On Christmas day of 2009 I posted about the colour of carrots.
I had been watching a Royal Institution Christmas Lecture by Prof Sue Hartley about carrots and why they are orange. She spoke about selective breeding by the Dutch (the first naturally occurring carrots were purple – from Afghanistan – and were later cultivated to be orange). In seeking to find more about this I found myself on the website of the British Carrot Museum. It is seriously worth a visit even if your interest in carrots is tangential.
I was reminded of this today when I came across an article in The Economic Times (India) which reported that the Punjab Agriculture University has developed its first black colour carrot variety (known as ‘punjab black beauty’) which has been recommended for general cultivation in the state. The black carrot is the best alternative to tackle the malnutrition problems of the country because it is overloaded with beneficial anti-oxidants and nutrients. The punjab black beauty is is rich in anthocyanins, phenols, flavonols ß-carotene, calcium, iron, and zinc.
I am also reminded, of course, of the words of the great late Uncle Monty (aka Richard Griffiths): “I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is a certain je ne sais quoi – oh, so very special – about a firm, young carrot”.
Rafael Benitez has not exactly been the most popular appointment as Chelsea Manager. I can understand the Chelsea fans’ disappointment. I would be distraught if Benitez was brought in to head up the club I support. However, fair’s fair. This week Benitez was criticised by Chelsea fans for wearing a red tie rather than a blue one; red being the colour of Liverpool football club where Benitez used to manage and is perhaps suspected of still having loyal ties. However, as you can see from the photograph, he was clearing wearing an orange tie not a red one. What does this mean? Are Chelsea fans colour blind? All of them? Have a we discovered a new phenomenon? If anyone would like to fund research into colour vision of football fans please get in touch.
Can you own a colour?
The answer is almost certainly not. However, the law on colour use in branding and marketing is complex and there have been several high profile cases of companies slugging it out over the use of colour. I have previously posted about the dispute between Google and Microsoft – http://colourware.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/four-colour-primaries/.
There are two other high profile cases I know of. One is the objection by Orange (a British Telecoms company) to the use of the colour orange by Easy Jet – http://tinyurl.com/y8la766. The other is the dispute between chocolate manufacturers over the use of the colour purple in chocolate wrappers – http://tinyurl.com/y9cgyum.
However, in a paper published in the open access colour journal – Colour: Design and Creativity – Paul Green-Armytage argues that the key to many of these disputes about colour ownership lies in the definitions of colour. See http://www.colour-journal.org/2009/4/6/index.htm to read Paul’s full article.
Lucozade is a high-energy drink that is very effective way to get a lot of sugar very quickly. Most people will know that the drink itself is a very distinctive orange colour. The orange is caused by the colorant Sunset Yellow which is among a number of suspect food additives. Research at Southampton University, funded by the Food Standards Agency, has found that this is one of several additives that may cause children to become hyperactive. According to a UK national newspaper – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1256242/Lucozade-lose-orange-colour-linked-hyperactivity.html - Lucozade bottles will carry a warning label (‘Sunset Yellow may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’) until a suitable alternative colorant can be found.
Carrots are orange because they absorb certain wavelengths of light more efficiently than others. Beta-carotene is the main pigment and is mainly absorbs in the 400-500nm region of the visible spectrum with a peak absorption at about 450nm. Carotenoids are one of the most important groups of natural pigments. They cause the yellow/orange colours of many fruit and vegetables. Though beta-carotene is most abundant in carrots it is also found in pumpkins, apricots and nectarines. Dark green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli are another good source. In these the orange colour is masked by the green colour of chlorophyll. This can be seen in leaves; in autumn, when the leaves die, the chlorophyll breaks down, and the yellow/red colours of the more stable carotenoids can be seen.
However, the properties of beta-carotene are not what prompted me to make this blog. Last night I was watching the 4th in the series of Christmast Lectures by Prof Sue Hartley – the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures are a series of lectures given by a prominent scientist each year to an audience of children and broadcast on TV – http://www.rigb.org/registrationControl?action=home.
Prof Hartley’s lecture was about selective breeding and how humans had used this technique of thousands of years to make food safer and easier to eat. The section about wheat was particularly good.
However, she also talked about the colour of carrots and said that not all carrots are indeed orange at all. They come in many varieties including white and purple.
Prof Hartley said that it was the Dutch who selectively bred wild (white) and cultivated (purple) carrots to create the orange ones that we all know today. The orange was popular because it is the Netherland’s national colour and, at the time, the Dutch were fighting for independence. It was this story that has led me today – yes, Christmas Day – to make a virtiual visit to the British Carrot museum to research this story. You can follow my tracks at – http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/. Yes, such a place really does exist!
It turns out the story is not so clear as that told by Prof Hartley (though I am sure she is aware of this and was simply making it interesting to the children). Certainfly the first cultivated carrots – in the Afghanistan region – were purple and orange carrots were cultivated in Northern Europe about 500 years ago. However, some scholars dispute the Dutch story about breeding orange carrots because orange was the national colour. Indeed, there is, apparently, a Byzantine manuscript from as long ago as 512AD that depicts orange carrots. So the mystery deepens and I have far better things to do on Christmas day than to research this further. Perhaps if any experts in carrot technology come across this page they can add an informative footnote?