The carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativus, Etymology: Middle French carotte, from Late Latin carōta, from Greek karōton, originally from the Indoeuropean root ker- (horn), due to its horny shape) is a root vegetable, usually orange or white, or red-white blend in colour, with a crisp texture when fresh. The edible part of a carrot is a taproot. It is a domesticated form of the wild carrot Daucus carota, native to Europe and southwestern Asia. It has been bred for its greatly enlarged and more palatable, less woody-textured edible taproot, but is still the same species.
It is a biennial plant which grows a rosette of leaves in the spring and summer, while building up the stout taproot, which stores large amounts of sugars for the plant to flower in the second year. The flowering stem grows to about 1 metre (3 ft) tall, with an umbel of white flowers.
Carrot juice is also widely marketed, especially as a health drink, either stand-alone or blended with fruits and other vegetables.
The carrot gets its characteristic and bright orange colour from β-carotene, which is metabolised into vitamin A in humans when bile salts are present in the intestines. Massive overconsumption of carrots can cause hypercarotenemia, a condition in which the skin turns orange (although effects are less dangerous than those of vitamin A, which can cause liver damage). Carrots are also rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, and minerals.
Lack of Vitamin A can cause poor vision, including night vision, and vision can be restored by adding Vitamin A back into the diet. The urban legend that says eating large amounts of carrots will allow one to see in the dark developed from stories of British gunners in World War II who were able to shoot down German planes in the darkness of night. The legend arose during the Battle of Britain when the RAF circulated a story about their pilots' carrot consumption as an attempt to cover up the discovery and effective use of radar technologies in engaging enemy planes. It reinforced existing German folklore and helped to encourage Britons—looking to improve their night vision during the blackouts—to grow and eat the vegetable.
The wild ancestors of the carrot are likely to have come from Afghanistan, which remains the centre of diversity of D. carota, the wild carrot. Selective breeding over the centuries of a naturally-occurring subspecies of the wild carrot, Daucus carota subsp. sativus has produced the familiar garden vegetable.
In early use, carrots were grown for their aromatic leaves and seeds, not their roots. Some relatives of the carrot are still grown for these, such as parsley, fennel, dill and cumin. The first mention of the root in classical sources is in the 1st century CE. The modern carrot appears to have been introduced to Europe in the 8-10th centuries; Ibn al-Awam, in Andalusia, describes both red and yellow carrots; Simeon Seth also mentions both colours in the 11th century. Orange-coloured carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century.
In addition to wild carrot, these alternative (mostly historical) names are recorded for Daucus carota: Bee's-nest, Bee's-nest plant, Bird's-nest, Bird's-nest plant, Bird's-nest root, Carota, Carotte (French), Carrot, Common carrot, Crow's-nest, Daucon, Dawke, Devil's-plague, Fiddle, Gallicam, Garden carrot, Gelbe Rübe (German), Gingidium, Hill-trot, Laceflower, Mirrot, Möhre (German), Parsnip (misapplied), Queen Anne's lace, Rantipole, Staphylinos, and Zanahoria.
Carrot cultivars can be grouped into two broad classes, eastern carrots and western carrots. More recently, a number of novelty cultivars have been bred for particular characteristics.
The world's largest carrot was grown in Palmer, Alaska by John Evans in 1998, weighing 8.6 kg (19 lb).
The city of Holtville, California promotes itself as "Carrot Capital of the World", and holds an annual festival devoted entirely to the carrot.
The western carrot emerged in the Netherlands in the 15th or 16th century, its orange colour making it popular in those countries as an emblem of the House of Orange and the struggle for Dutch independence. The orange colour results from abundant carotenes in these cultivars. While orange carrots are the norm in the West, other colours do exist, including white, yellow, red, and purple. These other colours of carrot are raised primarily as novelty crops.
The Vegetable Improvement Center at Texas A&M University has developed a purple-skinned, orange-fleshed carrot, the BetaSweet (also known as the Maroon Carrot), with substances to prevent cancer, which has recently entered very limited commercial distribution, through J&D Produce of Edinburg TX. This variety of carrot is also known to be high in β-carotene which is an essential nutrient. The high concentrations of this nutrient give the carrot its maroon shade.
Western carrot cultivars are commonly classified by their root shape:
While any carrot can be harvested before reaching its full size as a more tender "baby" carrot, some fast-maturing cultivars have been bred to produce smaller roots. The most extreme examples produce round roots about 2.5 centimetres (1 in) in diameter. These small cultivars are also more tolerant of heavy or stony soil than long-rooted cultivars such as 'Nantes' or 'Imperator'. The "baby carrots" sold ready-to-eat in supermarkets are, however, often not from a smaller cultivar of carrot, but are simply full-sized carrots that have been sliced and peeled to make carrot sticks of a uniform shape and size.
Food enthusiasts and researchers have developed other varieties of carrots through traditional breeding methods. Novelty carrots are also grown throughout Western Europe in flower pots and are noted for their distinctly minty flavour.
One particular variety lacks the usual orange pigment from carotenes, owing its white colour to a recessive gene for tocopherol (Vitamin E). Derived from Daucus carota L. and patented (US patent #6,437,222) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the variety is intended to supplement the dietary intake of Vitamin E.
In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed that the carrot was Britain's third favourite culinary vegetable.