From Whence Came the Carrot?

bunch of carrots

Where do you think carrots originated? We're not talking about the wild carrots that only a rabbit might consider delectable. We're talking about the nice thick tuber, orange (now) and full of Vitamin A. How does Afghanistan grab you? Yup. But it wasn't orange. It was likely deep red or purple. And it was often confused with the turnip! One of the oldest plant foods, this member of the parsley family got traded north and west to the Mediterranean. The Greeks used its seeds and leaves to cure stomach ailments, but rarely ate the root because of its bitterness. But the precursor carrot traveled even further.

The very first French carrot importer was Charlemagne! He encouraged the importation of new edibles from around the world and provided a place in his palace gardens for their cultivation. But it wasn't the carrot we know today. Our carrot, Daucus carota var. sativa, came after the wild carrot, Daucus carota, was traded to the Belgians! The Dutch are credited with refining the carrot to its current sweetness and orange color. Why orange? To honor their countryman, William and the House of Orange!

The travels of the carrot then go both east and west, eventually circumnavigating the world. Currently, China produces the most carrots and the U.S. comes in second. In the U.S. California produces the most carrots. From the early French carrot importer to today, carrots have become highly valued for their antioxidant value. And that includes carrot tops! Don't toss the tops out -- use them as salad greens. They are eminently edible. Plus, one study shows that two carrots a day lowers cholesterol 20% in most people with the added benefit of better eyesight.

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