Capsules: BetaSweet, the Purple Carrot

A colorful new carrot may be packed with more health benefits than the original variety.

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Researchers at Texas A&M University have bred a carrot packed with beta-carotene and sporting a showy maroon skin. The carrot, called BetaSweet, tastes sweeter than orange carrots, is easier to chew, and contains more beta-carotene than the common orange carrot, the researchers say.

Beta-carotene is a “provitamin” that becomes vitamin A in the body as ­needed. It shows promise in ­preventing ­cancers of the breast, lung, stomach, and cervix.

The new carrot was developed at the Vegetable Improvement Center, part of the university’s agricultural experiment station. Directed by Leonard Pike, Ph.D., the center develops new vegetable breeds based on health benefits, rather than more traditional characteristics such as size or yield, according to a center press release. By breeding for specific compounds in the plants, the team hopes to help fight cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.

Pike and other researchers also have studied colored onions to compare varying quercetin content based on where, how long, and in what type of soil the plants are grown. Quercetin is one of many flavonoids that are known therapeutic agents, particularly for cancer. In the early 1980s, Pike developed the Texas 1015 sweet onion, for which he was dubbed the “Onion King” by the South Texas onion industry members.

If crop conditions are suitable, the BetaSweet carrot will be ready for a limited commercial trial in 1998, according to the center’s spring 1997 newsletter. After a two-year study, the variety should be ready for release to interested seed companies.