Carrot is one of the most commonly used vegetables in almost all the cuisines in the world. From being a root which was white in colour, it took thousands of years for the humble carrot to turn purple and then into the bright orange hue that it has today. Though it was considered unfit for human consumption in the past, now, the carrot is one among the 10 most-loved vegetables in the world.
Carrot is believed to have originated where the Himayalas merged with the Hindukush. The area, which belonged to the ancient Persian dynasty, now comes under Afghanistan. From here, the carrot reached the Middle East through the famed trade routes. In the past, carrots were cultivated mainly for its seeds and leaves which had incredible medicinal properties. Carrots were grown in the central and west Asia around 3000 BC. Purple carrots were mainly cultivated during this time and it existed for a few more centuries.
In the ancient times, the Romans used carrots as an aphrodisiac and as antidote for snake bites. The Romans had apparently tried to selectively breed carrots to make its root edible. As per the ancient scrolls and documents, believed to have written during the 1 BC, there were two types of carrots in Rome, the wild ones and the edible ones. Wild carrots were not consumed by human beings. Meanwhile, many ancient recipes of the dishes in which carrot was the main ingredient have been discovered in Rome. In the middle ages, carrots were mainly used for medicinal purposes. There is an illustration of carrot cultivation in the 11th century handbook on health, Tacuinum Sanitatis.
After the 5th century AD, carrots were largely grown in the Arab regions. In the early stages, the wild carrots were white in colour and later developed into purple, red, and yellow. It is believed that the flavour of the carrots, too, have changed as it underwent many genetic transformations.
The merchants, through the famous Silk Route, carried the root vegetable to India, China and Japan, and also to the Western Europe. The sweetness in the Arab carrots was loved by the Europeans and it soon became one of the most common ingredients in their cuisine. Carrots are generally categorized into eastern carrots and the western carrots. The eastern carrots which have purple or yellow hues are mostly grown in Turkey, Afghanistan, Egypt, India, and Pakistan. The western carrots are European carrots which are generally in orange, red, or white colour.
Charles I who ruled over Europe in the 8th century AD had included carrot in the list of vegetables to be grown in his dynasty. By the 13th century, carrots were widely cultivated in the central and western European provinces. Yellow carrots were mostly grown in these regions then. The Dutch had introduced breeding, in the 17th century, which resulted in the origin of the orange carrots which are very common these days. Noted French horticulturist Louis de Vilmorin, had, in the 19th century, bred the nantes and the chantaney carrots. Today, the largest producers of carrots are China, Russia, and America. There are a variety of carrots in different shapes and colours that are cultivated in different parts of the globe. However, the orange carrots are the most common ones which are consumed by millions of people on a daily basis.
The D-day and carrots
During the beginning of the Second World War, Britain had imported around 70% of its food required to feed the entire country. This supply was disturbed when the Nazi naval fleet attacked the ships that carried food to the English coasts. The government was forced to impose rationing of food on its citizens. However, carrot wasn't included in the list of food items that were rationed. The government had, in fact, encouraged carrot cultivation and even began a campaign called 'Dr Carrot.' Carrots, thus, became abundantly available in the markets and also became a symbol of the survival and perseverance of the British during those turbulent years of war.
Interestingly, carrots are connected with the D-day or 5 June 1944 when the allied forces (America, Britain and Canada) liberated the German-occupied French province. On the previous day, the people of the Normandy region, who were hiding in the bunkers, had many times, heard 'les carrottes sont cuites'(the carrots are cooked) on their radio sets. This was in fact the allied forces' coded radio message announcing their arrival on the shores. Carrot is usually the last vegetable which is added in the French stew. It meant that 'something's already done and there’s no turning back.' The next day, around 24,000 soldiers of the allied forces waded into the French Normandy and, in an epic battle, liberated it from the Nazi clutch.