Purple Carrots? Yes, ’tis true: The earliest carrots were purple!
Known to mankind for about 5,000 years, historians think the first carrots came from the part of the world we now call Afghanistan.
Purple carrots in ancient times
Egyptian temple drawings from 2000 B.C. feature a purple plant many specialists believe to be a purple carrot. Archaeologists have also found papyruses in the tombs of pharaohs (Egyptian kings) with information about carrots and carrot seeds.
Purple and white carrots
During the reign of the Roman Empire, carrots were purple or white. Later, as they were introduced by traveling merchants into other countries, they could also be found in the colors of red, yellow, green, and black. . .but not orange.
A thousand years later, carrots were being grown in the fields of France and Germany—but they still weren’t orange!
How did carrots become orange?
Finally, in the 16th century, people in Holland developed orange-colored carrots by crossing pale yellow carrots with red ones. The orange color was created to honor their country’s rulers, known as the House of Orange, named after an area near Avignon, in southern France, where the royal family had its origins. William of Orange is the father of the Netherlands.
Where does the carrot get its name?
About that same time, the carrot traveled across the English Channel from France into England. The French word carotte accompanied the vegetable on its journey and was adapted by the English as carrot.
But what about carrots in America?
Carrots were grown in the Jamestown Virginia colony in 1609, even before the Mayflower arrived (in 1620). The Pilgrims may have been the first to plant them in Massachusetts. Native Americans loved carrots and quickly adopted them.
Today, hundreds of years after the invention of the orange variety we know so well, purple carrots are being reintroduced to the marketplace. They are slightly sweeter than orange carrots, and some have more vitamins. You can find them in grocery stores, or you may buy the seeds and try growing them yourself.
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Bon appétit !
—Cynthia S. Wildridge
Note: This article was originally published in the Bun E. Tales™ newsletter, Autumn 2004, and is reprinted here by permission. Copyright © Cynthia S. Wildridge All rights reserved.