flavors that this tasty veggie has to offer!  For more information on the above mentioned varieties, home carrot gardening in general, or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy Gardening!