Vegetables and fruits are not only rich in nutrition, but also rich in color. A carrot, a vegetable well-known for its contribution to maintaining good eye health, for example, has a vibrant orange color. Have you ever wondered why carrots are orange? And why is it that carrots do such a good job at maintaining good eye health? Surprisingly, the answer to both of these questions is the molecule beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is a strongly colored red-orange pigment abundant in vegetables and fruits, especially in carrots and colorful vegetables. Beta-carotene is only manufactured in plants, not in humans and animals. In plants, beta-carotene absorbs light and energy, and is transferred to the chlorophyll for photosynthesis. The color fruits and vegetables have is due to the light that is not absorbed by the pigments and is reflected back to the environment. This is why carrots and other vegetables and fruits look the way they do – because beta- carotene reflects red orange and yellow light back into the eyes. There are many vegetables and fruits that contain beta-carotene; some of them are onions, broccoli, spinach, apricots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, pumpkins, and various herbs. As the name suggests, the name carotene is derived from the vegetable carrot, which in Latin is “carota”. Beta-carotene was named after carrots because the chemical was first discovered via crystallization of carrot roots in 1831. Wachenroder, the scientist who crystallized beta-carotene from carrot roots, came up with the name “carotene.” The chemical formula of beta-carotene is C40H56 and its structure was deduced by Paul Karrer in 1930. Beta-carotene is an organic compound and is classified as a hydrocarbon, specifically as a terpenoid. In addition, beta-carotene is a non-polar compound and is lipophilic, which means that is has the ability to dissolve in fats, oils, lipids, and other non-polar solvents. Its molar mass is 536.87g/mol, has a density of 0.94g/cm3 , melting point of 180 degrees Celsius, and a boiling point of 633 to 677 degrees Celsius.