Ever wonder why carrots are orange? Probably not, but we shall get to that later. The carrot, even though it might seem like a dull topic has a very long ancient history and was grown in many of the famous gardens of antiquity.
Wild carrots, which can still be found throughout much of Western Asia and Europe, have tiny acrid tasting roots but given good growing conditions the roots of each successive generation enlarge and lose their acrid taste quickly. However, even though carrots were grown at prehistoric sites in Switzerland, and the 8th century BC royal garden of Babylon, it wasn’t until sometime between the 8th and 10th century AD that the carrot, as an edible root vegetable first appeared.
This puzzling fact is actually fairly easily explained. For most of humanity’s time on Earth, the carrot was not seen as a food but as a herb. Grown for its leaves and/or seeds (both of which have a pleasant carrot fragrance) the carrot was used to season food and no thought was given to eating the acrid root.
Although we don’t know exactly how or why the roots became of interest as a food crop, we do know that the earliest known carrots grown for food came from Afghanistan. These carrots were not like the long, orange, conical shaped carrots we know today. They were not orange at all, instead they very dark red or purple and a 12th century Arab writer also said they were juicy. These carrots are still grown, on a limited basis, in the region today.
From the Middle East carrots gradually spread across Europe and eventually to the Americas.
But why are our carrots orange? During the 16th century the Dutch became known for their skill in both growing carrots and cultivating new and better varieties. These varieties were imported to England and other lands.
But still why orange? In 1544 William the Silent inherited the kingdom of Orange. Suffice it to say, he eventually lead the Dutch in a revolt that freed them from Spanish rule. In honor of William of Orange the Dutch crossbreed various carrot varieties and ended up with the orange carrot we know today.
*Slight disclaimer: Although the story of the Dutch crossbreeding carrots to come up with an orange one in honor of William of Orange is generally accepted as true, there are skeptics and proof may yet arise that this was not the case.