From the Roots to the Shoots
The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus; etymology: from Late Latincarōta, from Greek καρωτόν karōton, originally from the Indo-European root ker- (horn), due to its horn-like shape) is a root vegetable, usually orange in colour, though purple, red, white, and yellow varieties exist. It has a crisp texture when fresh. The most commonly eaten part of a carrot is a taproot, although the greens are sometimes eaten as well. It is a domesticated form of the wild carrotDaucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. The domestic carrot has been selectively bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that world production of carrots and turnips (these plants are combined by the FAO for reporting purposes) for calendar year 2011 was almost 35.658 million tonnes. Almost half were grown in China. Carrots are widely used in many cuisines, especially in the preparation of salads, and carrot salads are a tradition in many regional cuisines.
The wild ancestors of the carrot are likely to have come from Iran and Afghanistan, which remain the centre of diversity of Daucus carota, the wild carrot. Selective breeding over the centuries of a naturally occurring subspecies of the wild carrot, Daucus carota subsp. sativus, to reduce bitterness, increase sweetness and minimise the woody core, has produced the familiar garden vegetable.
In early use, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots. Carrot seeds have been found in Switzerland and Southern Germany dating to 2000–3000 BC. Some relatives of the carrot are still grown for their leaves and seeds, such as parsley,fennel, dill and cumin. The first mention of the root in classical sources is in the 1st century. The modern carrot originated in Afghanistanabout 1100 years ago. It appears to have been introduced to Europe via Spain by the Moors in the 8th century. The 12th-century Arab Andalusian agriculturist, Ibn al-‘Awwam, describes both red and yellow carrots; Simeon Seth also mentions both colours 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 in the 17th century. These, the modern carrots, were intended by the antiquary John Aubrey (1626–1697) when he noted in his memoranda “Carrots were first sown at Beckington in Somersetshire Some very old Man there [in 1668] did remember their first bringing hither.” European settlers introduced the carrot to Colonial America in the 17th century.
The western carrot emerged in the Netherlands in the 17th century, its orange colour making it popular in those countries as an emblem of the House of Orange and the struggle for Dutch independence. The orange colour results from abundant carotenes in these cultivars.