How the Dutch made Carrots Orange
Not many people know but the first carrots cultivated were only purple, yellow, or white. None were orange at all. That came much much later. But how, and why did we get our nicely bright and sweet orange carrots? Well you should know it was the Dutch who did that! And this is the story of how it came about……
As a starting point we will have to take a look why Orange was (and is) such an important colour for the Dutch. It is after all the national colour and everyone dresses in it during the national day (King’s day, 27th of April) and during important sporting events like the Olympics and World Cups.
William of Orange
A town in Southern France, Arausio, founded by the Romans in 35 BC, was classically pronounced “Aurenja.” Over the years that pronounciation slowly turned into “Orange” due to French accents and casual conflation. When a man named William the Silent from Nassau inherited the rule in Aurenja – generally known as Orange by that time – in 1544, he became William of Orange. He led the Dutch in Revolt against the Spanish in the late 1500s, and they eventually won their independence in the form of the Dutch Republic. As the leader of the revolt William of Orange became the first King of the Netherlands and the direct ancestor of the current monarchy of the Netherlands.
It is William of Orange’s name that made Orange the Dutch national colour.
Only Purple Carrots until the 16th century
At this time (16th century) the Dutch were primarily known as farmers and carrots were one of their big cash crops. They grew their carrots in the traditional and original colour of purple.
From as far back as the 10th Century, the carrot grew purple in India, the Middle East and Europe, with its origins traced to Afghanistan.There are even reports that as long ago as 2000 BC, temple drawings from Egypt show a plant believed to be a purple carrot.
So for a very long time pretty much all carrots were purple.
However, mutated versions would occasionally pop up and those included the more colourful yellow and white carrots. These lacked the purple pigment anthocyanin and were rarely cultivated.
From purple to orange carrots
In the late 16th/early 17th century, a strain of carrot was developed that contained higher amounts of beta carotene — the first orange carrot. This modern day orange carrot was developed by crossing the mutated yellow and white rooted carrots as well as varieties of wild carrots, which are quite distinct from cultivated varieties.
Dutch carrot farmers started growing the new orange carrots in honor of William of Orange – the guy who led the struggle for Dutch independence – and the traditional, more colorful carrots, were tossed aside for these newly fashionable orange carrots.
So a thousand years of yellow, white and purple carrot history, was wiped out in a generation, thanks to the Dutch and their affection for Orange.
Patriotism definitely played a big part but the newly developed orange carrots. However it also has to be noted that these Orange carrots were a lot sweeter tasting and more fleshy than their purple counterparts, thus providing more food per plant and being better tasting. And indeed it is easy to be patriotic when it is just a generally better product.
Whatever the origins, the Long Orange Dutch carrot, first described in writing in 1721, is the forebear of the orange Horn carrot varieties so abundant nowadays. The Horn Carrot derives its name from the Netherlands town of Hoorn in the neighborhood of which it was presumably bred. All our modern, western carrots ultimately descend from these varieties.
So next time you eat a carrot, remember it was the Dutch who made your carrot sweeter tasting and brightly orange!
And because it is our national colour they come in handy as a form of decoration during big celebrations as well 🙂