A foray to the Farmers Market in Santa Barbara often reveals the unexpected. James Sly, chef/owner of Sly’s in Carpinteria, and I were at the Saturday Market and came across a tuber we did not readily recognize. We spoke with the farmer who related that it was a purple carrot. These were being sold along with yellow-white carrots and the usual orange varieties. The farmer gave us a brief lesson on carrot history and this piqued my curiosity.
According the World Carrot Museum, www.carrotmuseum.com, wild carrots were used some 10,000 years ago in Europe and Asia for medicinal purposes.
Carrots with edible roots originated in present day Afghanistan about 5000 years ago, probably originally as a purple or yellow root. Over thousands of years it moved from a small, tough, bitter and spindly root to a fleshy, sweet, pigmented unbranched edible root. It transformed from its seeds being used as a medicine or aphrodisiac to the root being eaten in many different dishes. Even before the introduction of domesticated carrots, wild plants were grown in gardens as medicinal plants.
Photo Credit Museum of Carrots
The purple carrot existed in Central Asia for several centuries before the Arabs in about the 10th century brought it west. It is thought the carotene carrot was domesticated in the regions around Turkey. The precise date is not known but thought to be before the 8th century.
The purple and yellow carrots both gradually spread into Europe in subsequent centuries. It is considered that the white carrot is also a mutant of yellow varieties. These mutants eventually produced an orange carrot.
The origin of the cultivated carrot is clearly acknowledged to be purple and in the Afghanistan region mainly because it was known to exist there well before reliable literature references or paintings gave evidence of Western carotene carrots.So, those oddly colored tubers are descendants of the original varieties that emerged from Afghanistan.
Here is a simple recipe for a puree of carrot and potatoes, a Peruvian wild tuber.