Veggies of a Different Color

The Organic Gardening Test Garden yielded a rainbow harvest in 2012.

By Doug Hall


OG Test Garden Tomato VarietiesThe vegetables and fruits we eat are made colorful by naturally occurring pigments. Beta-carotene in carrots, lutein in kale and red peppers, and lycopene in tomatoes are three well-known examples of the literally hundreds of pigments contained in garden produce.

The colors do more than just make our food more beautiful: Research points to the health benefits of these pigments, ranging from protection from heart disease and certain types of cancer to a reduction in cataracts and macular degeneration. Phytochemicals—natural antioxidant compounds that include plant pigments—are thought to boost the human immune system, reduce allergies, fight wrinkles, and assist the body in detoxifying contaminants.

Although more research is needed to understand how pigments help ward off disease, nutritionists increasingly believe that a colorful diet is a healthy diet. With that in mind, we chose an array of unusually pigmented vegetables to plant in the Organic Gardening Test Garden in 2012—tomatoes, peppers, carrots, salad greens, and other vegetables in a rainbow of hues. Some of the varieties were new to us; others we’ve been growing for years. The vegetables that follow were the best of the 2012 harvest.

Photo: Thomas MacDonald


American consumers have grown accustomed to the crisp, sweet, juicy flavor of orange carrots, such as the Chantenay-type carrot ‘Caracas’. How do carrots of other colors compare? We found the red, purple, and yellow carrots in our trials to be excellent in soups and stews, but too dense and dry for fresh eating. Because of their long roots, these non-orange varieties are best suited to deep, porous, loamy soils or raised beds.

‘Atomic Red’. Extra lycopene gives ‘Atomic Red’ a dark orange-red color that becomes even more intense with cooking.

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Photo: Thomas MacDonald

Carrots Atomic Red
Carrots Caracas

‘Caracas’. This stubby orange carrot is a good choice for heavier soils. It’s ready to harvest in 2 months or less, and always crisp and sweet.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Photo: Thomas MacDonald

‘Deep Purple’. Grated, this hybrid variety is a striking addition to coleslaw. The roots retain their rich color when cooked but bleed into the cooking liquid.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Photo: Thomas MacDonald

Carrots Deep Purple
Carrots Yellowstone

‘Yellowstone’. The taste of this pale beauty can be somewhat bitter in hot regions but it sweetens in cooler weather.

Fedco Seeds

Photo: Thomas MacDonald