History of Carrots
The history of the carrot can be traced back 5000 years. Evidence has been dug up that this root plant originated in Afghanistan. Over the centuries traders traveling through the region picked up carrot seeds there and carried them along the trade routes of Arabia, Africa, and Asia, selling them in regions anxious to cultivate new and productive plants. Even in the early days there were many varieties of carrots, coming in an assortment of colors - purple, white, black, and red but, surprisingly, not orange!
Carrots spread over the civilized world and have even been found in Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh's tombs. Drawings found in Egyptian temples are thought by Egyptologists to be a purple variety of carrots1.
Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans were familiar with carrots, although these early varieties were not the sweet, succulent orange carrots that are grown today. Early carrots were typically not often eaten as food by the Greeks, but were used for medicinal purposes. The Romans were known to have eaten both raw and cooked carrots accompanied with an olive oil dressing containing different herbs. Like many other plants, at various times in ancient societies, carrots were thought to be an aphrodisiac.
Carrots began to be cultivated in Europe by the 13th century (1200s), with many doctors prescribing carrots for medicinal purposes for ailments as varied as syphilis and animal bites! The Medieval Europeans were very much in awe of the ancients and inclined to borrow heavily from them.
Carrots were well-known to 16th century botanists and writers, who described red and purple varieties in France, and yellow and red varieties in England. The Dutch cross-bred the yellow and red carrot to produce a variety that was the emblematic color of the House of Orange. This carrot quickly became popular and was further developed to become the sweet, succulent orange carrot which is the most recognized color of carrot used throughout the world today2.
Carrots arrived in Australia in 1788 and became an important food for the colonists. The Carrot Museum reveals that the carrot was introduced to America in 1609. In 1871 America developed its first carrot. It is called the Danvers carrot from its origins in Danvers, MA. However, the carrot did not become popular in the U.S. until after World War I (1914-1918) when "doughboys" returning from the war had been exposed to the carrot in French and other European cuisine.3
In the Second World War carrots were promoted by the British government and became one of the staple foods in England. People were encouraged grow carrots in their gardens and to cook them in different ways. They were incorporated into both sweet and savory dishes. Growing this crop during troubled times helped people get sufficient amounts of nutritious food to eat in times of food scarcity and rationing.
Red and yellow varieties of carrot are eaten in China and Japan; with the purple carrot becoming increasingly popular in different states in America. There are also 'rainbow' carrots on the market. However, a single carrot is not multi-colored, the name comes from bags containing red, yellow, purple and orange carrots.
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