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Are carrots orange for political reasons?

at 09:30 PM ET, 09/10/2011

This story has been updated.

For centuries, almost all carrots were yellow, white or purple. But in the 17th century, most of those crunchy vegetables turned orange. Why? It may have to do with Dutch politics. Next Nature explains:

In the 17th century, Dutch growers cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the the struggle for Dutch independence – and the color stuck. A thousand years of yellow, white and purple carrot history was wiped out in a generation.
Although some scholars doubt if orange carrots even existed prior to the 16th century, they now form the basis of most commercial cultivators around the world. Presumably crosses between Eastern (purple), Western (white, red) and perhaps wild carrots led to the formation of the orange rooted carrot sub species....
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 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.

(h/t Outside the Beltway)

Update, 9:30 p.m. Saturday:

As it turns out, the political history of carrots is more murky and complicated. The  World Carrot Museum--an unsigned, virtual repository of information that Next Nature cites in its original post--calls the link to the House of Orange an “apocryphal” tale dreamed up by historians, though it fails to provide any specific citations for its own conclusion. 

What is clear, however, is that the Dutch themselves have used the orange carrot as a political weapon during the rise and fall of the House of Orange. According to historian Simon Schama, in the late 18th century, the Dutch Patriot movement that revolted against the House of Orange saw the vegetable as an offensive tribute to the monarchy. After forcing the reigning descendent of William of Orange to leave the Hague, the Patriots declared that orange was “the color of sedition...carrots sold with their roots too conspicuously showing were deemed provocative,” Schama writes in his book, “Patriots and Liberators.” To this day, many in the Netherlands attest that orange carrots were originally a tribute to the House of Orange, as various Dutch tourism outfits will attest. I’ve emailed a horticulture historian at Purdue University for clarification, and I’ll let you know when I hear back.

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