I posted this photo on social media this week and couldn’t believe the response, so I thought I would do a post on the mystery of the orange carrot…
I’m betting that every one of you has a bag of orange carrots sitting in their refrigerator right now. Did you ever wonder why they’re all orange? Probably not. I think we all just take for granted what’s presented to us in the supermarket or at the farm stand and never question the breeding, B.S. and politics that went into the history of vegetables.
It’s amazing to me that humans have been cultivating carrots for at least a thousand years. There are images from ancient Egypt that would potentially indicate their cultivation that much earlier, most likely for the seed, and it’s uses were medicinal and as an aphrodisiac (shocking with the pointy shape right?). The neat part is though, carrots started out in the wild virtually white and up until the 1600’s the classic color found was purple.
So why orange? The romantic legend is that 16th century dutch growers exclusively cultivated an almost lost variety as a tribute to William of Orange, orange of course being symbolic to the House of Orange at the time. However, in a quote from the UK’s Carrot Museum (seriously), “the Dutch developed and stabilised the orange carrot, in the 16th century. Subsequently the Dutch people adopted the colour orange and orange carrots as their national vegetable. There is no written evidence that this was also to honour their Royal Family. The point is that the orange carrot came first, Dutch Nationalism second.”
Feel free to believe either version of the story. Personally I like the more romantic tale. What is certain though, is that since the Dutch were the prominent agricultural breeders of the time period, orange carrots spread rapidly and that is why they are ubiquitous in every supermarket in the land today. Amazing no? Ancient politics in your 21st century grocery cart.
And if you truly can’t get enough carrot history and would like to learn more, here’s a link to the Carrot Museum…
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