Native to Europe and southwestern Asia, wild carrots originally were valued for their aromatic leaves and seeds (close relatives include parsley, cilantro, fennel, dill and cumin), not for their tiny, acrid tasting roots. Now, after years of cultivation, we mostly eat the taproot which, greatly enlarged, is a good source of alpha and beta carotene and vitamins K and B6. But carrots will not allow you to see in the dark. The notion that eating carrots will improve night vision is a piece of propaganda disseminated by the British Royal Air Force in World War II to mislead the enemy about advances in their use of radar technology and red lights on instrument panels.
Carrot seeds dating back to 2000 to 3000 BC have been found in Switzerland and Germany, and there is some evidence that the Romans ate carrot roots (this is ambiguous because Romans used the same word, pastinaca, for both carrots and parsnips). Three different kinds of carrots are depicted in De Materia Medica, a pharmacopoeia of herbs and medicines compiled by the Greek physician Dioscorides in the 1st century AD. The Moors may have introduced the plant into Spain in the 8th century and, by the 10th century, purple carrots were present in west Asia, India and Europe. The Jewish scholar Simeon Seth describes red and yellow carrots in the 11th century, and Arab agriculturist al ‘Awwam mentions the same carrot colors in the 12th century. Carrots were cultivated in China in the 14th century, and in Japan in the 18th century. Orange carrots, possibly bred to match the color of the House of Orange in the struggle for Dutch independence, appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century, and they were brought to America by European settlers in the same period.
Carrots contain a large amount of sugar. In Europe, during the Middle Ages when sweeteners were scarce and expensive, carrots were used as desserts in cakes and puddings, a practice that was revived in Britain during the Second World War. They remain popular today because they’re regarded as “healthy” desserts, despite the delicious but hardly diet conscious cream cheese icing often slathered on top.