Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Carrot Cake and a Cup of Char

A Brew & A Bite

I love carrots.  Raw or roasted.  In soups or stews; or steamed and crushed with a nob of butter and cracked black pepper. But most of all I enjoy a slice of carrot cake, especially when I have a cup of tea and ten minutes to myself.

In Briton we spend £290 million a year on carrots and plant 22 billion seeds producing around 100 carrots per person.  The land we use for growing carrots in the UK is the equivalent of 18000 football pitches, though we are by no means leaders in the field (pardon the pun).  That accolade belongs to the Chinese who produced 15.168 million tonnes of carrots in 2009 which accounted for 45% of global output.

The first uses of the carrot by humans is uncertain, though it is considered likely that the foliage would have been used long before the root. We do know that the modern carrot originated in present day Afghanistan around 5000 years ago.  Having a bitter flesh this root was not used as a food but was processed as a medicine. We know the Greeks later used it as a "love medicine" under the name of Philtron and later still the Romans adopted the carrot for similar purposes.  India, China and Japan had established carrots as a root crop by the 13th century, but through Europe it was still being used to treat various maladies.

It was the Dutch that hybridized the Orange carrot that we all recognize today, in the 16th century.  Their highly nutritious version quickly spread as a food crop entering England in the reign of Elizabeth I; the root was eaten and the fronds were worn in the hats of the ladies of the court!  The Jamestown settlers introduced the carrot to North America in 1607 and in 1814 founding father Thomas Jefferson produced 18 bushels of carrots from his gardens at Monticello (his estate in Virginia) where he had a flower garden, orchards and a vegetable garden.  

The popularity of the carrot is unsurprising really when considering it's nutritional value, something our vegetable growing ancestors prized highly in the foods they could grow.  They have a high fibre count and contain healthy levels of vitamin C as well as being a good source of Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid (Vit B5) , Iron, Potassium and Copper.  Highest of all however is the level of Beta Carotine (Vit A - specifically needed by the retina of the eye), with 100 grams of carrots yielding a mighty 267% of your RDA.  All very illuminating, but the history of the carrot does have a darker side!

Contrary to what your mother told you, carrots won't necessarily  help you to see in the dark!  Although they are an important source of nutrition for the eye, which may lead to better night vision, mums old wives tale isn't the whole story!  The rumour is thought to have originated during the second world war as a way to help conceal the British state of the art radar stations.  Rumours were spread that the combat accuracy of the British pilots was as a result of them eating lots of carrots.  Whilst this may have improved their eyesight a little, no doubt radar helped a lot!  The same ruse also helped the government to encourage people to eat more carrots in the Dig For Victory campaign, promoted in the poster shown above. Still, it just goes to show the versatility of this little vegetable.  Tasty, nutritious and serving its country in more ways than one!

It certainly serves me well with a brew, thanks for the cake Mrs B.

Nom nom nom!


  1. ...and I didn't think he was too keen! :)

  2. And the Dutch wanted an orange carrot to symbolise the house of orange. The carrot production numbers will be down this year as we have had a bit of a failure!

  3. How true Sue, it's first use as propaganda? Paving the way for William of Orange? ;0)

    Hope you get a better second crop.