by Ruth Griffiths
Carrots are part of the cuisine of cultures around the world. Everywhere I have traveled, carrots were on the menu in one form or another.
Carrots are the most popular vegetable in the UK, edging out the potato in popularity. China produces half the carrots grown worldwide.
Carrots are used in many cuisines both cooked and in salads. For the past 30 years, baby carrots (carrots that have been peeled and cut into uniform cylinders) have been a popular ready-to-eat snack food in local supermarkets.
The carrots we grow today, Daucus carota sativus, have been cultivated for centuries. They are thought to have been selected from the wild carrot, Daucus carota carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), which originated on the Iranian Plateau, an area that now includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Wild carrot grows in temperate regions around the globe, particularly Western Asia and Europe, and is widely distributed across much of North America.
Carrot flowers, seeds and roots were first used for medicinal purposes. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged, more palatable, less woody-textured taproot.
According to Wikipedia, carrots appear to have been introduced into Spain by the Moors in 8th century. In the 10th century, in West Asia, India and Europe, the roots were purple. The Jewish scholar Simeon Seth describes both red and yellow carrots in the 11th century. Cultivated carrots appeared in China in the 14th century, and in Japan in the 18th century. Orange-coloured carrots appeared in the Netherlands and England in the 17th century. European settlers introduced the carrot to colonial America in the 17th century.
Carrots are a healthy vegetable, high in Vitamin A, but eating carrots will not help you see in the dark, contrary to what many of us were taught years ago. According to Wikipedia, this myth was propaganda used by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War to explain why their pilots had improved success during night air battles, but was actually used to disguise advances in radar technology and the use of red lights on instrument panels.
Carrots are relatively easy to grown. Because they take only 90 days to mature, carrots can be grown almost anywhere below the tree line in Canada. Pulling a carrot root from the ground and eating it fresh is one of the great pleasures of gardening. As you plan your garden this summer, don’t forget the carrots.