Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


A shorter history of the carrot, and why vegetable juice won’t make you go faster.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, purple carrots grew wild in peace. Then ancient peoples, possibly the Hittites or the Armenians or the Persians, or possibly someone else, cultivated them for their seeds and foliage, completely ignoring the root, or else feeding them to swine.

Centuries flashed by. One day the Dutch, who loved travelling because their homeland was always flooding and there was always the chance of finding another tulip, discovered purple carrots in Iran, and took them home. They gave one to the man who had hybridised tulips and asked him what were the chances of another bubble. Developments after that were sketchy, but later, in a fit of nationalism, he turned them orange in honour of the Dutch Royal house. Thenceforth all carrots were orange, except for the few desert carrots who remained true to their roots, blissfully unaware of their kidnapped orange cousins.


Purple carrots are back. I tried them last week. They come from Tasmania, where the grower claims they have health properties that are best attained by eating the carrot raw, or juicing it. I can see why they’re recommending raw. I cut them. The cutting board was a slew of purple juice. I boiled them. The resulting water looked like a glass of Heathcote Shiraz. It didn’t taste like Heathcote Shiraz, however. I drained it in the sink and everything turned purple. Maybe I should have drunk the lot. Does anyone still drink vegetable juice? It was big in the ‘70s or ‘80s. People used to boil vegetables, cool the cooking water and then drink it. This went out of fashion because it tasted like dishwater, whichever vegetables you used, and people said to hell with it and drank bottles of V8 instead.

Does V8 still exist? I worked at the agency that handled Campbell’s in the early 1980s and wrote a commercial for V8 that had Allan Moffatt driving two timed laps of the Mt Panorama racing circuit at Bathurst in his monster Falcon GTHO Phase Three (the world’s fastest four door production car at the time). After the first lap Moffatt fortified himself with a glass of V8. Afterwards, the clock showed identical times for the two laps. Strap line: Drink it because it tastes good. It was a satire on energy drinks before energy drinks existed.

Perhaps that’s why they didn’t make the ad.


Back to the carrots: they had an earthy taste like beetroots and paired very well with greek yogurt in a cold salad. The beetroot association might have been my imagination because of the intense colour. In fact, purple carrots get their colour from a pigment called anthocyanin while beetroot’s colour is from betalains.

How do I know this? The wonderfully named Hazel McTavish-West (I'd love to have a name that is guaranteed to be at the top of a Google search) told me. Ms McTavish-West is a phytochemist who helps growers develop and improve crops while driving interest and demand for new – and in the case of the purple carrot – centuries old species. People like Ms McTavish-West are worth a thousand bureaucrats preaching health messages via childish advertising campaigns.

Take her survey and you’ll be helping her research efforts as well as assisting some Tasmanian farmers sell some nice fresh vegetables.


Ed Charles said...

Great little story. I love the purple carrots when I can find them. I haven't ben eating them raw but I roast them in the oven before making a salad that usually involved walnut oil and sherry vinegar as a base at least.

A Melbourne Girl said...

Can't wait to find them at my local greengrocer KH. I had a friend who'd drink all of her veggie water. She was one of the healthist people I knew back then. I used to do it too, but got out of the habit and would use it in soups. Time to start again me thinks

kitchen hand said...

Ed, speaking of oil you've reminded me of the bottle of truffle oil someone gave me last Christmas. Must get it out and use it on something. purple carrots as good as anything.

Lesley, it does seem like a waste twice over if it's of nutritional value; i.e loading up perfectly good water with vitamins and minerals and then tipping it down the sink. Could be a new water-saving campaign for the govt. - "Drink 155".