Beta-carotene is part of a family of chemicals called the carotenoids, which are found in many fruit and vegetables, as well as some animal products such as egg yolks. Carotenoids were first isolated in the early 19th century, and have been synthesized for use as food colorings since the 1950s. Beta-carotene gives fruits and veggies there orange color.
Biologically, beta-carotene is most important as the precursor of vitamin A. It also has antioxidant properties and may help in preventing cancer and other diseases.