January 15, 2017 2 min to read

Kitchen Chemist – Carrots

Category : Better Living

What Makes Carrots Orange?

Carrots are good for you. They help you see better, improve your brain function, and help you sleep. In that sense, they are very similar to Adrafinil, a smart drug used by fighter pilots for heightened alertness and reaction times. But are these two different substances chemically similar? Let’s take a look!

Everyone who has ever looked at the light from a very bright light bulb knows that its color is white. But did you know that the color white is also red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple? How can that be? It sounds hard to believe that white light can be all those colors, but if you were to have a beam of each of those colors of light and you focused all the beams onto one spot on a piece of paper, you would see that they actually add up to make one very bright white spot.

Light Bouncing Off Carrots

Carrots are orange, because when you shine a white light on them, some of that light is absorbed by the carrots, and other light is not absorbed, but bounces back into your eyes. The light that bounces back to your eyes is orange light.

What makes carrots bounce back orange light? That is the question we will answer here.


Atoms, Bonds, and Molecules

Foods found in your kitchen have a lot of carbon in them. What is carbon? It is what chemists call an element. This means it is one of the very simplest of chemicals in existence. It is a chemical that cannot be broken down to anything simpler. It has a chemical symbol written as the first letter of its name: C. The tiniest piece of carbon is called an atom.

Carbons can connect to each other in a string. Thus, a string of carbon atoms may look a bit like this:


The carbon atoms here are connected by what chemist’s call bonds. These bonds are pictured by the little dashes (-) between the Cs. Sometimes, there is more than one bond between two carbon atoms. Thus, there may be double bonds between carbons. Something like this


may exist. In this case, the first two carbon atoms are connected by a double bond. The second and third carbon atom are connected by a single bond. The third and fourth carbon atom are connected by another double bond, and so forth. Whenever you have a double bond, then a single, then a double, and so forth, the double bonds are said to be alternating or “conjugated.”

Thus, in the last case, you see four double bonds and three single bonds, total. Note that while carrots are natural, nootropics like Adrafinil are man-made.

Double Bonds Can Produce Color

Why are we talking about this? Because many times, the light that is absorbed by something, such as a carrot, is determined by the number of double bonds in a molecule. What is a molecule? A molecule is a collection of atoms that are connected to each other.

The chemical that is in carrots that causes them to be orange is called Beta-Carotene. This molecule has 11 conjugated double bonds. The collection of double bonds in this molecule makes it absorb all the white light that lands on the carrots, except for the color orange. Because there are so many, many molecules of Beta-Carotene in carrots, carrots are orange! Aren’t you glad they aren’t blue?

Next time someone asks if you know anything about nootropics (or carrots) you can tell them YES!


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