The anything but humble carrot – The Denver Post

By Yotam Ottolenghi, The New York Times

LONDON — “You ask me what life is,” wrote the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. “That’s like asking what a carrot is. A carrot is a carrot, and there’s nothing more to know.” Well, Anton, I think there’s a lot more that can be said and known about the matter.

Almost everyone loves a carrot, from toddlers clutching the little batons to grown-ups at holiday feasts, where a gleaming platter of roasted carrots radiates a deeper, more complex type of sweetness. I can’t think of another vegetable with such wide appeal.

Such a treat are they, indeed, that they’re the symbolic “reward” dangling off the end of so many “punishment” sticks. “Turnip and stick,” “parsnip and stick”: They just don’t have quite the same ring — or the same vivid, bold, happy-making color, being the white, gnarly roots that they are. It’s easy to take for granted that carrots are, for the most part, orange, but it’s also interesting to dig a little below the surface, and see that it isn’t always so. Listen up, Anton! Life is complex!

Originally, orange wasn’t the predominant color for carrots; they could have equally been white, purple, dark red or black. In Holland, where orange carrots became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, the proliferation was mythologized as a show of support to William of Orange, who ushered a revolt against the Spanish that brought about Dutch independence. Many a geneticist, however, would identify carrots’ recessive gene, and selective breeding, as explaining the predominance of the orange variety, rather than any links with the struggle for Dutch independence.