Food for thought – white & purple carrots

The humble carrot, our featured ingredient

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this week, is a wonderfully versatile root vegetable. Wild carrots are believed to have first been cultivated in Afghanistan, where they grew in

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varieties of purple, white, red and yellow, but interestingly enough, not in orange.

Carrots are a member of the same family as parsley, celery and dill, as well as the highly poisonous hemlock. However, our hero ingredient was first cultivated for the opposite reason – as a medicine.

The early Anglo-Saxons made a medicinal drink from carrots to ward off both insanity and the Devil. Today, one can only speculate as to the tonic’s efficacy in keeping Satan at bay, but it’s found that most modern carrot eaters are relatively sane, so perhaps there is some truth to the idea of it helping mental well-being.

 

During the 15th Century, the Dutch sought a way to honour their royal family, and decided that an orange carrot was an apt tribute to the house of the same colour. From there, the carrot with which we’re most familiar. Purple carrots, on the other hand, are less common on modern menus.

These roots are intensely purple on the outside, with an orange centre, and are deliciously sweet, with a slight peppery taste. White carrots are generally a creamy colour, and are even sweeter than their purple and orange counterparts.

 

These are also the two varieties of carrot that feature magnificently in Chef Eric’s dish of buchu and butter-roasted purple and white carrots with young coriander seeds, eugenia berries, carrot flowers and carrot juice – a fantastic exemplification of the versatile textures and flavours of this wonderful ingredient.

And in case you need a final incentive to incorporate more of this hearty root into your diet, carrots are also higher in vitamin A than any other vegetable, a lack of which can cause poor night vision. This fact led the British to spread rumours during the Second World War that they were feeding their pilots

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large amounts of carrots, giving them superhuman night vision. While the pilots were hugely successful in battle at night, the British pilots’ secret ingredient was, in fact, not carrots but the new invention of radar. Yet somehow, the carrot still gets the credit today.