Contact: Dr. Leonard Pike, (979) 845-5715, firstname.lastname@example.orgCOLLEGE STATION — People who aren’t Texas A&M Aggies may think the idea of a maroon carrot is just another Aggie joke. But it’s not.
The maroon carrot being developed by Texas Agricultural Experiment Station horticulturist Dr. Leonard Pike actually is extremely healthy and tastes good.
“We’ve selected maroon carrots for high sugar content, which means the carrots are sweeter, and for high beta carotene, which the medical people say is good for us, especially to help prevent heart diseases,” Pike said. “We feel that we can release this carrot now as a carrot that has a genetic marker of being a different color so that we know that it has high beta carotene in it.”
Pike, director of Texas A&M’s Vegetable Improvement Center, found three slightly maroon-tinted carrots a few years ago and began breeding them for their maroon color. He admits that he started developing the maroon carrot as a novelty item for Aggies, because Texas A&M’s school colors are maroon and white.
However, he soon discovered that in addition to its high beta carotene content, the maroon carrot tastes sweeter than orange carrots and is easier to chew. The maroon carrot’s crispiness more closely resembles the chewable texture of celery or an apple than the crunchiness of an orange carrot.
So now, Pike is breeding the maroon carrot’s good characteristics back into the orange variety.
“We’ll never replace the orange carrot,” he said. “I think carrots always are going to be orange. But if we can add the sweetness and texture of the maroon carrot back into the orange carrot, we should improve people’s opinion of them so maybe they’ll eat more carrots.”
As a result of the medical community’s endorsement of beta carotene in a well-balanced diet, Pike said, consumption of carrots already has risen 40 percent in the past two years.
Pike believes a big market in the snack food industry exists for dried maroon carrot slices. The carrot is maroon on the outside and bright orange on the inside.
“It’s a very attractive slice, and since they’re sweet and have a crispy texture, I think people would eat this as a health food snack, as compared to maybe potato chips,” he said.
“I’ve made some in the lab and freeze-dried them. When people visit me, I say ‘Try this.’ I end up having to take my package of carrot chips away from them because I have such a limited amount. They want to eat all of them.”
Seed companies also believe the maroon carrot has potential. However, growers will have to wait another year or two before maroon carrot seed is released for commercial use.
But home gardeners will get a jump on commercial growers. Pike said if all goes well this growing season, maroon carrot seed should be ready for home garden release this fall. And if not this year, then definitely next year.
So if you’re an Aggie who’s been chomping at the bit — or in this case, carrot — to get your hands on maroon carrot seed, Pike said to contact the Vegetable Improvement Center in September to find out the status of the seed. The center’s phone number is (979) 845-5715.