There are many varieties of the familiar orange carrot and a number of boutique carrots—including purple, white, maroon, and baby carrots—available in supermarkets and farmers’ markets.
Carrots can loosely be divided into “eastern” and “western” types.
The western types of carrots are descendants of the orange carrot bred in the Netherlands some 500 years ago. Western types are generally classified by their root shapes into Chantenay, Danvers, Imperator, and Nantes varieties.
The eastern types of carrots are closer to the original carrot domesticated in Persia over 1,000 years ago and are usually purple or yellow.
Here are some of the most common types of carrots available in the U.S.
Baby carrots: “Baby” carrots are actually fully mature specimens of a small carrot variety. A true immature, or baby, carrot would actually not have much flavor and not be worth eating. The bags of “baby” carrots available in supermarkets aren’t baby carrots either. These are just pieces of normal carrots that have been sculpted to resemble small carrots.
Chantenay: One of the four major sub-types of western carrots, Chantenay carrots are short, fat, and broad at the shoulder, tapering to a rounded blunt tip. The core is a pale orange. They store well, so are most often used in processing. Carson Hybrid and Red Cored Chantenay are two common cultivars.
Danvers: Named after Danvers, Mass., where they were developed in 1871, Danvers carrots are another of the four major subtypes of western carrots. They are longer than Chantenay but shorter than Imperator carrots, cone-shaped with a well-defined shoulder gradually tapering to a pointed tip. Most cultivars have “Danvers” in their name.
Imperator: Another of the four major sub-types of western carrots, the Imperator carrot is the type most widely cultivated by commercial growers. Imperator carrots are long and slender with a pointed tip, and they have a high sugar content. Cultivars include Sugarsnax Hybrid and Imperator 58.
Nantes: The fourth of the four major sub-types of western carrots, Nantes carrots are shorter and with a more blunt tip than Imperator carrots. Though they have a high sugar content, Nantes carrots are brittle and store less well than other types. Cultivars include Nelson Hybrid, Sweetness Hybrid, and Scarlet Nantes (which are orange, not scarlet).
Purple carrots: Purple carrots range in color from dark violet to reddish purple, with an orange or yellow core. They can have an intensely sweet, sometimes peppery flavor. Cultivars include Cosmic Purple, Purple Haze, and Purple Dragon.
Red carrots: These carrots contain more lycopene than other varieties, and have a pinkish red to purplish red outside layer with a core of pink to orange. One cultivar, called Beta-Sweet, is a cross between a western and an eastern carrot. Red carrots are usually sweeter than regular carrots. Cultivars of red carrots include Beta-Sweet, Atomic Red, and Red Samurai.
Round carrots: About the size and shape of large radishes, these orange carrots taste like regular carrots and are good for growing at home because they do well in most soil types.
White carrots: These thin carrots are of course white in color and have a mild, sweet flavor. Cultivars include Snow White, Lunar White, and White Satin.
Yellow carrots: These can be bred from any of the four western carrot varieties, and are often sweeter than the orange varieties. They are a light yellow all the way through. They have a firm, crunchy texture and have been described as tasting earthy, with notes of celery and parsley. Cultivars include Amarillo, Solar Yellow, Sunlite, and Yellowstone.