Rainbow Carrots Edm

For a vegetable we eat so often and take for granted, carrots have a surprising and fascinating backstory.

Here are a couple of anecdotes from our colourful carrot archives.

The Colourful Chronicle of Carrots

Did you know that carrots weren’t always orange? The oldest ancestral wild carrots have pale white roots that look like a bitter-tasting parsnip. These first carrots most likely came from Afghanistan and Iran, but weren’t domesticated until early Medieval times. A thousand years of careful breeding have made carrots much sweeter and more nutritious than their ancient ancestors.

After people started cultivating carrots to eat in about the 10th Century, all sorts of colours got bred into them. Carrots came in bright purple, red, black, white, and yellow hues. Our fun Rainbow Team Power Carrots contains most of these heirloom colours, if you’d like to try them out!

The orange-coloured carrots we know today were bred much later, during the 17th Century in the Netherlands. Conveniently, orange was also the colour of the Dutch flag, so they were pretty popular and caught on fast. There are lots of conflicting opinions about why orange took over as the classic carrot colour, but we reckon it’s mostly because they look great on a plate.

Cunning Chicanery causes Carrot Craze!

Here’s another bit of carrot history; have you ever been told that carrots help you see better in the dark? Well, as much as we love carrots, we also like to keep it real. Carrots are awesome, but claiming they improve your night vision is streeeetching the truth. 

This myth about carrots actually started because of a World War II propaganda campaign that was so successful, it’s still in circulation after 80 years.

At the end of 1940, London was being bombed almost every night. Fortunately, the British Air Ministry had a brand-new secret weapon – aircraft mounted radar – that helped them hunt and intercept bombers in complete darkness. The Air Ministry was worried that because they were successfully shooting down so many bombers, the German High Command would find out about their secret radar technology and develop a countermeasure.

So, the Air Ministry started to issue press releases that they were feeding RAF pilots with extra-large portions of carrots, to give them superb night vision. The British public accepted the story without question.

At around the same time, Britain was under severe food rationing. During 1941 the British Food Ministry launched their famous “Dig for Victory” campaign, to encourage home gardeners to become self-sufficient. Doctor Carrot (along with his best mate, Potato Pete) was a cartoon character launched as part of the campaign, to talk up the health benefits of everyone’s new favourite vegetable.

Boosted by the fibbing about pilots, this carrot craze caught the public imagination so convincingly, that by 1942 Britain was sitting on an enormous excess supply of carrots! The BBC was even tasked with broadcasting carrot-based recipes, to help use up the oversupply. Some of these recipes were flat-out weird – carrot fudge, anyone? The recipe for carrot cake already existed but wasn’t that popular; it had a huge surge in popularity during and after the war.

The carrot myth really took off. It became so widespread that it even arrived here in NZ. We have a Yates seed catalogue from 1943 that says: “Yates’ carrots are now much more appreciated since the RAF and Military authorities insisted on their ample use in the diet of pilots and other who must be more fit than the enemy. Carrots are rich in ceretin*, which is essential for the better sight of night fighters.”

*Ceretin is a compound containing Vitamin A and fatty lipid molecules. These days it’s mostly used for skincare.

So, do carrots really help you see in the dark? In a roundabout way, they do. It’s time for some Science to shed light on the matter. 

We humans see by means ‘rod and cone’ photoreceptors located in the back of our eyes. The rods work for low-light vision and the cones work for daytime vision. Rods contain a light-sensitive pigment called rhodopsin, that enables them to convert light into nerve impulses and send them to our brains. 

•    Rhodopsin is manufactured by your body out of vitamin A
•    Vitamin A is processed from beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. 
•    You get carotenes from certain vegetables, fruit and milk products. 
•    Carrots are absolutely packed with beta-carotene, which is the main source of vitamin A.
•    Beta-carotene also gives carrots their orange colour.

Here’s what’s so good about carrots: eating them can easily provide the recommended daily dose of vitamin A that powers your low-light vision. 

So, it’s fair to say that carrots help you see in the dark; but it’s a stretch to say that eating extra carrots improves your night vision. Sorry, carrots aren’t going to give you eyes like a cat.

On the plus side, carrots have a low glycaemic index (GI) and are also a great source of micronutrients like vitamin K and vitamin B6, as well as potassium. They’re still extremely nutritious and good for you, so don’t let us put you off eating them!

If you're a fan of garden-fresh carrots, we have lots of delicious varieties and funky colours to choose from. They're super-easy to grow, find out how.


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