It’s International Carrot Day! That sounds like a big job for an unassuming root, but this low-key global superstar is definitely up to the task.
The world-traveling carrot first grew wild in the Middle East, became domesticated in central Asia, hopped over to Europe thousands of years B.C., and sailed to the Americas in the 17th century. Along the way, it has become an inimitable ingredient in every regional cuisine you can imagine, from spicy Indian samosas to Scottish shepherd’s pie. And though they’re most closely associated with that beautiful bright orange, other cultivars come in a rainbow of colors, like purple, red, white, yellow, and even black.
Today, the versatile carrot is one of the top 10 most important crops in the world, feeding populations on every continent with some 40 million tons of carrots.
Here at EAT Club, we’re proud to represent just a tiny fraction of that number. On any given day, you can find carrots on our menu sliced, shredded, pickled, and brunoised — that’s a fancy French way to say small-diced — in cold slaws, hot soups, fried rice, toasted banh mi, and so much more.
We love carrots in every form, flavor, and function, and last year alone, we sliced more than 700 pounds of them! That may sound like a whole lot, but if all carrots grew like the Guinness World Record holder, that would be just two and half dozen 22-pounders feeding a hungry crowd of EAT Clubbers.
From savory stews to sweet carrot cake, is there anything a carrot can’t do? Well, there is one thing: a carrot cannot actually improve your eyesight. Vitamin A is crucial to eye health and carrots have that in spades, but they can’t really make your vision better.
That persistent myth may have sprung from a most surprising source: the British government! During the World War II London Blitz, German planes often struck at night, so the country decreed mandatory blackouts to prevent enemy pilots from seeing their targets. Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force was making headway against the air attacks, with night-flying pilots showcasing impressive success rates shooting down German planes in the pitch-black skies.
How were they doing it? With advances in radar technology, naturally, but they couldn’t let the Germans know that. So the government unveiled a propaganda campaign to inform the public that carrots were the key to the pilots’ successes, because a diet rich in carrots would give you night vision. Night vision!!
Source: Smithsonian Magazine
A flurry of news reports and propaganda posters encouraged civilians to support the war effort by growing and eating their own carrots, which would help them see better in the citywide blackouts. The British population heartily complied, the Germans never caught on, and the war-hero carrot has carried its mythical vision-improving status ever since.
When carrots aren’t winning wars, they’re lurking in the back of your crisper drawer, hoping you won’t forget them. Don’t let your carrots wither in despair! Even when carrots have lost that fresh snap, there’s still so much life left in these little guys.
Dice, slice, shred, and puree your carrots to add vibrant color to an unbelievable variety of dishes — and some pretty cool health benefits too. Thanks to the beta-carotene that gives orange carrots their vibrant hue, a single medium carrot will fulfill more than 100% of your daily value of vitamin A! In addition to giving you night vision (just kidding), vitamin A is critical for immune health and organ functioning.
So what should you do when you have a carrot pileup in the fridge? Here are a few ideas that don’t require a special recipe:
- If you’re making a curry or stir fry, chop up some carrots and throw them in. Don’t worry about imparting unwanted carrot flavor — the carrot will absorb the flavors of your dish as it cooks.
- If you’re making a salad, shred a carrot on a box grater for a colorful garnish.
- If you’re making your own tomato sauce or doctoring up jarred marinara, add some small-diced carrots. They’ll essentially disappear into your sauce, but not before imparting a nice natural sweetness to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes.
- If you’re making soup from scratch, start with a mirepoix. This traditional French trio of diced carrots, onions, and celery builds an aromatic base for a wide variety of flavor profiles.