Ah carrots. Even if you don’t particularly like eating them, I’m pretty sure you’ve used one to do a Bugs Bunny impression at least once. They’ve always been around, and they’ve always been orange. Except when they were white, yellow, red and even purple.
The reason for the humble carrot’s distinctive appearance is extensive selective breeding by patriotic Dutch people some 400 years ago.
The Netherlands in the 17th century were ruled by the Catholic Hapsburg family from way over in Spain, a situation that the common people were none too pleased with.
Luckily there was a possible alternative in the form of the aristocratic family of Orange-Nassau.
The family were extremely popular, wealthy, powerful and above all Protestant. You could also say they took the colour of their name fairly seriously.
From palaces with names such as ‘Oranjewoud’ with orange trees planted in the gardens, to paintings depicting the younger members and children of the dynasty wearing orange, or holding oranges and orange blossoms.
In a nutshell, they nailed brand marketing to the point that by the year 1813 members of the Orange-Nassau family were, or had been, kings of the Netherlands, Prussia, England, Scotland and Ireland. They were basically Kardashians.
The only slight issue with their brand is that as much as the commoners of 17th wanted to buy in, expensive and exotic oranges were beyond them.
From there, according to the wonderful and almost terrifyingly well-informed people at World Carrot Museum, the Dutch people began with yellow carrots and gradually, through breeding and planting only the darker ones and disregarding the pale, settled on the popular variation we recognise today, orange, to reflect the people’s favourite ruling family.
Having said that, in the interest of transparency its well worth pointing out that it might all be something of a coincidence.
It turns out that the purple carrots didn’t taste quite as good and they were also a little messy, known for staining cookware. So it could be more accurate to suggest that in an attempt to improve the taste and popularity of a food that was widely available, 17th century food scientists (and who knew that was a thing) came across a variation that ticked all the boxes, and happened to be orange.
What is undeniable now, though, is that orange carrots were indelibly linked with the Orange-Nassau family and the association has been presented as historical fact on more than one occasion.
So why was the orange carrot trend recognised and followed around the world? Because the Dutch have always been a sea-faring nation of traders – even today the port of Rotterdam is the biggest in Europe, bigger than the three next largest put together.
So there you have it. Orange carrots; each one a status symbol of a political, religious and monarchist tradition spanning five centuries.
Also, high in antioxidants.